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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HAWTHORNE – An 81-year-old Hawthorne man was arrested at 11:23 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 8, at his residence and charged with a sex offender violation, specifically, failure to report an internet web page.

Larry Wayne Robinson was also charged with 13 counts of providing false registration information after a child pornography investigation allegedly found that Robinson was using an unreported Facebook account.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) reported that on Dec. 7, a Cyber Tip was received from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) of an individual who was using Facebook to upload child pornography.

“NCMEC provided an IP address, email address, home address and telephone number of the person who attempted to upload child pornography files through Facebook. The individual was identified as Larry Wayne Robinson.” FacebookLarry-Wayne-Robinson.png automatically cancelled the account created by Robinson.

Robinson was convicted of sexual battery and two counts of lewd/lascivious conduct in 1993 out of Duval County and deemed a Sexual Offender. Robinson is required to register with local law enforcement for the rest of his life and is required to report all internet accounts within 48 hours of using them. On 13 occasions he failed to disclose the internet site and stated that he acknowledged and understood the requirements he must abide by per Florida Statutes.

The Cyber Tip indicated that Robinson created a Facebook account on Sept. 8, 2020, thereby failing to report the account 13 different times.

Post Miranda, Robinson reportedly admitted that he had a Facebook account and showed the investigating ACSO Deputy his phone with an active Facebook account. ACSO added, “Additionally, the defendant stated he does read all of conditions thoroughly when he signs his Sexual Offender packet.” Robinson also said that he uses chat rooms with other men.

Robinson has three felony convictions for sexual offenses.

Bail was set at $420,000 by Judge Susan Miller-Jones. She also stipulated a condition that Robinson “shall not have access to or use the internet/computer.”


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GAINESVILLE ‒ The window for local families of students in PreKindergarten through 10th grade to apply for their children to attend one of the district’s academic or career-technical (CTE) magnet programs opened Jan. 16. It will close at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

This year 50 percent of the new students in each magnet program will be chosen through a districtwide lottery. The other 50 percent will be selected by the school. Students must meet certain academic, attendance and disciplinary criteria to be eligible for each magnet and must also meet program standards to remain enrolled.

The district uses an online process that allows families to apply for more than one program with a single application. Information about the magnet programs, the application timeline and more is available on the district’s website at https://www.sbac.edu/magnet. The online application is also posted on that website in both English and Spanish.

Open houses are being held at all magnet programs to allow students and families to learn more about what each has to offer. A schedule is also available on the magnet website at https://www.sbac.edu/magnet.

For specific questions about a particular magnet program, families can contact the school directly. For all other questions, they can email alachuamagnets@gm.sbac.edu or call 352-955-7629.

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NEWBERRY, FL – Nikki Keller has been named Employee of the Year for the City of Newberry. City Manager Mike New at the Jan. 8, 2024, City Commission meeting announced Keller as the recipient of the 2023 Employee of the Year and also announced recipients of the Years of Service Awards.

“It's important to recognize and appreciate such valuable employees who enhance the overall effectiveness and reputation of the organization,” said New in his announcement of Keller, who is a Permit Technician.

New described Keller as a dedicated team player who readily helps both inside and outside the Little Red School House. “Nikki goes above and beyond to provide excellent customer service both internally and externally,” said New. “She has excelled as the lead project manager during the conversion to the new SmartGov permitting system, showcasing her dedication and expertise.”

New added that Keller’s dedication is evident in obtaining her International Code Council Permit Technician certification, which is a significant achievement for Newberry.

Additional Employee of the year Nominations who were nominated by their peers include Amanda Hagan – Finance & Administration, Bucky Massimillo – Utilities & Public Works, Kelli Willits – Finance & Administration, Donna Pons – Finance and Administration, Mary Michaux – Parks & Recreation, Leo Dash – Utilities & Public Works, Tyler Huggins – Parks and Recreation and Jean-Paul Perez – Planning & Economic Development.

Years of Service Awards

Several employees were honored for their years of service to the City and citizens of Newberry: The longest service of those is Joseph Harris who has served the City for 25 years. Close behind are four employees who have served for 20 years. They are Amby Cason, Charlie Futch III, Michael Malsom and Scott Stoner. Serving the City for 10 Years is Brittany Barnes and serving the City for five years is Tammy Snyder, Terri-Lynn Morgan and Tracy Fair.

