SinkSmithGrahamNelsonDSCF2718L-R:  Alex Sink and Rod Smith ignite a rousing crowd of supporters Monday at Gators Dockside in Gainesville as they pushed through the area on a final campaign stop

Gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink and running mate and longtime Alachua resident Rod Smith made a final push through Alachua County Monday afternoon in hopes of tilting the scales in their favor.  By Wednesday afternoon, however, Sink, democrat, conceded the tight race to opponent Rick Scott, republican.

The razor thin margin apparently couldn’t be overcome as Sink pulled in 47.66 percent of votes compared to Scott’s 48.93 percent of votes statewide.  Sink and Smith did carry Alachua County with 59.21 percent of the vote. 

Flanked by big name supporters like former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham and current Senator Bill Nelson, Smith and Sink spoke to a crowd of about 150 or more supporters at Gators Dockside on Newberry Road in Gainesville. 

Smith, a well-known local attorney, was elected to the State Senate in 2000.  In 2006, Smith sought to win the primary for democratic gubernatorial candidate.  Smith then returned to private practice where he serves as senior partner in Avera and Smith.  In 1992, Smith was elected as the State Attorney for the Eight Judicial Circuit.  He gained significant recognition regionally and nationally for his successful prosecution of the penalty phase of Danny Rolling, the man convicted in the 1991 murdering of five college students in Gainesville.

Smith and wife DeeDee reside on their rural Alachua County farm on the outskirts of the city of Alachua.

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Sue Weller and Byran Williams will fill the two open seats on the High Springs City Commission.  Their victory Tuesday night ended an election cycle where five candidates, including the current mayor, vied for the two vacancies.

Of the five candidates running for two spots on the High Springs City Commission, the three who lost had more votes together than the total between the two winners.

The number of votes cast for candidates Bob Barnas, Linda Clark Gestrin, and Bill Coughlin was higher than the total number garnered by Sue Weller and Byran Williams.

With close to 800 votes, Weller will take seat for a three-year term. Williams, with just over 700 votes, will fill the one year remainder of Diane Shupe’s term.

When Shupe resigned in February, her seat was temporarily filled by the appointment of John Hill, who was not a contender in Tuesday’s election.

Clark Gestrin fell short to third place despite having over 600 votes, and Coughlin ranked fourth with a little over 500, followed by Barnas with just under 500.

These numbers include early and absentee ballots but are not yet officially certified results.

While champagne flowed in the winner’s circle at The Great Outdoors Tuesday night, there was nothing but grim, teary-eyed faces one door down at the Coffee Clutch.

Family, friends and supporters congratulated Weller on the patio of the downtown restaurant as they exchanged hugs and shook hands.

One wall and almost 300 votes separated her from Barnas, as he sat at the coffee shop’s computer next door, mulling over election results with his wife.

Coughlin sat across the room, and between them was a table covered edge to edge with trays of food that had barely been touched.

This was Barnas’ second consecutive failed attempt at running for the city commission. He said after the way this election went he pondered if it would be his last.

Other options on the ballot included a city referendum to allow the commission to grant tax exemptions to new or expanding businesses, and the charter amendment altering the process for filling vacant commission seats mid-term, and both were passed.  

The results for this election may bring about a new direction in local government. Weller and Williams will join Vice Mayor Eric May and commissioners Dean Davis and Larry Travis on the commission.  It is expected that Weller and Williams will shift the power of majority in a more conservative direction with different priorities than were represented by the previous commission.  Add a comment


Streets were packed Saturday night as local businesses passed out candy to all sorts of ghouls, goblins and assorted creaturesCheck out Alachua County Today on Facebook for more photos at

It wasn’t exactly lions, tigers and bear, oh my, but it was an evening of superheroes, princesses and witches as thousands of Halloween fun seekers took over Alachua’s downtown area Saturday during the city’s annual Trick-or-Treat on Main Street from 7 – 9 p.m.  

