Last updateTue, 24 Nov 2015 12am


High Springs Christmas parade by night


HS Parade DSC 1724Photo by RONN JONES/Special to Alachua County Today

HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade went off without a hitch at 6 p.m., just as the sun disappeared from view. More than 38 entrants participated in the 17th annual event.

Both the Santa Fe High School and High Springs Community School Bands marched and played lively music, along with several local and regional civic groups. Karate and tumbling groups, religious organizations, police and fire departments, as well as city officials, made their appearances.

Several participants tossed or handed out candy for the children who squealed in delight as each multi-lighted float passed by. Although the night was chilly, it was not windy. But most people, and especially children, were bundled up and some were sitting on or wrapped up in blankets as they watched the parade pass by.

One year of bragging rights and first, second and third place ribbons were given for the best floats, judged this year by Betty and John Gloskowski, owners of the Antique Center of High Springs, and Basti Gonzalez of the High Springs Farmers Market.

The first place float winner this year was the High Springs Historical Society, who recently received donations to purchase replacement tires for the 1928 Brockway La France fire truck, the city's first fire truck, in order to be able to include it in this year's parade. Second place honors went to the Native Nations and third place was awarded to the Kiwanis Clubs of Santa Fe (Alachua/High Springs).

Michael Loveday provided pre-show entertainment at 5 p.m. as adults and children found places on Main Street they thought provided them the best view of the coming parade. Loveday's show consisted of a unique collection of songs of faith and family titled, “Not So Christmasie Christmas Songs.” Loveday was also set up at the viewing stand at the corner of Main Street and NW 1st Avenue and was this year's official parade announcer.

By the time the parade made its way down Main Street to Railroad Avenue and turned off, children's horseback rides had been set up and children with their parents lined up in the chilly evening hours for a visit with Santa Claus in front of the brightly lit Christmas tree.

Younger children who spied Santa, excitedly ran toward him as their parents grabbed them up and explained they had to wait in line to visit with the man in red. Parents snapped photos as children sat on Santa's lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas this year or rode the ponies.

“This was a great parade this year,” said one woman waiting in line. “Between that and visiting with Santa, my daughter might never be able to get to sleep tonight. She is so excited about Christmas, she's about ready to burst,” she said with a laugh.

It seemed as though a number of people shared her excitement gauging by the laughter and broad smiles on their faces.

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Candy Land Christmas parade

Alachua Parade DSC 0081ALACHUA – Families, Santa hats, smiles and Christmas music filled Main Street in Alachua on Saturday.

Alachua’s annual Christmas parade, which falls on the second Saturday of December every year, went off without a hitch and the weather outside wasn’t the least bit frightful.

There were over 50 floats that found their way down Main Street Saturday, each more interesting than the last.

Hal Brady, Alachua recreation director, stopped cars and floats for a quick word as they made their way down the street, whether they were in the parade or not.

The parade started with a convoy of about eight police motorcyclists gliding down Main Street, weaving in between one another, with their sirens blaring so loudly that children plugged their ears in discomfort. Leading the parade as Grand Marshal was Jerry Smith.

After that, everything from horses with lighting bolts shaved on their rear ends to bright pink garbage trucks rode down Main Street.

There were fire trucks dressed in Christmas décor, mascots of snowmen and reindeer, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, a guy on stilts and even llamas; the Alachua Christmas Parade had it all.

Representatives of churches and other organizations walked the street, handing out candy and balloons to the children and families who lined the sidewalks of Main Street. There was even a bus that shot out fake snow from its windows.

The Santa Fe High School Raider Regiment Marching Band was also in the house, led by band director Nate Bisco.

The top three floats were City of Alachua’s gingerbread house, Matchmaker Realty’s candy factory and Lee’s Preschool’s Candyland themed float.

The City of Alachua’s gingerbread house was almost life sized and even looked edible. Although it took first place, many favored Matchmaker Realty’s float.

Matchmaker Realty’s float depicted a candy factory with giant pieces of candy sliding down a conveyor belt. The originality and authenticity of the float is what caught attention.

Lee’s Preschool’s Candyland themed float had the nostalgia factor working for it. Their float would make anyone want to blow off the dust his or her old board game and play one last time.

“The Christmas parade continues to roll on,” Brady said. “I think it’s the No. 1 thing that the Chamber of Commerce does every year. It’s amazing.”

Linda Chapman, who did the registration for the Christmas parade, said that although the turnout was lighter than usual, it didn’t take away from the enjoyment and atmosphere of the parade.

“[The Christmas parade] went smoothly,” she said. “It’s a great family activity and the weather couldn’t have been better.”

