Dean Davis says allegations are unjustified

HIGH SPRINGS – A High Springs Police Department officer has filed a complaint stating that Mayor Dean Davis threatened his job for speaking out against the city commission’s plans to cut ties with the Alachua County Combined Communication Center (CCC) and to return to a local dispatch service.

In a Friday, June 22, memo to High Springs Police Department (HSPD) Chief Steve Holley, Sergeant Antoine Sheppard stated that Mayor Dean Davis commented to another High Springs employee regarding Sheppard’s vocal opposition to the changes with dispatch.

“Mayor Davis stated that I should be careful and eventually I would get in trouble if I did not shut my mouth up about the police dispatch debate,” Sheppard said in his complaint.

“If we had a different Chief of Police here, Antoine would not have a job,” continued Sheppard’s letter, recounting the suspected comments by the High Springs mayor. “Mayor Dean Davis allegedly stated that I was an embarrassment to the Chief and the City for speaking out against the city’s decision to reclaim dispatch and I had no business speaking out anyways.”

The letter continued by stating that Davis said Sheppard would be unable to find employment anywhere else as a result of the City’s actions.

During a May 15 Town Hall Meeting, two HSPD police officers expressed concerns about the safety of a city-operated dispatch. Sergeant Antoine Sheppard and Officer Dustyn Shenk felt that, after working under both the CCC and the previous High Springs dispatch service, the City should remain with the CCC.

In response to the letter by Sheppard, Davis stated in an e-mail, “This is inter-office communication. I see no reason for any action on our part. It is not a formal complaint against the mayor; it is an IOC based on hearsay.”

When questioned about the complaint, Davis said the comments were unjustified, and that Sheppard does not speak for the majority of the police officers.

Unless adequate funding is provided, the city-operated dispatch would put the lives of the officers and High Springs residents in jeopardy, Sheppard said during the Town Hall Meeting. If the City funds the project properly, he said he would welcome a local dispatch.

With a local dispatch, the police department would lose the ability to "ping" phones, automatically track a caller’s location and instantly request back-up from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. On May 22, the commission voted to bring the dispatch back to High Springs without information about how much the dispatch would cost or if it would be properly funded.

“When the lives of my fellow officers and citizens are placed in jeopardy, I will NOT remain silent, even if that causes me to lose my employment with the City of High Springs,” Sheppard’s letter stated. “I am 100 percent sure that these comments were made by Mayor Davis.”

On Tuesday, Davis said the comments were taken out of context and became a matter of “he said, she said.”

“I couldn’t fire him if I wanted to,” Davis said. “I’m not against the Police Department. Antoine is a good policeman.”

One reason commissioners were in favor of the local dispatch is that the City would not have to change street names to meet CCC regulations. Commissioner Linda Gestrin said she advocated bringing the dispatch back to the City to create autonomy, and it is a drawing point to people searching for a future hometown that High Springs has its own police department and fire department.

While the commission had approved withdrawing from the CCC and instead operating the dispatch locally, it may not be a done deal. Commissioner Scott Jamison said at a June 19 special commission meeting that he will be placing an item on the upcoming June 28 agenda to rescind the previous decision and discuss staying with the CCC.

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High Springs Vice Mayor Bob Barnas reported that he tripped over the car-shaped bike rack in front of the Chamber of Commerce, calling it a hazard.

HIGH SPRINGS – The bike rack issue continues to cycle through the City of High Springs as Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas requested the names of volunteers who installed the decorative racks.  In a Monday, June 25 email, Barnas said he required the names to file a report.

The latest move comes despite an agreement that the racks could remain on private property as long as the property owners released the city from any potential injury-related liability.

The Community Development Committee (CDC), whose volunteers installed the bike racks, refused to provide the names of volunteers, stating Barnas had no possible reason to request such information.

According to the CDC, the committee owns all of the artistic bike racks, and it would be responsible for removing the racks if the City deemed it necessary. Crafted in the likeness of Santa Fe River animals by local artist Ted Brock, the racks were purchased using a grant approved by the Community Redevelopment Agency.

CDC volunteers installed all six of Brock’s racks around town in spots determined by the High Springs’ former city planner, Christian Popoli. A seventh rack was donated to the CDC by a High Springs business, and with City approval, placed outside of the Chamber of Commerce.

It took approximately 25 residents two weeks to finish the project, just in time for Bike Florida in March 2011, an event which draws more than 700 visitors into the High Springs area. None of the bike racks were placed on the sidewalk, said Tom Hewlett, president of the Yellow-bellied Sliders Bicycle Society, during an interview in May.

In a May 17 email, Barnas claimed he was injured April 14 as a result of one of the bike racks.

“As a private citizen, I tripped over the bike rack at the Chamber building, which is on city property. I hurt my knee and wrist. It happened on April 14, just as it was getting dark,” he said in the email directed to City Manager Jeri Langman and Finance Service Director Helen McIver.

But in a March 29 email, two weeks before the injury reportedly occurred, Barnas warned the city manager that the rack was dangerous.

Just three days before the purported injury, Barnas sent another email on the matter.  He said in the April 11 email, “I think we need to refocus on things that we started, but need to finish. Bike rack in front of city hall. One gone, none replaced. Bike rack at city-owned property chamber office. I believe it is a hazard. Please consider removing it and giving back to CDC or put it in storage.”

The ongoing issue was seemingly being put to rest on May 24 when Barnas said he would prefer to compromise on the artistic racks. Raymond Ivey, the city attorney, was directed to draft a form for business owners with bicycle racks on their property to sign. The document will release the City from any liability associated with the bicycle racks if someone were to trip over a rack and then intended to sue for injury.

“There are a lot of dangerous things out on our sidewalks that people could sue us for, and if we have to worry about all of that, why have sidewalks down our streets in the city?” Hewlett said during the May 24 meeting.

After City Engineer John Morrison released a report stating the bike racks were hazardous to the public and should be removed, Hewlett offered to meet with Morrison to find a solution to the perceived problems with the bike racks located on city property.

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W_-_BarnasJamisonL-R:  High Springs Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Scott Jamison, Sr.

HIGH SPRINGS – Despite the call by High Springs city officials during the Thursday, June 14 commission meeting for a distinction between commissioner and charter-employee duties, an hour-long debate provided scant information.

On Friday, June 8, City Manager Jeri Langman called for Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas to resign because of his alleged activities that she said were outside of his charter authorized duties. Langman directed her complaints to Mayor Dean Davis, who instructed the city attorney, Raymond Ivey, to thoroughly read the City of High Springs Charter.

During the June 14 meeting, Ivey said, “This commission as a body, when it decides, when the majority decides on action, that is the action of the commission itself, and that is then ordered to the appropriate charter officer.  But individually, the commissioners do not deal with any of the charter officers.”

Ivey clarified that each officer has the right to request information, such as water bill revenues, for the purpose of duties as a commissioner. However, the commission is not allowed to instruct the charter officers to take action.

“I’ve watched for years as commissioners up here have said we need to get that gazebo or direct staff to get that gazebo, or direct staff to get those benches moved somewhere, or direct staff to go take care of the tree that fell down,” Barnas said. “So what you’re saying is we have to bring that to a commission and vote on it?”

Items of attention can be brought before the city manager, Ivey said. However, under the express language of the Charter, commissioners do not have the authority under the Charter to direct staff.

Commissioner Scott Jamison said that under a city manager type of government, the manager is in charge of running the city, not the commissioners. The commission makes the policy, which the manager then carries out the tasks to set the policy in motion.

“Just because the people in the past did it doesn’t mean it’s right,” Jamison said. “That’s all we do up here - rip the people in the past, and now we’re saying because they did it, we want to be able do it. You do what the words say.”

Barnas read from the Charter stating the city manager is required to keep the commissioners apprised of all affairs of the city as he or she deems desirable. Barnas said if the city manager, city clerk or city attorney does not deem it necessary to tell one commissioner over the other, that becomes a problem.

“I think it’s becoming pretty clear I disagree with your interpretation of Section 2.06,” Barnas said to Ivey. “But it’s becoming clear that the Charter has some issues that this commission and maybe others didn’t address properly.”

“By leaving that paragraph in the Charter, it leaves it up to the city manager to decide who to tell. She can include or exclude any commissioner at her free will, and that’s wrong,” Barnas said.

Commissioners Sue Weller and Jamison both agreed that the city manager enforces policies based on the decisions made by the commission. The commission authorizes the budget, decides whether to raise fees and decides where the money goes, Jamison said.

“If we’re going to blame someone, we need to look in the mirror,” he said.

The explanation from the city attorney was crystal clear, Langman later said Monday. “I’m hoping that we will be able to move forward from here.”

On Monday, Barnas said the meeting left unanswered questions regarding commissioner and city manager duties that he feels still need to be resolved by charter amendments.

Also on Thursday’s agenda was an item to “discuss and make motions as needed for the City Attorney, City Clerk and City Manager.” However, Barnas said if the rest of the commissioners were happy with the performance of these officers, then the item could be skipped.