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ALACHUA – It has been 56 years since the death of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the civil rights leader still inspires people today to gather and celebrate his dream and pay homage to his legacy.

MLK Peterson IMG 1184On a chilly Monday morning, the City of Alachua held its 19th Annual MLK Celebration at the Cleather Hancock Community Center, with some 200 people attending. Joining in the remembrance celebration were City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, Vice Mayor Dayna Miller and City Commissioners Jennifer Blalock, Shirley Green Brown and Ed Potts. Representing City staff were City Manager Mike DaRoza and Assistant City Manager Rodolfo Valladares.

Referencing King’s famous “I’ve Got a Dream” speech Master of Ceremony Carol Richardson said that King’s message spoke to the social, economic, and political impacts on not just black Americans, but on all generations of all Americans.

Richardson introduced Reverend John Brown who gave a stirring invocation, followed by Alachua City Manager Mike DaRoza who offered the City’s official welcome address.

A powerfully moving rendition of the National Anthem was delivered by a young and talented Brandon Luke.

Richardson remarked that the MLK Celebration event in Alachua was unique in its sponsorship by the City of Alachua, noting that other similar events are typically sponsored by not-for-profit groups or similar type organizations.

TheMLK_Boys_IMG_1110.jpg morning program included saxophone performances by University of Florida medical student Frantz Emmanuel, an oral historic background of Dr. King’s journey by Richardson, and performances by Smooth Flava Dance and the Mebane Middle School cheer squad.

The audience responded to the speakers with the appreciative “Amen” and applause. During the dance performance, many were clapping and singing along.

Keynote speaker for the event was Alachua native and College Hall of Fame Inductee Adrian Peterson. Peterson was introduced by his father, Porter Peterson, as Adrian’s mother, Reatha Peterson, looked on from the audience.

Porter Peterson described his son’s journey from the neighborhoods of Alachua to the playing fields of Santa Fe High School, college football stardom and success in the NFL. He also mentioned Adrian’s success in various business endeavors and his current position as Director of Student-Athlete Development at his college alma mater, Georgia Southern University.

Adrian Peterson graduated from Georgia Southern University where he starred on the 1999 and 2000 NCAA I-AA national championship teams and was the 1999 Walter Payton Award winner. After he graduated college, Peterson was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the sixth round. He played for eight years, including the 2006 NFC Championship season and Super Bowl XLI.

Adrian Peterson gave an inspirational presentation to an appreciate audience about determination and commitment and always striving not just to do more, but to do it better. Speaking to the crowd, Peterson said that growing up he knew about Dr. King, his peaceful marches and his enduring impact on everyone.

MLK Sax IMG 1171The 1997 Santa Fe High School graduate and all-star football and basketball player fondly recalled memories of growing up in Alachua, and although he no longer lives here, he still calls it home. And he said he always comports himself well, so that when someone hears him say he is from Alachua, Florida, they will be left with a good impression of his hometown.

Addressing his remarks to the youth in the audience, Peterson shared his story of success that would lead him to football stardom and an NFL career with the Chicago Bears.

Peter said that growing up in a small caring community provided the environment that helped him achieve. While playing rec league sports at the Alachua Recreation Center, Peterson knew from an early age that he wanted to be a professional football player, but he also knew it would take hard work, determination and commitment.

Peterson knew he had to be successful not just on the playing field, but in the classroom as well. As an example, he recounted an experience he had while in school when one Monday some friends said they were skipping school the next day. Peterson looked them in the eye and said, “I guess I’ll be seeing you Wednesday.”

Reading like a who’s who of successful professional athletes, Peterson's growing list of accomplishments speak not only to his renown athletic ability but also to his impactful life after professional ball.  Clearly a hometown favorite, at the conclusion of his talk, Peterson received a rousing standing ovation from the crowd.

MLK Commission IMG 1082After a lunch prepared by the A.L. Mebane Alumni Association, scheduled afternoon events included a presentation of the Alachua Youth Advisory Council Essay and Art Contest Winners, a dance performance “Get Up and Dance, Park II” by the Alachua Senior Cha Chas and a musical presentation by 1000 Voices of Florida.

Community sponsors of this year’s MLK event were Bev’s Better Burgers Alachua, Infinite Wellness & