HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs Mayor Dean Davis convened his final meeting before stepping down on Nov. 20, 2012. As one of his last acts as mayor, Davis presented a plaque to City employee Ginger Travers in appreciation of her actions as a Communications Operator during the May 18, 2011, shooting incident at High Springs Community School.

He said it was something he had wanted to do before retiring and, as this was his last day in office, he wanted to make sure he made the presentation personally to Travers.

Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas presented Mayor Davis with the traditional gavel and plaque in recognition of his leadership and service as mayor to the City of High Springs during 2011-2012.

Davis said he was humbled by the job.

“To my many friends, and I know who you are, that loved me and prayed for me constantly for the last three years…thank you, thank you, thank you and may God richly bless you.”

“For the few vocal and blogging people that have hated me for three years, I have prayed for you those three years and will continue to pray for you. May God bless you and keep you and reveal himself to you.”

“To the commissioners now and the man being seated, good luck and God bless you. It’s been an honor to serve with you. It’s been rocky, but it’s been interesting…and sometimes it’s been fun.”

“I’ll leave you with this thought: If five of us agree, four of us are unnecessary. We’ve been varied in our thoughts. But when we were voted down we didn’t stalk out of the room, we just kept on keeping on. I think you are headed for a great year,” said Davis.

“It is with some fear and trepidation, but more than that, just joy that I adjourn this 2012 commission meeting.”

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ALACHUA – The Alachua County Task Force of Recreation (ACTFOR) recently wrapped up its fall season. The City of Alachua and the Alachua Youth Soccer Organization hosted this year’s Fall Soccer Tournament at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex.  The tournament brought hundreds of participants and their families from all over Alachua County. The tournament was deemed a huge success, due in part to John Salbert, President of the Alachua Youth Soccer Organization, and his dedicated volunteers.

Alachua Girls Youth Volleyball and Alachua Little Jaguar Flag Football expressed their appreciation to all coaches and volunteers, which included Dee Edwards, Gretchen Baker, Lekeesha and Lisa Jenkins, Ed Riess, Chad Scott, Glenn Bryan, Earl Findley, Justin Beck, David Sutton and Hal Brady for their commitment, patience and hard work.

The tournament was enhanced through the support of area business sponsors, which included the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, Integrity Title, T.C.R Construction, McDonald's of Alachua and Gator Domino's. Their generous contribution and support to the local teams was appreciated by everyone associated with the tournament.  But most important, credit is due to all players who participated and represented the organization with great sportsmanship and an amazing work ethic.

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W - CSI - DSC 0097 copyALACHUA – It is likely that super sleuth Sherlock Holmes would have been amazed by modern crime scene forensics. And what better location is there than Alachua’s CSI Academy of Florida to showcase mock crime scenes for a film about Holmes. A London-based production company plans to feature the facility in a documentary. The CSI Academy, which is located in the Phoenix Industrial Park at 12787 U.S. Highway 441in Alachua, equips students with the tools necessary to enter into the field of crime scene investigation and to create more jobs within this field.

The film, produced by Love Productions, will focus on how Sherlock Holmes changed the world of modern crime-scene investigating.

The company filmed mock crime scenes and other footage at the 28,000-square-foot facility Wednesday and Thursday. The documentary will be released sometime in 2013.

Debbie Mongiardo, a member of the CSI Academy’s management team, said they expect a lot of exposure from the documentary.

“It’s definitely an opportunity for us,” she said. “It’s a big deal. It’s exciting.”

She said an employee from the production company contacted one of the academy’s instructors and asked about filming.

Mongiardo said the facility, which opened in September, has received inquiries from all over the country.

The academy offers a one-week basic course, primarily for law enforcement officers, and a 300-hour, seven-week course for anyone who is interested in a career in crime scene investigation.

The classes available include crime scene photography, ballistics, death investigations, blood evidence, fingerprint collection techniques, ballistics, sex crime investigation and more.

The programs are designed to prepare students to competently process crime scenes.

According to Department of Labor Statistics, CSI jobs are expected to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs will be strong because of substantial interest in forensic science.

Mongiardo said the seven-week course is $11,150, and that includes meals, textbooks and latent print kits. The academy sets up indoor and outdoor mock crime scenes to provide realistic training for students.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, detectives and criminal investigators earn an average annual salary of about $58,000, or about $28 per hour. A beginning crime scene investigation salary ranges between $34,000 and $45,000. A crime scene investigator salary can approach $100,000 with solid experience.

Additional information about the CSI Academy is available at http://www.csiacademyflorida.com.

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GAINESVILLE – The three suspected West Nile virus cases discovered in Alachua County have been declared negative.