Chapman and Brady both mentioned that next year’s parade is going to be bigger and better.

“We have great plans for next year,” she said. “It’s going to be more like a festival.”

She added they are going to start the parade earlier next year and there is going to be more preparation time to build floats than there has been in previous years.

Sam Markowitz, 21-year-old University of Florida student and program assistant for the City of Alachua’s parks and recreation department, explained that the parade was really entertaining and that the Christmas atmosphere was in full effect.

“I definitely got the holiday vibe,” he said. “I think it’s really cool that people from all parts of Alachua come to see the parade. It’s a nice representation of everyone in our community.”

Markowitz, who was born and raised in Alachua, said that the Hare Krishna Temple float was his favorite.

The Hare Krishna float featured devotees of the religion “chanting for peace on Earth.”

“It had the most energy,” he said. “Their trailer was bouncing up and down. Everyone seemed really happy.”

Brady said there is one secret that makes Alachua a great town.

“We pretty much know everybody,” he said.

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Santa Fe High School hosts annual career fair

W - SFHS CareerDay DSC 0688ALACHUA – For the second year in a row, Santa Fe High School (SFHS) hosted a career fair in its gym with some of the area’s top employers.

Students of all grades were welcome to attend and learn more about job areas they have interest in. The gym was wall-to-wall booths of everything from military careers to UF health careers and everything in between.

Pamela Gonzales, a counselor at SFHS, said that she consulted different schools in how they set up their career fairs and then adapted and modified their own to better benefit the students of SFHS.

School counselors have many roles, one being preparing students for college and career readiness,” Gonzales said. “A career fair is a natural piece to this preparation.”

Gonzales said that a career fair benefits high school students in many ways. It not only educates students about different careers and professions as well as introduces them to the largest employers in Alachua, but also shows them what to expect and how to prepare for a job interview and the education level required for different positions.

Gonzales said that she chose businesses targeted towards students of high school age and that would most benefit students who are still exploring different careers as well as students who already have an idea of the profession they are interested in.

Shelby Sapp, a senior at SFHS, said the career fair helps students get a more realistic grasp on what it is they want to do.

“You apply for colleges and think that you’re going to go into the basic fields, but then here you get to meet people and talk to them about the more practical aspects of the job,” Sapp said.

Sapp said she would like to go into the medical field, and that the different health career booths give her an insight to narrow her broad interests.

Josephine Dornbusch, a first year University of Florida veterinary student, along with her German Sheppard Kalis, manned the veterinary booth. Her booth seemed to be one of the most popular, but she said that Kalis was probably the big draw. She said she was representing the UF vet school, but that her booth focused on the veterinary field as a whole.

“I love this sort of thing. I give tours of the college. I love answering questions because when I was in their shoes, I jumped at those opportunities to ask people those questions,” Dornbusch said. “It’s a good source of information and I like to kind of return the favor.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity to help people just figure out what it is they want to do,” she added.

Gonzales believes that the career fair has a great impact on the students who have attended.

“This event is a real-life experience that can’t be created in the classroom,” She said. “Student’s awareness of careers and employers have broadened beyond the knowledge they have from the working adults in their lives.”

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Evidence of Waldo ticket quota is 'overwhelming'

WALDO – “No charges will be filed at this time,” says State Attorney Bill Cervone, in response to three recent Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigations of the Waldo Police Department. In a Dec. 11 letter to FDLE Resident Agent in Charge, Yolanda Carbia, Cervone explained his reasoning and praised the investigative team.

“The professionalism and quality of the investigation in this matter [by FDLE] was exemplary,” said Cervone.

Although several areas for improvement of the department's handling of evidence were noted by FDLE, Cervone's letter pointed out that the investigation did not reveal any missing item of evidence and no indication of evidence tampering or theft had occurred.

“Your report does not identify any person to charge with any crime, nor does your report request that this office file a criminal charge against any person, and, as such, no charges will be filed based on this report,” said Cervone.

Regarding FDLE's investigation into ticket quotas, Cervone said that after interviews with present and past officers the evidence is “overwhelming” that the “City of Waldo Police Department had and enforced a ticket quota.”

“...The motoring public believes, wrongly, that a ticket quota is a criminal offense. It is not,” said Cervone. Although Florida Statute 316.640(1) provides that “'[a]n agency of the state... is prohibited from establishing a traffic citation quota,'” it “'is not subject to the penalties provided in Chapter 318.'”

“There is no criminal penalty associated with this statute; therefore any violation of this statute may not be prosecuted in criminal court,” he said. “More importantly, from the way the entirety of Section 316.640 is written it likely does not apply to municipalities.” “As such, there is no charge available for criminal prosecution as a result of the City of Waldo ticket quota,” said Cervone.

