W_-_Swamp_Dash_IMG_0120_copyBilly Neilson (right) jumps down the last few hay bales, just one of 19 obstacles faced by competitors in the Swamp Dash and Bash on Saturday, April 21.

ALACHUA – Mud stained the clothes of racers as they crossed the finish line. It was hard to tell if the stains were from crawling under barbed wire, sliding into a pond of muddy water or simply running a four-mile race through Windy Hill Farm in Alachua.

Gainesville resident Judith Bellaire, 32, said she hadn’t run anything like this race.

“This is kind of a crazy way to start,” she said as she and her fellow runners examined the wall of hay barrels they had to climb over.

Fellow runner and Gainesville resident Shane Philhower, 35, said it didn’t really matter about the time in this particular race.

“Even if we did horribly, at least we can say we did it,” he said.

The Swamp Dash and Bash featured 19 different obstacles for runners to overcome on Saturday. The obstacles ranged from balancing on a thin wooden plank above a pond to climbing over 10-foot walls.

The run was created to benefit Shand’s Children’s Miracle Network. According to event coordinator LaVonne Rembert, the benefit mud run raised $13,000.

Swamp Dash and Bash was founded by Rembert and her husband Jonathan. Jonathan Rembert also runs Start 2 Finish Race Management, which specializes in race organization and time keeping.

The first Swamp Dash took place last November, and 180 runners attended the event. This time, the number tripled in size, bringing in over 600 competitors.

At least one of those runners didn’t go completely willingly. Tanquyen Nguyen, 25, of Gainesville, and Caryn Nichol, 30, of High Springs, wore matching Elmo T-shirts. Nguyen said she went at the request of Nichol, who was, after all, the birthday girl.

“She hates me right now,” Nichol joked.

Both women finished with a time of one hour and 22 minutes.

Between dragging a cinder block across a dirt field, climbing a cargo net and climbing monkey bars, the average time for the race was well over an hour.

Different racers had various techniques for preparing for the race. Some had run similar races before, and others had never done a 5k. Lawtey resident, Leslie Stroud, 33, said she did a P90X routine five times a week to prepare. She finished at just under one hour, placing her in 10th place in her age group.

As racers crossed the finish line, they were greeted with live music. The familiar chorus of “Tuesday’s Gone” echoed from Jamie Davis and his band.

The racers who weren’t as lucky to be at the finish line yet, didn’t hear the music, but were encouraged by fans and spectators lining the course.

Amanda Prokopi saw the thin plank above the pond, and just dove in to swim around it instead of taking her chances, as her family cheered. She finished with a time of one hour and 12 minutes, placing her 25th in the overall female competition wave.

Her 4-year-old son, Rivers, said he thinks he could do the race, but he wouldn’t have gone in the water. “I don’t like snakes,” he said. Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs announced on Thursday that it has come up with a plan to cover the shortfall in general revenue funds predicted in late March.

On March 29, City Finance Services Director Helen McIver cautioned that the city could see revenues falling $75,000 short for the 2011-2012 fiscal year if the revenue inflow continued at the current pace.

She said the some of the concerns were due to shortfalls in budgeted franchise fees, tag agency and state revenue sharing. For the franchise fees, the city could miss the anticipated budget by $40,000, in large part because a 25-year contract with Clay Electric ended earlier this year.

During the April 19 city budget workshop, city manager Jeri Langman said city staff had pulled together some numbers to find places where each department could cut back spending. According to Langman, the city found $95,500 to cover the shortfall.

“Ms. McIver tells us last month that this is a fluid number,” Langman said. “Last month, we thought it was $75,000. It could be $63,000 or it could be nothing.”

Last month, the commission and McIver discussed projects that could be eliminated, such as repairs for city vehicles, as well as searching for unspent, undedicated funds elsewhere that could be transferred to the city’s general revenue fund.

Money remaining in contingency could be transferred, and the city has money set aside in savings, part of which covers two months’ operating costs in case of emergency, which could be used to ease revenue shortfalls.

In personnel expenses, city manager salary and benefits decreased from $75,000 to $55,000 when Langman was hired from. The city will see a $15,000 savings based on that reduction.

City clerk Jenny Parham will delay codifying the municipal code, which will save the city $4,000. Staff estimates a savings of $12,500 on the purchase of new police vehicles which were ordered in April, but were budgeted for the entire year. Another $10,000 will be recouped from funds budgeted for changing city street signs, but delays will extend the timeline.

Other areas the city will see a savings is in professional contract services, such as contracted engineers, city attorney fees, a phone system, cemetery maintenance and repair, and police contract services.