The downtown area’s Scarecrow Row set the stage with costumed scarecrows adorning lampposts along the winding street, greeting visitors along the way. Young and old alike, dressed in their spookiest or most creative costumes, joined in the festivities.  The upbeat crowd moved back and forth along both sides of Main Street, as children trick-or-treated door-to-door in search of sweet treats from local businesses.

Highlights of the evening included the announcement of Scarecrow Row winners, costume contests sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and a bike raffle fundraiser conducted by the Alachua Lions Club. 

City of Alachua Recreation Director Hal Brady announced the winners of Scarecrow Row and presented each with a plaque and a monetary award.  Winners were Capital City Banks in first place, Douglas M. Adel, D.D.S., P.A. in second place and Gainesville Family Dentistry in third place.

Wearing his trademark three or four colorful neckties looped around his neck, Brady said, “Downtown Alachua is a great place to be on Halloween.  Trick-or-Treat on Main Street gives everybody somewhere to go to have a good time, and the kids have a ball.”

Costume contestants were divided into age groups, and Alachua Elementary Principal Jim Brandenburg called each of the groups to the stage for viewing by the judges as camera flashes illuminated an assortment of characters.  In the Pre-K category, winners were Brennen and Rilyn Bentley, Graycee Adams, Colton Roberts, Jackson McCallum and Brooklyn Howard.  Winners in the K- 2nd grade division were Riley Applebee, Taj Smith, Coleman Neal, Molly Branham and Gracie Skiner.  Winners in the 3rd – 5th grade division were Jordan Evans, Kayla Tindall, Alexis Greenberg, Amelia MacCallum and Zachary Zewick.  In grades 6-8, winners were Angela Underwood and Arissa Sawyer, Joseph Deen, Grace Divito, Shawna Fissell, Tristan Bass, Nathan Amparo and Montana Parrish.  In the high school through adult category, winners were Paul McKnight, Taylor Wilson, Brock Timmerman, Tracy Silvia and Beth Eddy.

In the Alachua Lions Club drawing for the bicycle, Lions Club member Don James, Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper and Alachua City Commissioner Ben Boukari rolled the mesh cage filled with tickets, mixing and tumbling them under the eyes of a watchful crowd.  After a final twirl, a young costumed trick-or-treater dressed as a glittering blue butterfly reached in the cage and withdrew the winning ticket revealing the big winner as Kris Browning, new owner of the Gator bike.

Trick-or-Treat on Main Street is a longtime annual event sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and City of Alachua offering children a safe environment to enjoy Halloween festivities.  It is one of a series of events taking place in downtown Alachua during the fall season, along with the Alachua Harvest Festival sponsored by the Alachua Business League, Shop - Dine - Stroll sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and the Alachua Christmas Parade sponsored by the City of Alachua and the Alachua Chamber of Commerce.

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In many ways, Alachua County voters cast predictable ballots favoring democratic candidates and causes, but some races ran in the other direction. 

Baird over Chestnut

Incumbent Alachua County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut lost her bid for re-election Tuesday, defeated by Susan Baird, the first Republican elected to the County Commission since the 1980s.

With 54 percent of the vote, Baird handily defeated Chestnut, a democrat, who pulled down 46 percent of votes in Tuesday’s election.  In a race that has historically favored democrats, Baird’s win came as a surprise to many.

A tea party candidate who began attending county commission and charter review board meetings months ago, Baird said she sought election to the County Commission in an effort to refocus the County on what she believes its priorities should be.

Democrat Sheriff Sadie Darnell backed Baird in her bid against Chestnut after the County Commission refused to adopt a budget the Sheriff said was necessary to adequately fund her department.

Pinkoson holds on

Incumbent County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, a democrat, was able to hold onto his seat Tuesday after facing off against challenger Jim Gabriel.  Gabriel, a republican, wasn’t able to swing enough votes in his favor to pull off a win. 