No one spoke up, and the item was dismissed.

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NEWBERRY – Cracks of thunder will be replaced by the cracks of baseball bats in Newberry this week.

Nations Park, which is located on the corner of Southwest 30th Avenue and State Road 41, will hold its first baseball tournaments this week beginning on Saturday. The tournaments will last until Thursday or Friday, founder Lou Presutti said.

He believes the weather will hold out for this week’s events and expects a smooth “soft” opening for the expected 20 teams coming to the park.

“It should be very close to being seamless,” Presutti said.

Presutti said teams from across the country will participate in the tournaments this week, bringing in an estimated 500 to 600 people to the city.

City of Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad said area residents can expect an increase in traffic to get across town while the tournaments are going on, but he said the influx of ball players may bring in some benefit to local businesses.

Local restaurants, shops and laundromats may have an increase in business this week, Conrad said.

Though the park is hosting several tournaments this summer, construction at Nations Park is not finished. The grand opening is currently scheduled for November.

Previous events planned for Saturday included a parade and city celebration, but since the grand opening is not until later in the year, the celebration has also been postponed.

Construction of the $7 million 16-field baseball complex began last March, but gopher tortoise removal, sinkhole problems and other delays kept construction behind schedule.

The project is a the product of a partnership between the city and Presutti, who founded Cooperstown Dreams Park in New York. Cooperstown Dreams Park draws crowds from around the country for youth baseball tournaments, and the hope is that a similar result will take place in Newberry.

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A creative cure for summertime boredom

 W_-_Newberry_Chalk_DSCF6105_2L-R: Brianna King and Natalie Kempton, armed with colorful chalk, are transforming a Newberry sidewalk into an imaginative work of art.  The youngsters are participating in the Newberry branch library’s summer reading program, which has a host of activities scheduled through the end of July.

NEWBERRY – Youngsters looking for a cure to the endless days of summer need not look any further than their local public library.  Like other libraries around the county, the Newberry branch of the Alachua County Library District has a full schedule of summertime boredom beaters.

The focus this week of the Newberry library branch has been its third annual Sidewalk Chalk Art Contest, which began Monday, June 18 and wraps up Thursday, June 21.  The library provides the colorful chalk and plenty of sidewalk, said Marian Suggs, library specialist in charge of programing for the children’s summer reading program.

“The children just need to provide the inspiration,” Suggs added.

And the contest has already been a smashing success with nearly two dozen youngsters participating by Wednesday afternoon.

Suggs said she had heard about the idea of a sidewalk chalk activity for summer reading programs.  But she upped the ante by bringing a competitive spirit when she introduced the activity as a contest at the Newberry library three years ago.

Despite seemingly drenching rains in recent weeks, the sidewalk chalk contest has dodged the bullet over the past few days.  Those clear skies have left the youth-inspired art sketched on the sidewalks around the library.

But if the skies should let out another downpour, Suggs says fear not.

“We take pictures of them each day so we can share them with everyone and put them on our blog later this week,” she said.

This year, the winner of the contest will receive a Town of Tioga gift certificate.  Other participants won’t be left out in the cold as Suggs said each participant would receive something.

Ten-year-old Brianna King has been spending much of her summer at the library before she enters fifth grade at Newberry’s Oakview Middle School.  With beauty as her inspiration and the sidewalk as her canvas, King chalked out a masterpiece she calls “A Beautiful Day.”  With large shapes and bright colors, King’s drawing, prominently displayed near the library entrance, features flowers and balloons.

Natalie Kempton, also 10 years old and one of King’s schoolmates, has also been passing some of her time at the library since graduating from Newberry Elementary a few shorts weeks ago.  Kempton found a shady spot along the walkway where she drew cooler visions on her piece of art, which depicts a blue flowing river and tall, tall pine trees.  She also drew a picture of her pet pooch and on another sidewalk segment, the image of one of her new favorite activities ­– Archery.

Although the Sidewalk Chalk Art Contest ends Thursday, the fun isn’t over at the Newberry branch library, where each Monday at 2 p.m. they have “Cool Monday Movies.”  On Thursdays at the same time, they make crafts.  A variety of other activities dot the calendar over the next several weeks.  Suggs said the library would close out the summer reading program with a celebration on Thursday, July 26, which will include cupcake decorating, hula hoops, games and prize drawings for the program’s best readers and participants.