Langman hopes to use a portion of the funds to cover the cost of hiring a new assistant city clerk. Staff estimates a part-time clerk will cost $6,500, leaving the city with an estimated $81,500 remaining.

“They seem to be viable solutions,” Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas said. “But I have some concerns on some other things about the 2011-2012 budget.”

Despite finding the money to cover a shortfall in general revenue funds, McIver said that currently the sewer fund is running a $40,000 deficit.  With an estimated 1,100 current wastewater system users, the minimum bill for sewer charges should be $63.86 per user just to cover the cost of the sewer, said Barnas.

Barnas also said the city needs to examine the accumulation of vacation time by city employees. When the former city planner was recently terminated, McIver estimated the city owed him approximately $4,800 for over 100 hours of accumulated time.

Some employees, Barnas said, have huge amounts of time on the books. He said that City Attorney Raymond Ivey should examine the possibility for a cap or a “use it or lose it” policy.

Commissioner Scott Jamison said the Alachua County School Board has a policy that limits the amount of leave carried over from year to year.

Add a comment

W_-_Shirley_Brown_sworn_in_DSCF5859_copyShirley Brown (right) officially became the newest member of the Alachua City Commission as she was sworn in at the beginning of the April 23 commission meeting.  Alachua City Manager Traci Cain (left) administered the oath of office to Brown, who won in the April 10 election for a seat on the commission.

Although Brown won the race by a 2-1 margin over her opponents, she was victorious by a razor thin margin, carrying 50.1 percent of the votes and avoiding a run-off election.  Brown garnered 237 of the 473 votes cast, while opponent Patricia Lee picked up 128 and opponent Billy Rogers received 108 votes.

Brown is replacing longtime Commissioner Orien Hills who opted not to seek re-election.

Add a comment

W_-_Alachua_Hills_Coerper_DSCF5850_copyW_-_Alachua_Hills_Commission_Group_DSCF5854_copyPhoto 1: L-R: Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper presents a plaque to Commissioner Orien Hills in recognition of his 15 years of service on the city commission. Photo 2: 

L-R:  Commissioner Gary Hardacre, City Manager Traci Cain, City Attorney Marian Rush, Commissioner Orien Hills, Mayor Gib Coerper, Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. and Vice Mayor Robert Wilford.

ALACHUA – Monday night at the Alachua City Commission Meeting was a night of change.

Orien Hills, a commissioner for 15 years, retired from his position on Seat 4, sitting through his final meeting on Monday, April 23. The City of Alachua honored him with a plaque in recognition of his service and with a special presentation of pictures taken throughout his career.

Mayor Gib Coerper presented the plaque, which stated the years Hills was in office and the date the plaque was presented.

Being a Commissioner, said Coerper, is not about sitting on the dais and waving.

“It’s about getting out and speaking to the people in the community,” he said. “There’s no better connection than that.”

Coerper said that Hills embodies that idea. When Hills was needed, Coerper said, he was there.

Former Alachua City Manager Clovis Watson, Jr. said Hills was a mentor when Watson was a young man as well as when he was working with the City.

“I miss seeing you here,” Watson said, adding that those were special times.

Jean Calderwood, Alachua’s former mayor, started working with Hills on the Planning and Zoning Board. Both eventually moved on to serve with the Commission. She called Hills a man of few words.

“But when he speaks, people listen,” Calderwood said.

When school children in Alachua were going to have to be bused elsewhere because of capacity issues, Calderwood said Commissioner Hills battled the School Board of Alachua County to ensure that the neighborhood children would stay in the schools located in their neighborhood.

“You have created a legacy here in the City of Alachua,” Calderwood said, “a legacy that leaves big shoes to fill for those remaining in the Commission.”

All four of the commissioners thanked Hills for the years he served the City. Commissioner Gary Hardacre said he appreciated the time Hills spent teaching him, both on the commission and at the Alachua Lions Club.

“I just want to thank the people of the community for allowing me to serve this many years,” Hills said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here, aggravating everybody in City Hall.”

After the commission thanked Hills for his service, newly elected Commissioner Shirley Green Brown was sworn into office, assuming Hills’ former seat on the dais, and Hardacre was sworn in for his second three-year term. During the commissioners’ comments period of the meeting, all of the commissioners welcomed Brown.

According to election rules, because Hardacre ran unopposed in the April 10 election, he must vote for himself to be re-elected to Seat 5.

“It was a tough decision, but I would vote for myself,” he joked.

The city commission selected a new Vice-Mayor on Monday as well. Former Vice-Mayor Ben Boukari nominated Commissioner Robert Wilford. No one else was nominated, and through consensus, Wilford became Vice-Mayor.

