HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs has hired Amy Bohannon as the new CRA Director. She was introduced by City Manager Ashley Stathatos at the High Springs CRA meeting on April 27. The CRA meeting, with the City Commission, acting as Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Board, was followed by a regular City Commission meeting.
Stathatos also addressed the Board about hiring Sharon Yeago to review the City’s Farmers Market. While the city manager is authorized to hire Yeago without CRA Board approval, she explained why she selected Yeago for the relatively short-term project.
Stathatos pointed to Yeago’s history and experience saying that it was unlikely that anyone more qualified could be found. The city manager added that Yeago started the High Springs Farmers Market and several other farmers markets throughout the state and was well-versed in working with farmers.
Commissioner Katherine Weitz pressed the Board to a undergo a competitive hiring process by issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for the project. Her measure failed and was outvoted in a 4 – 1 vote to approve Yeago’s hiring as proposed by Commissioner Byran Williams.
Sitting as the City Commission, commissioners approved the solid waste franchise agreement with Waste Pro. The firm will begin picking up waste and recycling products on May 1. Commissioner Ross Ambrose abstained from voting on this issue as he had recently obtained a port-a-potty business that was under contract with Waste Pro.
In other City business, Commissioners voted to declare the fire department’s fire apparatus, Squad 296, as surplus property. Ambrose suggested that the equipment be donated to the Ukraine. Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said he thought the most the City could get for the equipment was $5,000. The Commission approved to first try and sell the equipment locally. If that is unsuccessful, then the equipment could be donated to the Ukraine. Ambrose said there are companies willing to transport donated equipment to the area at no cost to the City.
In other matters, Commissioner Williams announced that Homecoming is scheduled for May 19-21. The Homecoming Banquet will be held on May 19 with events at Catherine Taylor Park on May 20 and a Mt. Carmel Worship service on May 21.
NEWBERRY – A request for a large-scale Future Land Use Map Amendment to change 128 +/- acres from Agriculture to Planned Development was considered and approved on first reading by the Newberry City Commission at their April 24 meeting. The property is located at the southeast corner of State Road 26/West Newberry Road and Southwest 242nd Street. The proposed project specifies 150,000 square feet of commercial use and 350 dwelling units.
The project, known as Newberry Plaza, was brought before the Commission by CHW Professional Consultants on behalf of Glenn Thomas Arpin, Senior, Jennifer Gray, Johanna Yarborough, Mary Jane Schofield James, Michael Gray and Robyn E. Bond, owners.
This item was heard by the Planning and Zoning Board on April 3 along with a request that conditions be included for the rezoning application as it contains the development order. Those conditions require that the developer shall determine the financial feasibility of adaptive reuse of the historic house on the property or the developer should separate the land and house from development for inclusion to and/or access from an adjacent property.
Also, prior to the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy for the 151st home, the developer should have the infrastructure in place for the planned commercial properties.
Newberry Principal Planner Jean-Paul Perez reminded Commissioners that as this request is a large-scale amendment, approval of the amendment on first reading should also include direction for staff to forward the application to the state for review.
In a quasi-judicial public hearing, the Commission considered a request on the same 128 acres to rezone the property from Agricultural (A) to Planned Development (PD) for Newberry Plaza.
Although the rezoning application was approved by the Commission, approval is contingent upon state approval of the large-scale amendment to the Future Land Use Map.
In other business, Newberry is looking at its inventory of unpaved, rural roads. Recently, there has been an up-tick in conversation about paving a 2.6-mile segment of Southwest 30th Avenue between U.S. Highway 27/41 and Southwest 202nd Street, although paving this segment of Southwest 30th Avenue is not in the City’s work queue for this fiscal year. Staff has considered the necessary steps and solicited a proposal to get the project started and has become aware that Southwest 30th Avenue is a road that the City maintains via “prescriptive rights,” which complicates the City’s ability to improve it.
The City does not have sufficient land rights to improve the road and also make it wider, which would be necessary to accommodate stormwater. City staff believes that the road needs to be a minimum of 60 feet wide to pave it and transition it into a collector street, which it is intended to be.
The City solicited a proposal for the Phase 1 work to survey the road and prepare deeds to convey the property from the adjacent landowners to the City. The work totals $125,600, or 2.8 percent of the estimated total construction cost of $5.3 million, which includes planning, survey, land acquisition, design, permitting, stormwater and road construction at $385 per linear foot.
City Manager Mike New said the project is anticipated to take 1 to 1½ years to survey, obtain land rights, plan, permit and design and an additional 9 – 12 months to construct. New said that obtaining land rights can be protracted if the adjacent property owners object and hold out, requiring the City to undergo a condemnation process. City staff indicated there is no intent at this time to compensate residents for land that is used for the project.
“Staff has unallocated $120,000 ARPA funds that could be utilized for this work,” said New, “but Commission direction/approval is required.”
The Commission approved moving forward with the project using ARPA funds.
