HIGH SPRINGS – On Saturday, March 10, the City of High Spring Commission will be holding a Town Hall meeting at the High Springs Civic Center from 8 a.m. to noon.

During the meeting, city officials intend to discuss their goals on how to improve the city in the near term and in the future. Unlike regularly scheduled commission meetings, the Town Hall meeting has no set agenda of issues being considered for discussion. Because of this, commissioners are free to bounce around ideas about what they would like to see happen in the community.

Residents are welcome to attend, said Jeri Langman, the High Springs City Manager. The meeting will provide them a platform to express concerns about the city, as well as allow the public to comment on how they envision the city should move forward.

Langman said the commission may decide to hold future workshops based on the topics discussed Saturday.

The City of High Springs usually holds one meeting of this kind a year, she added.

During the meeting, commissioners are not to take action on topics, other than discussion and to schedule follow up workshops if desired, said Langman.

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ALACHUA – Celebrate Mother Nature – and get the children outside and away from the TV - this Saturday at Gaia Grove Eco-Camp and Learning Center with a tree planting party.

From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Gaia Grove will help children plant a fruit or nut tree and teach them how to take care of their tree, which will be labeled with their name.

Children are allowed to visit their tree anytime they want. They can also watch the growth of the tree online at the Gaia Grove website. When the tree ripens, participants and their families will be invited back for a harvesting festival.

Gaia Grove runs solely through donations and the work of volunteers, and is asking for a $20 donation per tree. For those that truly wish to participate, yet cannot afford to spend the $20, financial assistance through Gaia Grove’s Angel Sponsors is available.  This activity is sponsored in part by the High Springs Lions Club.

Located near Brooker, Fla., Gaia Grove aims to instruct the local community about sustainable living through eco-workshops held on the first and third Saturday of the month. The workshop includes a tour of the 92-acre farm and instructions on how to build eco-friendly projects, such as solar ovens and solar dehydrators.

Currently, Gaia is operated by Joanna Pakula, the founder; Bob Watson, the workshop instructor; and Mark Wooten, who has built his own off-grid home and continues to be an integral part of Gaia Grove.

For more information about Gaia Grove, visit the website at gaiagrove.webs.com. For those interested in participating in the event, contact Joanna at 352-562-3508 or Bob at 352-262-5068. Add a comment

Incumbent Hardacre unopposed

 ALACHUA – Three candidates have qualified to run for City of Alachua commission seat four, currently held by Commissioner Orien Hills.  Commissioner Gary Hardacre qualified for his current seat on the commission, but no one else stepped forward to challenge him.

Qualifying for Hills’ seat were Shirley Green Brown, Patricia Lee and Billy Rogers.

Brown is a speech and language pathologist with the School Board of Alachua County.  Lee is the executive director of CDC of Leesburg & Vicinity, a community development corporation.  Rogers runs Way2Be Music International, a music production services company.

The trio will square off in citywide election scheduled for April 10.

After serving five consecutive terms totaling 15 years, Commissioner Hills is not seeking re-election to his seat.

The Hal Brady Recreation Complex, the Cleather Hancock, Sr. Community Center and Plantation Oaks at Turkey Creek will serve as polling stations for the April election.

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HIGH SPRINGS – For residents looking to live out their lives in High Springs, and afterwards on to a final resting place in the local cemetery, burial sites are becoming an issue of concern.

Only four spaces remain in the cemetery, said High Springs City Clerk Jenny Parham. Currently there are 17 empty plots, but 13 are already reserved. During the Thursday, Feb. 23, commission meeting, the commission decided to look into expanding the cemetery by 300 to 350 spaces.

Prior to committing to the project, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas said it would be a good idea to review the survey prepared by Stacy Hall of George F. Young, Inc., which would show the layout of the property. The survey would include the location of trees, current plots and usable land for future spaces. The expansion of the cemetery will cost $6,000, if the city decides to move forward.

Commissioner Linda Gestrin said she would like to discuss the expansion in a workshop.