Allegations that former Chief Mike Szabo unlawfully recorded his in-person and telephone communication with Officer Roy Steadman in violation of Florida Statutes required more deliberation on Cervone's part, but resulted in the same outcome.

Cervone noted that Szabo admitted recording conversations with Officer Steadman on six different occasions without making Steadman aware of the fact that he was being recorded. While Florida Statutes generally prohibit the intentional and unknown interception of any wire, oral or electronic communication, as occurred in this case, he said, “several other factors must be considered in determining whether criminal charges are appropriate.”

In order for the State to prove their case, they must prove that the individual being recorded had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that communication. When Szabo and Steadman were on the phone, Steadman was aware he was on speakerphone and that the entire department, other than the Chief's office, was under audio and video surveillance.

On one occasion, Steadman admitted he saw an active recorder being used in the office. “His [Steadman's] admitted knowledge that he was being recorded on at least one occasion defeats prosecution for that incident and also suggests that he knew or should have known of that on other occasions as well,” said Cervone.

In addition, an affirmative defense could be made by Szabo that he subjectively believed that he was authorized by law to make the recordings. Cervone listed several factors that Szabo could use as a defense against prosecution that would impact the ability of the State to get a conviction on charges related to his recording of Steadman's conversations.

Among those factors was Szabo's statement that his intended use of the recordings was for agency business and to “protect the agency from a lawsuit from Officer Steadman.” As there are other “law enforcement” exceptions in Chapter 934, the Chapter in question, Szabo's confusion about fine legal issues could be seen as legally credible.

“While these factors are present, this is an affirmative defense and the burden of bringing forth that defense is on the defendant and, as such, does not preclude the filing of criminal charges. They do, however, impact the viability of a prosecution,” said Cervone.

Long-time Waldo Mayor Louie Davis remarked after reading the disposition letter, “I appreciate the thorough investigation done by FDLE and the resulting letter from Bill Cervone's office. We believed all along that there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of our police department. We believed all along that any mistakes that were made by our police department were unintentional. Former Chief Szabo always looked out for the best interests of the city,” said Davis. “We appreciate the efforts made on behalf of our citizens by the entire Waldo Police Department and wish our former officers the best.”

The Waldo Police Department was disbanded earlier in the year and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has taken over law enforcement responsibilities on a permanent basis for the municipality.

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NAACP calls for removal of city official

ARCHER – Representatives from the NAACP asked for Archer Assistant City Manager John Mayberry to be removed from him position at the Dec. 8 commission meeting.

It was said that Mayberry made some posts to his personal Facebook page that certain citizens found racist and offensive.

Evelyn Foxx, President of the Alachua County Branch of the NAACP, said she was contacted by concerned citizens about two months ago, and that she has been having meetings with these citizens leading up to Monday night’s meeting.

Foxx said that she called the City of Archer for their issue to be put on the agenda for the meeting and she was denied. She said she felt she was received in a hostile way.

She said one of the biggest goals her group had that night, and continuing into the future is to have Mayberry removed from office.

“He is being paid by the taxpayers of Archer,” Foxx said.

Foxx said it was a white citizen who had originally invited the NAACP to Archer because they were upset about Mayberry’s Facebook posts.

“If you are a public figure, especially if you are being paid by the public, there are some things you can think all day long, but you should never say openly,” she added.

Archer City Manager Al Grieshaber said the city is an advocate of first amendment rights, and by firing Mayberry, the city would be treading on those rights.

“What [Foxx] asked for was for the city commission to commit an illegal act,” Grieshaber said. “She asked specifically for the city commission to terminate Mr. Mayberry. She is asking for something that she herself would not want.”

Grieshaber said what the group had asked for during the commission meeting would have denied Mayberry of due process. He said they are asking to take away Mayberry’s constitutional rights, something they would not want to have done to themselves.

The City of Archer, Grieshaber said, is wary of interfering with someone’s freedom of speech. He said it is important that all citizens, not just commissioners, have the freedom to express their opinions openly and freely.

He said the city is not taking Mayberry’s side or endorsing his views, but they support the first amendment and people’s right to express their opinions.

“I would never advise anyone to tread on anyone’s first amendment rights without a firm legal opinion that the city would not be violating his rights,” Grieshaber said.

He also said any repercussions or requests for Mayberry to take down any posts would have to come from the city attorney.

“Treat others as you would like them to treat you,” he said. “Let everyone express their opinion.”

Foxx said the group of citizens and the NAACP plan to follow up on this issue, but need to meet and decide where they will go from here.

“It’s not going away,” she said.

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