ALACHUA ‒ An 18-year-old Alachua man was killed on Sunday, April 23, in a collision between a motorcycle and a pickup truck crash. The 8:36 p.m. crash occurred at the intersection of West State Road 235 and County Road 237.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), the pickup truck driven by a 45-year-old man from Lake Butler was pulling a trailer as he traveled north on CR 237. The truck collided with the motorcycle, which was traveling west on West SR 235.
The motorcycle rider, who was wearing a helmet at the time of the incident, sustained fatal injuries. According to FHP, the driver of the pickup truck was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash and sustained minor injuries.
The crash is currently under investigation by FHP.
NEWBERRY – Newberry City Clerk Judy Rice was presented with the 2023 Municipal Clerks Week Proclamation by Mayor Jordan Marlowe at the April 24 City Commission meeting.
Rice obtained the Certified Municipal Clerk (CMC) designation in 2008 and the Florida Certified Records Manager (FCRM) designation in 2016. In 2019, she received the highest accomplishment of Master Municipal Clerk (MMC) designation and in 2022 was awarded the Certified Supervisor Manager (CSM) designation from the Florida Center for Public Management, Florida State University.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Minde Prince O’Sullivan is relieved that other families will not have to endure media coverage of autopsy reports of their children, now that the Rex and Brody Act has been passed by the legislature.
O’Sullivan’s sons, Rex and Brody, grew up in Gainesville and were killed by their father in a murder-suicide in Dixie County in May 2021; O’Sullivan was forced to relive the trauma of their murders when media outlets acquired the autopsy report later that year and ran stories about the findings.
O’Sullivan said she never wanted to know the details of their final moments, and she was also concerned that Rex and Brody’s friends were able to easily find the details of their murders in media reports because she believes children should be protected from graphic descriptions of violence.
Senator Keith Perry introduced the bill in the 2022 legislative session and Rep. Chuck Clemons introduced a companion bill that passed in the House. The Senate bill was withdrawn a few days before the end of the 2022 session. This year’s bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. When signed by the governor, the bill
will go into effect immediately and will be retroactive.
Senator Keith Perry said, “The Rex and Brody Act is a crucial step in protecting the privacy and dignity of minors who have lost their lives. It is heartbreaking to see families endure additional pain and suffering due to the public release of autopsy reports involving their loved ones. We must do everything in our power to prevent such situations from ever occurring again.”
NEWBERRY ‒ Rakheem Tavares Hoyt, 29, of Newberry, was charged on Saturday, April 27, with possession of trafficking amounts of fentanyl and phenethylamines, commonly known as “bath salts.”
On March 3, an Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy located a truck in Newberry that had previously fled from him. The truck was reportedly partially blocking the road in the 25400 block of Northwest 8th Avenue and was unoccupied. While waiting for backup, the deputy was approached by a woman who initially said she had been driving the truck and had fled because she was scared. She reportedly changed her story later to state that Hoyt was driving the truck and that one of the handguns belonged to her.
After more deputies arrived, a probable cause search of the truck was conducted based on the plain odor of marijuana. During the search, deputies reportedly found two handguns, an AK-47 rifle, 14 grams of fentanyl in the form of counterfeit oxycodone pills, 135 grams of marijuana and 100 grams of cannabis concentrate.
After a warrant was obtained to search a safe that was found in the truck, deputies found another 19 grams of fentanyl in the form of counterfeit oxycodone pills and 555 grams of substituted cathinones (bath salts).
Hoyt was originally charged via sworn complaint with possession of trafficking quantities of fentanyl, possession of trafficking quantities of phenethylamines, possession of cannabinoids with intent to sell, possession of marijuana with intent to sell and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Formal charges were filed on April 27 on the two drug trafficking charges. No action was taken on the others. Prosecutors recommended $1 million bond for each charge, but Judge James Nilon reduced that to $500,000 for each charge.
Hoyt has three felony convictions and 29 misdemeanor convictions. He was previously arrested on April 10 for selling drugs near two churches and $1 million has been added to his previous bail of $250,100. At the time of this writing, Hoyt remains in the Alachua County Jail.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At their May 2 board meeting, the school board voted 3-2 to retain Andrew as superintendent through the end of June 2024 and delay the start date for a new superintendent to that date.
Andrew was appointed as Interim Superintendent on March 15, 2022, and he negotiated a contract through June 30, 2024, at a salary of $175,000; the contract guarantees that he can return to his previous position of Chief of Operations if he is terminated from the Interim Superintendent job.
During the part of the meeting that is set aside for comments from the teachers’ union, ACEA President Carmen Ward said every educator she has spoken to wants the “stability of Shane Andrew” as superintendent.
During the adoption of the agenda, Member Sarah Rockwell requested that the board table the agenda item about Andrew’s contract, which she had requested. She said, “I don’t think it is fair to discuss the Superintendent’s contract when the board’s evaluations weren’t available to all board members and the public until this afternoon.” The motion failed, 2-3, with only Rockwell and Certain favoring the removal of the item.
Board evaluations of Andrew
The board first discussed their individual evaluations of Andrew. The evaluations were posted just a few hours before the meeting; Rockwell rated Andrew “Unsatisfactory,” Chair Tina Certain rated him “Needs Improvement,” and Members Kay Abbitt, Diyonne McGraw, and Leanetta McNealy rated him “Effective.” The highest rating on the form is “Highly Effective.”