University of Florida engineering students have offered to conduct a no charge ground penetrating radar survey to show the subsurface makeup. If rocks are present, the city will be unable to use the land for future burial plots.

Money set aside for the project is strictly for cemetery development, Parham said. The spaces will sell for $600 each, which means the city will make back the money spent on the project with the sale of 10 plots. Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs may ask its citizens during the upcoming special election on April 10 to approve a change in the City Charter that governs the city and the commission-employee relationship.

During the Thursday, Feb. 23, meeting, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas suggested amending the charter so that the commission does not have to go through the city manager to delegate tasks to employees.

Charter Section 2.06 states: “…nor shall the Commission or any of its members give orders to any employee other than Commission orders to a Charter Officer.  The Commission or its members shall deal on all matters through the appropriate Charter Officer.”

Currently, High Springs operates under a city manager form of government, which requires that commissioners go through the city manager to give any direction to another city staff member.

“It seems ludicrous that we can’t talk to an employee,” Barnas said. He said his requests would get done either way – through him directing the city manager or through talking directly to the city staff – and he feels that it hinders the city for him, and other commissioners, to be required to jump through those hoops.

In a recent instance, Barnas said he instructed High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman to inform an employee on a certain matter, and 30 seconds later, Langman was sending an email to the employee. In the future, he said, it might not always be so easy to get in contact with the city manager.

Thomas DePeter, the City of High Springs former attorney, came to the podium during citizen’s comments and asked if the commission would be telling everyone who works for the city that they now have six bosses, instead of one.

Barnas would like to see a referendum on the upcoming election ballot that asks the High Springs voters what they think about changing the charter.  When asked by Alachua County Today to comment further on his decision to move toward changing the charter, Barnas declined.

He did say that if the request to place the referendum on the upcoming charter is denied due to time constraints, he would definitely like to see it on a ballot in the next election, which will be held in November.

Commissioner Linda Gestrin agrees with Barnas, but takes it a step further to say that the commission should consider eliminating the city manager form of government all together.

Adjusting the current charter, Gestrin said, would simply be a band-aid. She would like to see a restoration of checks and balances.

Commissioner Sue Weller is against a restructure of the charter and a change of government form. With a form of government that enables commissioners to direct city employees, Weller said it opens the potential for one commissioner to direct staff one way and another to direct him or her in a different way.

“It opens it up to cronyism,” Weller said. Weller added that with five individuals handling day-to-day city activities, the government can end up favoring a certain individual or company. In addition, commissioners would become responsible for hiring and firing of city employees, which could lead to the commission selecting friends for staff positions.

Weller told Barnas to consider the possibility that he orders a city employee to do something illegal, which would set the city up for liability issues. It was then suggested that commissioners direct only department heads, such as the police chief and the fire chief, in an effort to eliminate the possibility of ordering an employee to violate the law.

Mayor Dean Davis did not voice an opinion whether he agreed or disagreed with Barnas’s proposal.

“Our charter is not very concise,” Davis said. “It’s convoluted.”

The commission will take up the matter again on Saturday, March 10, at the commission retreat at the Civic Center from 8 a.m. to noon. The meeting is open and the public is welcome to attend.

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua is moving forward with a grant proposal that would provide funds for the construction of three multi-purpose fields adjacent to the current city recreation facility.

At a public hearing held Feb. 21, city officials Adam Boukari and Diane Morgan presented details about the fields that will be constructed on the 105 acres purchased as part of the city’s Project Legacy agreement with Alachua County.

Morgan, the city’s grant specialist, said the grant is administered through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Land and Water Conservation Fund. If approved for $200,000 in grant funding, the city would provide matching funds of $200,000.

City commissioners gave final approval for the city to submit the grant application at the Feb. 27 commission meeting. Morgan will submit the document to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection by March 8.

Currently, the City of Alachua lacks adequate space for all area teams to practice effectively. Boukari said he has seen football teams meeting on the basketball courts because the football fields were being used.

“This project will provide needed capacity for local residents and local programs while ensuring there are available venues for attracting sports tourism,” Boukari said.