To see a complete calendar of events and the sidewalk photos to be posted later this week, visit

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GAINESVILLE – A jury convicted the man involved with the High Springs Community School shooting that sent shockwaves through the community in 2011.  Robert Allan Nodine, 63, of High Springs, was found guilty on June 20, but not for the highest offenses being sought by the State Attorney’s office.

Jurors found that Nodine was guilty of attempted voluntary manslaughter, when he reportedly fired his weapon at High Springs Police Department (HSPD) Officer Charles Harper.  Jurors also convicted him of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon as it related to Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) Deputy Brian Phillips.

Jurors did not, however, find Nodine guilty of two more severe charges being sought by the State Attorney’s Office, those of attempted first degree murder and attempted second degree murder.

Nodine was additionally convicted on two counts of possession of a weapon on school property, one for a firearm and the other for a knife.  He was also found guilty of trespassing on school grounds after being escorted from the premises by a law enforcement officer.

Nodine is awaiting sentencing, which has not yet been scheduled.  A presentence investigation ordered by the judge overseeing the case is currently underway.  Conducted by the Florida Department of Corrections, that investigation will yield a report on the history of Nodine’s life, including any criminal history.

State Attorney’s Office spokesman Spencer Mann said his office would be providing a sentencing score sheet that converts the convictions into a numerical point system to provide guidance on sentencing.

“He runs the potential of serving the rest of his life in prison,” Mann said.

He also said the State Attorney’s Office would be advocating for the highest level of incarceration.

“We believe [Nodine] should not be released due to the violence used and the potential loss of life, and we believe he is a danger to society,” he added.

The shootout may have been triggered as a result of a reported investigation by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), which asked the school not to release Nodine’s two grandchildren.  A 9-1-1 caller who was reporting the incident as it unfolded said DCF had not yet arrived at the school to deal with matters related to that investigation.

Responding to the school on May 18 were both ACSO deputies and HSPD officers.

Police say Nodine became irate while at the school, and while being escorted off the campus the grandfather was reportedly able to arm himself.

Nodine challenged a deputy and a police officer, according to reports.  The incident escalated and police opened fire on Nodine who was the only person injured in the exchange of fire.

The shooting occurred in a breezeway into the elementary school office.  Meanwhile, the school was in lockdown for much of that afternoon as deputies restricted access to and from school grounds.

Most of the school’s children had already been released because of an abbreviated Wednesday schedule.  But some 170 students remained on campus for after-school activities when the shooting occurred.

Harper was placed on administrative leave, but returned to work in the week following the incident.

Nodine was initially taken to an area hospital for treatment, but was later booked into the Alachua County Jail.

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City can still choose to stay with CCC

HIGH SPRINGS – Even though the High Springs Commission has voted to bring emergency dispatch back under local operation, one commissioner has other plans.  Commissioner Scott Jamison announced during Tuesday’s special meeting that he will be placing an item on the upcoming June 28 agenda to rescind the previous decision and discuss staying with the Alachua County Combined Communication Center (CCC).

Despite reservations voiced by several High Springs police officers during a May 15 Town Hall Meeting, the commission approved by a 3-2 vote to bring dispatch back to the city.  During a recent meeting, Jamison expressed doubts about the City’s ability to fund the project safely and thoroughly. He said on Tuesday that he has already asked for the topic to be placed on the next agenda.

“Do I believe the dispatch back in our control is good? Yes, I do,” Jamison said during the May 22 meeting. “But I’m not convinced we can adequately prepare for it, technologically, staff it and assume control or take on the added financial obligations that come with it.”

As of June 19, City Manager Jeri Langman said the City still does not have solid numbers for the cost of operating the dispatch center. On May 15, it was estimated the locally operated dispatch would cost the City an additional $145,486 more a year than staying with the CCC. But that number seems to have increased as new expenses have come to light, such as the cost to update various programs, purchase new equipment and train future employees.

When queried by the commission, High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley has remained confident that if the City operates its own dispatch, the police department will be able to work safely and smoothly. However, Holley did say the dispatch would not be safe if there were only four dispatchers. This prompted the commission to budget for five dispatchers and one supervisor.

On Tuesday, the commission reviewed the letter the City will be sending to the CCC to provide formal notice of separation. Prompted by Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas, Mayor Dean Davis signed the letter, which is slated to be mailed on June 29, depending on the results of the June 28 commission meeting.

Commissioner Linda Gestrin was absent during the discussion, but said during an earlier meeting that the dispatch provides an opportunity for the City to rebuild and make the dispatch the best it can be.

“We have the officers and the community’s safety in mind,” Gestrin said.

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