Add a comment



L-R: Newly-elected High Springs Commissioner Scott Jamison is administered his oath of office by City Clerk Jenny Parham at the beginning of the April 12 commission meeting.  With 295 votes, Jamison defeated challenger Ann Carter who garnered 205 votes in the April 10 special election.  Jamison is filling a vacancy left on the commission by the January resignation of former Commissioner Eric May Add a comment

NEWBERRY – The bidding process for four City of Newberry projects began several weeks ago but some confusion regarding Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) certification left contractors frustrated.

The city commission approved the bid recommendations for four of the five projects, but voted to rebid the Drainage Improvements Project because all of the bids were higher than the amount the city had budgeted to spend.

To some of those who attended the commission meeting on Monday, there was more to the story.

The ensuing conversation about the FDOT certification riled residents in the packed commission chambers.

The FDOT certification is an expensive certification to maintain, Hipp Construction Company's Virginia Johns said at the meeting.

Some persons in attendance alleged that bidders had been told ahead of time that the FDOT certification was not a prerequisite to place a bid, while yet others said they were told they’d have enough time to complete the FDOT certification. Another line of argument was that many times bidders are not required to be FDOT certified for bids under $250,000.

City Attorney Scott Walker said that the city has used the FDOT certification for over five years, but added that the language in the city's advertisements could have been clearer.

“It ticks me off when the local people don’t get the job,” resident Kevin Coleman said at the meeting.

Because of the expensive maintenance level, the FDOT certification favors certain businesses over others, it was argued.

While the project was voted to be rebid, the rebid was not based on the FDOT certificate, but rather on the high bid prices.

The commission did discuss ideas about how to handle bid projects in the future to save the city money. Discussion included using similar guidelines that the FDOT certification requires, but not requiring the bidder to be officially FDOT certified.

Also discussed was adding residents with more construction experience on the Request for Proposals/Qualifications Committee, which gives the bid recommendations to the city commission. Add a comment


Thousands of area residents flocked to Alachua were they strolled up and down Main Street during the 10th Annual Alachua Spring Festival.

ALACHUA – A long wooden sign with the carved words “WOOD IS GOOD” caught the eye of those walking by Brian Hoblick’s tent on Sunday afternoon.

Each piece is different, the Alachua resident said. The booth was filled with cypress and pine wooden carvings. There was a sign with a crane carved into it, a plaque with a fish and one piece with a carved cross.

Pops of color from flowers and art lined Main Street on Sunday afternoon. The sound of blue grass bands filled the street at the 10th Annual Alachua Spring Festival.

The festival took place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and featured 174 vendors, according to one of the event organizers, Valerie Taylor. What started as primarily a festival to showcase home improvement vendors and gardeners has grown to encompass a variety of vendors, such as homemade dog treat bakers, churches, charities, artists and musicians.

“There’s kind of something for everyone here,” Brad Campen, of Gainesville, said. Campen, his wife Shirley and their 13-week-old son Cooper visited the festival because of the variety.

They said they preferred the Alachua Spring Festival to the art festival that was happening on the same day in Gainesville.

The vendors at the festival came out for a number of different reasons. Newberry residents Mike and Elizabeth Ewing said they came out for fun, rather than to make a profit.

They had a board full of bracelets with various names spelled out in the beading. Mike said when they first started, they picked up three different yearbooks and began making bracelets from those names. When they received feedback that they didn’t have a certain name, they started to take custom orders.

Gainesville resident Stephanie Key had other reasons for attending the Alachua Spring Festival. Her business, the Curlie Girlie Bowtique, was started about two years ago after her then 23-month-old daughter Kylie was diagnosed with diabetes.

Kylie is the inspiration for starting this business. The profit goes to pay the medical bills and other expenses, Key said, who is now pregnant with her second daughter.

Daughter Kylie also inspired the product she makes. “She wears big, big bows,” Key said.

The hand-sewn bows were laid out on the table in various colors from bright pink to dark blue. Behind the bows was a framed picture of Kylie modeling one of her mom’s bows.

Another vendor at the festival sold plants and plant-growing kits. Renee Shiver and her husband sell mushroom growing plugs at festivals and around the world. The website for their business, Southeast Mushroom, has shipped the plugs to places like Hungary, China, Italy and Spain.

“People are interested, and it’s not a hard thing to do,” Shiver said.

Taylor said she was pleased at the turnout on Sunday. People kept moving at a steady pace, and the scene of art in front of her shop on Main Street created a wonderful atmosphere for the public to walk through, she said.

“Main Street is just a beautiful place to walk on, even without all this stuff,” she said. “So when you add all this stuff back in, it’s really beautiful.”

Add a comment

More Articles ...