Paul Myers, Alachua County Health Department administrator, said one of the victims had symptoms consistent with West Nile.

“The confirmatory blood test indicated that one of the three individuals had been infected with the West Nile virus sometime in the past,” Myers said. “We just don’t know exactly when.”

The men had attempted to donate blood when the antibodies for West Nile were the discovered. Each of the men had been exposed to extensive time outside. One of the men had been infected with West Nile sometime in the past.

Alachua County is still under the Mosquito Born Illness advisory that took effect on Sept. 27, 2012.

West Nile symptoms include sudden onset of headache, fever, stiff neck. Symptoms can appear from 2 to 14 days from the first time of exposure.

The illness first appeared in Sentinel chickens. Myers mentioned at least one horse being infected with West Nile. Alachua County had one confirmed case of West Nile in 2003.

Myers said it is been a particularly bad year for West Nile virus.

“It goes back to the winter of 2011-2012. It was a very mild winter, the mosquito die off was not complete,” he said. “Tropical storm Debby came through and created overwhelming numbers of breeding places for mosquitos.”

Even with the cooler weather, Myers still urges residents to protect themselves

“It’s imminent that I will be lifting the Mosquito Borne Illness Advisory in consultation with the state health office,” he said.

Myers still recommends residents drain any standing water, wear long sleeves and check that window screens are in good repair to ensure protection from mosquitoes.

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ALACHUA– Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation, (AGTC), a privately-held, clinical stage biotechnology company developing gene therapy products to treat rare retinal diseases, has secured $37.5 million in a Series B round of venture capital funding.

AGTC is a graduate company of the University of Florida Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator located in Alachua’s Progress Corporate Park.

Alta Partner and S.R. One, Limited led the financing, with new investor Osage University Partners joining existing investors InterWest, Intersouth, and MedImmune Ventures in the round.

This brings AGTC’s total venture capital funding to almost $88 million. AGTC began life in the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in 2000 and graduated in 2006.

The funding will allow AGTC to continue development of its Phase 2 program in Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1) and initiate full development of potential treatments for Achromatopsia (ACHM) and X-Linked Rentinoschisis (XLRS).

ACHM is an inherited genetic condition that presents at birth with impaired visual acuity. Most patients are legally blind, lacking color discrimination and experiencing extreme light sensitivity, resulting in daytime blindness. ACHM is caused by mutations in a group of genes which make the cone cells concentrated in the central retina non-functional. There is no treatment for Achromatopsia, although deep red tinted spectacles or contact lenses can reduce symptoms of light sensitivity. Approximately 22,000 patients in the U.S. and Europe suffer from this disease.

AGTC’s potential treatment uses an adeno-associated virus (AAV), a safe, man-made virus that delivers healthy copies of the ACHM gene to the cells of the retina, replacing the defective copies of the gene. A single treatment is expected to halt the disease for several years, perhaps a lifetime. The AAV delivery system is successfully being used in clinical trials of Leber congenital amaurosis gene therapy that have restored vision in more than 50 adults and children who were virtually blind. Previous research has shown promising signs of efficacy in dog models of ACHM.

XLRS, an inherited genetic condition, is a leading cause of juvenile macular degeneration in males. It is caused by mutations in the RS1 gene, which results in the layers of the central retina splitting. Patients typically begin to experience progressive vision loss between the ages of 5 and 10. Other early symptoms include the inability to focus both eyes and roving, involuntary eye movements. No treatment for XLRS is currently available. Approximately 35,000 patients in the U.S. and Europe suffer from this disease. Previous research has shown promising signs of efficacy in rodent models of XLRS.

AGTC is focused on the research and development of novel therapeutics for patients with unmet medical needs utilizing AGTC’s proprietary, non-pathogenic adeno-associated virus (AAV) delivery system. The company has demonstrated that this system can be used to deliver a normal form of a gene in both animals and humans thus allowing their own body to produce sustained therapeutic levels of important biologics. The company’s most advanced programs in development are treatments for Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (Alpha-1) a disease causing a progressive loss of lung function, and Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, an inherited condition causing early blindness. Both utilize AGTC’s proprietary AAV system and production methods.

"We are strong believers in the business model of developing treatments for genetic disorders," said Ed Hurwitz, General Partner of Alta Partners. "Based on encouraging clinical results from AGTC and others, we concluded that a large set of genetically defined diseases could be cured using AGTC’s proprietary vectors and manufacturing technologies. The Series B financing is designed to move several of AGTC’s programs through proof of concept as well as to allow the company to leverage its manufacturing and development infrastructure with partners to accelerate a broad portfolio of curative products.”

