HIGH SPRINGS – One person was escorted out of the Feb. 23 High Springs Commission meeting as tempers flared. The root of the controversy was the agenda item “Discuss, consider and act on City support for High Springs Chamber of Commerce operations and events.” A number of people attended the meeting, speaking out about the matter. One resident, Janet Evans, said she felt like the Chamber is being targeted. The meeting turned into a near free-for-all when Evans later attempted to speak a second time on the topic.

In an effort to maintain control of the meeting, Mayor Gloria James explained that Evans had already spoken and others were waiting their turn to speak. At that point Evans began shouting at another meeting attendee, Bruce Borders, who had stood up and was heading to the podium.

High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard and another officer escorted Evans out of the room. After about five minutes, Evans slipped back into the room silently and listened for a few minutes and left the meeting shortly thereafter.

Rumors had been circulating throughout the community that the City wanted to take over Chamber events, a notion that City Manager Ashley Stathatos refuted, saying that the City would like to be an equal partner with the Chamber to help make the events larger and help support the business community. “We would like to be included in planning and visioning with the Chamber as equal partners,” said Stathatos.

Stathatos presented a list of the functions City staff had already performed for the Chamber’s Christmas Parade. She pointed out that there is no budget for assisting the Chamber with their events so she has had to cut out other budgeted items in an effort to keep departments within their budgets when they work overtime to support a Chamber event.

Chamber President Sharon Decker addressed the Commission to say she welcomes a partnership with the City. “I have never said I didn’t want to work with the City,” Decker said.

A cross section of residents and business owners, as well as a former city commission, weighed in on the matter. Former High Springs City Commissioner Linda Jones, an apparent self-appointed liaison between the City and Chamber, said that Decker was not receiving any communication from the City. Stathatos countered by saying Decker has her cell phone number and has called her over the weekend and at night. She said the only time she had not responded was when her children were visiting from out of state.

Business owner Jessica Caldes, who works in partnership with the City on the Summer Arts Camp, said her program has done well in partnership with the City.

Business owner Jeffery Connolly said the day of the Christmas parade was his biggest day ever. Chamber member Andrew Miller talked about the growth in the number of floats and Pioneer Days vendors.

Backers of Decker included Lanier Smith, who read a letter, which had been provided to the Commission, in support of Decker. Sharon Decker’s husband, Don Decker, asked for the City to give the Chamber support. But not everyone at the meeting voiced support one way or another, with Alice Brown saying she was more confused after listening to the discussion.

Commissioner Katherine Weitz suggested that the City consider adding a charge for review of Special Event Permits, which is what the Chamber and others would have to submit prior to obtaining permission for their event.

Following discussion, Stathatos said she would submit Special Event Permits to the Commission so that they could tell how much the City would be contributing and they could determine whether to exceed the City budget. There was no further conversation about the matter, and the Commission moved on to another agenda topic.

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