Certain decided to take public comment before the board discussed the evaluations. Twelve people spoke in favor of retaining Andrew as Interim Superintendent, one person spoke against Andrew, and three people spoke about more general issues. Stability was a consistent theme in the comments of those who spoke in favor of keeping Andrew as Superintendent.
Rockwell said her evaluation was “thorough and lengthy” and said the board needs to make “really good decisions for our children.” She said many people are frustrated by the lack of progress in the school district and that Andrew has an opportunity to improve. “I think the way to improve this is through project management documentation… I would like to see [project management documents] for all our major projects” with timelines and updates presented to the board. She said she would be open to creating a position or contracting a position to help with project management and that she wanted Andrew to be successful and wanted the board to “move forward with unity and a plan.”
McGraw said she had hoped to never be at a meeting like this again and that she had thought the board was unified. She emphasized that the “focus always has to be on children” and spoke at length about discipline (her vision is covered here, and there will be another workshop on discipline tomorrow at 10 a.m.). “Mr. Andrew is–just like the rest of us, we all have our challenges, we all have our strengths… You build a team around you that’s able to make you successful.” She said it’s not “time for change” because that “would be disastrous” in preparing for the 2023-24 school year.
Abbitt said Andrew had “inherited a lot of turmoil” and “you can’t expect miracles to happen.” She said that when new leaders come in, they just need to observe at first and that the board had only provided guidance to the superintendent two months ago. She added that Andrew had “brought a sense of calm to the district.”
McNealy said Mr. Andrew has strong ties to the local community and that stability and consistency are important. She concluded, “We need to leave as-is right now and move forward.”
Certain said she was “perplexed” at the uproar around the evaluation because it’s board policy to evaluate the superintendent once a year. She asked Andrew about an incident that was reported in the Gainesville Sun in which unnamed district employees said Andrew brought a Bible into a staff meeting and read Bible quotes about people betraying Jesus.
Andrew said, “The Gainesville Sun article is not accurate. Never happened.” He said the Sun did not name the staff members because they don’t exist; he said he had never opened a Bible and read to employees out of that Bible: “I let my light so shine, but I’ll leave it at that.”
Certain said the board had made their priorities clear in early November “and I don’t believe, and I don’t see evidence of a coordinated strategy of really addressing what’s happening in the school building.” She said the district staff didn’t seem to have the authority to direct school staff to make changes. She said her evaluation was intended to “adjust our practice.”
Shane Andrew responds
After all the school board members had spoken, Andrew said he received the self-evaluation document at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 22, and he was asked to turn it in by April 25, so he only had two workdays to complete it. He added, “But let’s evaluate me on comprehensive rezoning, that wasn’t even approved until April 4th? That’s not even a month ago… I’ll just say the timeline was unrealistic for that self-evaluation… I’m humbled by the kind comments, the support, and the constructive feedback. I hear that. I know we have fallen short as a system. I know we have failed… And I’ve been part of that system… Blame me, but give me some time to change the system.”
Andrew continued, “Our staff has not had time to do the work. And we have these monumental things that we have to do–we’ve been preparing the next slide deck.” He mentioned the large number of meetings and workshops that have been held over the past few months and requested that staff be given time to do the work. He said he had previously run schools, and when he got to the district office he said, “Oh my gosh, yes, that is the problem… It might be that we all need to be cleared out of here, and we start over.” He said they need to focus on “assessment, getting our kids safely through the school year, getting them to their graduations, focus on supporting our teachers as they close out the year, we need to change what we do so we have equitable access and opportunities for all kids.”
Certain asked him what he meant by “systemic change,” pointing out that schools with the largest number of students in poverty usually have the most staff vacancies and the least experienced staff. Andrew responded, “Just like we addressed the hiring, yes. And if you call it out, systemic racism has to be addressed. That’s just the way it’s been… systemic assignments.” He said that the least effective teachers are often sent to the lower-performing schools: “We plan to address that.”
Abbitt made a motion to postpone the search for the new superintendent until January 2024 and honor Andrew’s contract through June 2024. McGraw seconded the motion. Abbitt said it would be hard for Andrew to get much done by the original date of November, although she seemed to be talking about a start date for the search compared to the previous target hiring date of November.
Rockwell didn’t want to push it off that far because it wouldn’t leave much time for transition. McGraw said, “We need to regroup, we need a retreat” and said Abbitt’s motion would give Andrew a full school year to implement his plan. McNealy said she would prefer holding to the compromise that had been reached the previous day on the start date for the new superintendent. Certain wanted to go forward with the search as they decided yesterday. Andrew said it made more sense to have the new superintendent come in during the summer instead of in the middle of the school year, and he thought that schedule might attract more candidates.
During public comment on the motion, 12 people spoke in favor of the motion, and nobody spoke against it.
When the discussion came back to the board, Certain clarified that the intent is to start the search in January 2024 with the intent of having the new superintendent start at the end of Andrew’s contract in June 2024. The motion passed 3-2, with Certain and Rockwell in dissent.