HIGH SPRINGS, FL – The start of 2024 has been marked with pivotal changes for the City of High Springs as the City’s Parks and Recreation Director Elliot Harris is the latest employee to resign. Elliott Harris’ resignation comes on the heels of High Springs Assistant City Manager and longtime High Springs Fire Department Chief Bruce Gillingham in October, followed by City Manager Ashley Stathatos in November and City Commissioner Steve Tapanes in December.
Public Works Director Thomas Henry, aided by High Springs Parks & Recreation Administrator Jennifer Corbett, will handle the City’s recreation programs.
Meanwhile, the Commission has advertised the City Manager position and has received more than 12 applications. At the Jan. 25 commission meeting, Commissioners are expected to whittle the applicants to five and schedule a date for in-person or Zoom interviews during that meeting.
Stathatos will officially be leaving her post on Feb. 29 but has offered to stay longer if that is the will of the commission. She will be taking time off during the next two weeks for a family medical issue. In her absence, Henry, Building Official Allan Alligood and Police Chief Antoine Sheppard will share her duties.
In discussions about a new city manager, Commissioner Byran Williams suggested that the City should wait for the special election to fill former Commissioner Tapanes’ seat before a final decision on the next city manager is made.
“I just don’t feel it’s fair to the person who is going to be sitting there,” Williams said. “They didn’t have a part in the process.”
As the tentative Special Election date is March 26, that means a new city manager may not be in place until May said Commissioner Andrew Miller. The election date is tentative due to scheduling conflicts with the presidential primary election on March 19.
Due to the turmoil surrounding vacancies, a joint meeting between the City Commission and Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, which was scheduled for April 4, may be moved to a later date. Commissioner Tristan Grunder suggested the meeting be postponed until June.
In other business, the Commission voted unanimously to place a purchase offer on the Priest Theatre. The motion directs staff to offer $350,000, which includes closing costs, a screen and two projectors. The last appraisal on the structure was $310,000.
The City received $1,040,000 in a State Legislative Appropriation to purchase and renovate the theater. Funds will be used to replace the roof, which is in danger of collapsing, and other actions to stabilize the structure. The purchase of the screen and projectors helps to establish that there is no change in the use of the building. According to local architect Paul Stressing, the structural integrity needs to be enhanced, but the City doesn’t need to make the structure ADA compliant as long as the use doesn’t change. The Commission has said they intend to sell the building once the renovations have been made.
Also, by unanimous vote, the Commission approved an ordinance giving authorization to install cameras for speed detection in High Springs school zones. Although the cameras will be in use all the time, speed infractions will only be monitored 30 minutes prior to and after school times. A High Springs Police Officer will review the infractions prior to sending notification to drivers.
The ordinance also provides for a local hearing officer in case drivers who are ticketed wish to question the tickets. The code enforcement officer will likely serve as the hearing officer.
In other business, Public Works Director Thomas Henry reported that the wastewater treatment plant project is on schedule and that Phase 1wetlands is about 60 percent completed. The area was flooded during testing and eight sinkholes were found on the wetland area. Henry said two have been remediated and the others are in process. He said engineers have assured him that the area of the treatment plant is not in danger of sinkholes.
Henry also reported that the Douglas Center is moving along. The plumbing, electrical and air conditioning duct work have been roughed in and the new walls are framed up.
The next regular city commission meeting is scheduled for Jan. 25.
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