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W - SpeedLimitDCF7363 copyALACHUA – Motorists traveling through Alachua on U.S. Highway 441 may have noticed a change in speed limits near Progress Corporate Park.

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) recently ordered reduced speeds in the area as a result of a study the agency conducted. The changes come after what FDOT termed an “in-house request” to conduct a safety study of the U.S. 441 corridor in Alachua. The department determined that congestion in the area surrounding Progress Corporate Park, the Santa Fe College Perry Center and nearby State of Florida office park warranted adjustments in speed limits.

The 45 mile per hour speed limit zone was pushed eastward by about two-tenths of a mile, taking that zone to the edge of the County Road 2054 overpass. But likely more noticeable to motorists will be the extended 55 mile per hour zone, which was increased eastward to nearly a mile long. Under the new speed limit arraignment, the 65 mile per hour speed limit does not occur until the Calvary Baptist Church area.

Former Alachua Mayor Jean Calderwood had long been a proponent of speed limit reductions in that area of the U.S. 441 corridor. In previous years, Calderwood repeatedly requested that FDOT review the area and consider speed reductions due to a growing number of motorists entering and leaving the highway there.

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HIGH SPRINGS – A forensic audit of the High Springs Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for fiscal years 2008-2012 was completed in October at a cost to the City of High Springs of $11,000.

Michael G. Kessler, President of Kessler International in New York, has since forwarded the audit findings to the City. Kessler noted that CRA funds had been given as “grants” to other community entities; CRA funds were used for items not usually allowed, confusing accounting procedures and the need for the CRA to establish its own bank account separate from the City. Kessler also reported that the CRA was unable to provide some requested records.

Several CRA Board members expressed concern about the report. In response to the audit, Board member Sylvia Newcomb delivered written comments at the October CRA meeting concerning past actions taken by the City, by Main Street, by the Community Development Corporation (CDC) and related officers. Upon hearing the audit results Board member Ann Carter said she would like to see those who had inappropriately used CRA funds be “brought to justice.”

Among Kessler’s comments that seemed most disturbing to Board members was his team’s inability to obtain all of the CRA records, which were requested during the audit.

At the Nov. 8, 2012 commission meeting, previous city manager Jeri Langman responded to that issue commenting that Kessler’s records requests were made during the time her staff were occupied trying to finalize the City’s 2012-2013 budget…a time when the City held two to three meetings per week in an attempt to whittle the budget down.

A further dispute arising from the audit report stemmed from comments made by some CRA Board members alleging that Lucie Regensdorf, who was the Main Street Organization’s Chairman during a portion of the audit review period, had used CRA funds inappropriately to develop a $15,000 commercial for The Grady House Bed & Breakfast – a business she and her husband own.

Lucie Regensdorf denied any wrongdoing and said, “The ‘commercial’ they are referring to is a video shot by Visit Florida, which appears on its website.”

“The CRA,” Regensdorf said, “chose to spend $1,500 of its own money – not $15,000.” She went on to say, “Visit Gainesville partnered with the CRA and paid the other $1,500. Total $3,000.”

Regensdorf charged that the video, which can be viewed at http://www.visitflorida.com/video/310-high-springs, had not been viewed by the current CRA members, as the video clearly shows the springs and other natural areas of interest to visitors, as well as signs of various downtown businesses and of Main Street.

Following additional comments by several CRA Board members, Board member and City Commissioner Scott Jamison suggested the Board learn from the audit and earlier mistakes and move forward doing it right in the future.

CRA Board member and City Commissioner Sue Weller, who had recently attended the Florida Redevelopment Association (FRA) Annual Conference, said afterward that she learned that many cities don’t understand the rules. “Up until three years ago,” she said, “there was no real training on the program. A lot of cities were not aware they could go to the FRA to obtain information on the day-to-day particulars of how to administer the program.”

Weller added, “One of the most important aspects I learned about during the conference is that we need to review and revise our CRA plan every five years to keep it current with the overall plan for the downtown area.” She noted that the High Springs CRA is a 26-year-old Board and “our plan hasn’t changed during that time. The original plan was just passed down from Board to Board to Board with no training,” she explained.

Weller also learned that during review, the CRA should identify everything they want to accomplish during the next five-year period, but to “keep the plan broad based.”

Weller noted that the funds that had been given out by the CRA to other agencies somehow benefited the City. “It may not have been spent within the parameters of what the plan says, but none of it was done for deceitful or fraudulent purposes,” she said. “We are learning from past mistakes and we realize we have to change the way we have been doing things. We need to go forward with the correct procedures in place to make sure we follow the Florida statute and best practices for what is required for the CRA area,” she said.

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