When the three new fields are constructed, the additional areas will create spaces for rugby, soccer, football and lacrosse teams to practice. The finished project will use about 20 acres of the 105 acres, said Boukari.

Labeled Project Legacy, the land to expand the Hal Brady Recreation facility was purchased in December 2011 after Alachua County agreed to provide $500,000 from Alachua County Tourist Development Council funds toward the purchase. The agreement requires that construction is completed by 2015.  The total cost to purchase the land was approximately $1.2 million. In addition to the money provided by Alachua County, the purchase was possible because of private donations and $500,000 from the county’s Wild Spaces, Public Places fund.

With the acquisition of the 105 acres the recreation facility was increased by five times its original size.

The fields will be designed for multi-purpose use, allowing for the property to be used for events other than sports, such as band performances and cheerleading shows. The city’s popular Fourth of July Celebration will not be affected by the future construction.

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Mill_Creek_DSCN4932_copyWith more than 130 horses on 265 acres in Alachua, the Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek Farm shells out some $800 on hay per week.

ALACHUA – When US Army Sgt. First Class Possum retired, he faced an uncertain future.

During his 14 years serving, he performed at parades, rodeos, cultural and community events for the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard in Colorado. But despite his hard work and dedication, the United States Army doesn’t provide much of a retirement plan to aging horses.

Lucky for him and his fellow Color Guard, Master Sgt. Houdini, a space was available for both of them at the Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek Farm - a place where neglected, abused or overworked horses can retire in peace, roaming over 265 acres of green pastures.

The two arrived at Mill Creek Farm with certificates of appreciation signed by the Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama, thanking them both for their service. Houdini has since passed away, but Possum still calls the farm his home.

He can thank Peter and Mary Gregory, who spent $1.5 million from the sale of their hotel to open the retirement home. Most horses that retire from police departments end up being auctioned and eventually slaughtered, Peter said.

Today, Mill Creek Farm, which is located at 20307 NW CR 235A, Alachua, survives because of private donations from people who support the cause.  On March 24, the farm will hold its only fundraiser, the Fourth Annual Spring Sale. In yard-sale fashion, the farm sets out 25 tables laden with donated goods, such as jewelry, cookware, tools, pet items and much more.

Mill Creek Farm is currently accepting items from the community until March 19. After that, volunteer Georgia Crosby will work to categorize, price and pack away the items until the day of the sale.

“It’s for the horses,” Crosby said. “That’s why I do it.”

Annually, it takes approximately $2,200 to care for a horse at the farm, and Mill Creek has 131 horses. Crosby hopes to raise $5,000 this year at the spring sale. Last year, they had an estimated 400 visitors and raised $3,500.

For those interested in donating to the spring sale, the farm is unable to accept items such as clothing, bed linens, computers, printers, exercise equipment and large furniture. Cash donations are always welcome, and each donation is tax deductible.

According to the website, donations are down, but the price of hay is up due to the drought. Peter said approximately $800 a week is spent on hay.

To keep the farm running year round, Peter estimated that it costs $250,000. However, the Gregorys no longer have to spend their own money to keep the place in business. They donated the land to the Retirement Farm for Horses, Inc., which places a conservation easement on the land and ensures that it will always be a place for horses to retire. Retirement Farm for Horses, Inc. is a non-profit that promises the horses who find their way to Mill Creek that they will never be ridden or worked again.

In a golf cart piled high with his dogs, the other four-legged residents at Mill Creek, Peter drives around the farm doling out carrots to the horses. He knows each horse by name, easily recalling the sad story that brought them to Mill Creek. The farm is home to previous show horses, circus horses and horses that were used in scientific experiments – all pushed beyond what they could handle.

When the horses do pass away, they are buried in the “Field of Dreams,” and a tree is planted in their honor.

“I would rather do something like this in my old age than sit at home, waiting to die,” Peter said.

According to the Mill Creek website, the farm is open to guests every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The price of admission is two carrots. After all, the retirees love them.

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