With 56.13 percent of the vote, Pinkoson will retain his seat on the County Commission.  Gabriel garnered 31,422 votes, or 43.87 percent of the votes. 

Having previously served multiple terms as a commissioner in High Springs, Gabriel had some name recognition, but lacked financial resources to mount a fully-loaded campaign. Gabriel raised just $11,454 as compared to Pinkoson’s $88,094.  Unlike Pinkoson, Gabriel did not face primary challengers, which is where much of the incumbent’s resources were spent.

Griffin, Oyenarte take School Board

Voters elected April Griffin with 58.13 percent of the vote over Rick Nesbit who brought in 41.87 percent in Tuesdays runoff race for School Board Member District 1.

Carol Oyenarte, meanwhile, is also being sent to the School Board in District 5 after winning her runoff with 53.52 percent of votes as compared to Jancie Vinson’s 46.48 percent of votes.

Voters limit County’s power in two amendments

Voters gave the thumbs up to a measure that would prevent the County Commission from repealing or amending ordinances enacted by a citizens initiative until after the first year and even then, only with a vote of four out of five commissioners.  That question passed with 57.53 percent of votes.

Passing with 54.89 percent of the votes was another measure which requires that any future charter amendments limiting municipal power must not only be approved by a countywide majority of voters, but also a majority of voters within the affected city or cities.

Voters turn down changes in county structure

With just 33.52 percent of votes cast in favor, a proposed amendment to Alachua County’s charter, which would have replaced the board of county commissioners with a board of charter commissioners, failed.

A follow-up question on the ballot, which would only have been enacted if the board were replaced with charter commissioners, also failed, but only slightly.  When asked if county commission salaries should be set by local ordinance rather than by the state legislature, 49.98 percent of voters approved.  Only 24 more voters were against the question than were in favor of it.  Even if it had been approved, the measure would not have been enacted without the change to a charter commission polled in the previous question.

A proposed amendment to the County charter that would have essentially made constitutional officer races non-partisan also failed.  Under Question 6 on the ballot, voters were asked if they would be in favor of converting positions such as Tax Collector, Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Supervisor of Elections and Clerk of Court into charter officers, but the measure failed with just 39.44 percent of voters seeking to approve it.  If approved, that amendment would have required candidates seeking election to those seats to do so without any reference to their political party affiliation, rather than running as a democrat, republican or some other party affiliation.

Voters don’t ease guidelines on Citizens Initiatives

A measure that would have reduced the number of electors required to sign a petition to get a citizens initiative on the ballot failed.  The referendum would have reduced the percentage of the electorate need to sign a petition from seven percent down to five percent of voters, making it easier to get a citizen-driven initiative on the ballot.  But voters turned down that reduction with 67.33 percent of ballots cast against it.

Soil and Water goes to Griffin

Bryan Griffin solidly beat Brian Bunch to get a spot on the Alachua Soil and Water Conservation District.  Griffin pulled in 63.51 percent of the 50,650 votes cast in that election while Bunch received 36.49 percent.

Airboat curfew

With 56.18 percent of the votes in Alachua County, an ordinance is slated for adoption to implement a curfew on airboats.  The curfew would prohibit operating the airboats between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. in Alachua County with the exception of those which might be used in an official capacity for law enforcement and rescue efforts.

Voters pick Oelrich, Bembry, Porter, Perry

Former Alachua County Sheriff and current incumbent District 14 State Senator Steve Oelrich, republican, will hold onto his seat after garnering 53.83 percent of the votes in his district.  One-time State House Representative and local businessman Perry McGriff, democrat, challenged Oelrich, but came up short with just 46.17 percent of the votes.

State Representative Debbie Boyd, democrat, lost her bid for re-election after challenger Elizabeth Porter, republican, picked up 53.92 percent of votes in that district.  Boyd had previously been challenged by Porter but narrowly won in that match.  Boyd picked up 40.53 percent of votes in Tuesday’s election while tea party candidate John Ferentinos garnered 5.85 percent of votes in the three-way race.

Leonard Bembry, the democrat incumbent State Representative in District 10 will maintain his seat after picking of 59.47 percent of votes.  He defeated challenger David Feigin, a republican who had 40.53 percent of votes.

In a race with two political newcomers, republican Keith Perry won his bid for election to State Representative District 22.  With 60.69 percent of votes, Perry solidly defeated candidate Jon Paugh, a democrat who pulled in 39.31 percent of votes.

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Newberry’s smokin’ fall festival

Q---NewberryFallFestCoxS5003921Fun, food, a farmers market and pony rides were on tap Saturday at Newberry’s Fourth Annual Fall Market Festival in downtown Newberry.  The event featured more than 50 vendors from all over the state.  The highlight of the day was the Newberry Main Street Festival barbecue cook-off.  After hours of preparation, the Hodges family won the “People’s Choice” award, Newberry Commissioner Bill Conrad won “Best Overall,” and Bacon’s BBQ and Catering won the award for “Best Sauce.”

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Allison “Gabe” Green, a newcomer to Archer’s political landscape, won his bid for commissioner in the small town of about 1,400 residents.  Green, 70 years old, challenged Laurie Costello, 53, for Seat 5 on the commission

Costello was initially elected to the Archer City Commission in May 2004 after a three-way race in which she tied another candidate and ultimately won in a runoff election weeks later.

Both Green and Costello had been talking up plans for a wastewater system in the City of Archer in hopes that the infrastructure would open doors to more economic development.

In Tuesday’s race, Green defeated Costello, a six-year veteran of the commission.  Green came up with 207 votes as compared to Costello’s 157 votes.

With 364 ballots cast, about 56 percent of Archer’s voters turned out for the election held Tuesday. 

City officials say Green will be sworn into office on Nov. 22.

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A contract with Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) dating back to 1988 will likely be extended yet again after Alachua commissioners voted 5-0 Monday night to continue buying its wholesale power from the nearby electric provider.

If approved by the City of Gainesville commission, the most recent changes would mark the third amendment to the long-standing agreement which has apparently returned favorable utility rates for the City of Alachua over the last two years.

The updated agreement extends the contract for 10 years with a five-year opener, which gives either party the option of going back out to market to seek bids.

Public Services Director Mike New said the amendments include fixed costs that will increase 2.5 percent annually after the first year of the new agreement.  But those fixed costs only account for about 20 percent of the total cost of wholesale power.

The largest determining factor in the cost of power is the fuel cost, half of which will be calculated on GRU’s retail fuel charge and the remaining half on the average price of natural gas for the last three days of each month as published by NYMEX then multiplied by GRU’s heat rate for natural gas combustion.  In prior arrangements, the natural gas price component was based on the price of natural gas only on the last day of the month, leading to a higher rate of volatility. 

Both New and consultant William Herrington of WHH Enterprises said the City of Alachua has substantial exposure to the natural gas sector which could lead to volatility and considerable and uncontrollable increases if those rates go up. 

That’s a scenario Herrington seems to think is a foregone conclusion since natural gas has been on an 18-month decline.  He suggested the City consider locking in at least some of its projected natural gas usage over the next few years to avoid a massive increase should supplies tighten.

The City of Alachua has some of the lowest power costs when compared to other cities in Florida.  Over the last year or so, Alachua’s power cost has averaged out to $73.38 per megawatt hour.  Other utilities had costs between $82.37 and $104.78 per megawatt hour. 

Herrington said Alachua’s new agreement won’t bring the lowest rates in the state, but they should remain among the lowest and are competitive, especially considering Alachua’s small size compared to other utilities.  He estimates that Alachua will have an average rate of $71.04 or less per megawatt hour in the next fiscal year under the amendments.

The contract is awaiting approval from the Gainesville City Commission, which is expected to review the matter at a Nov. 18 meeting.  If approved, the agreement would go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.

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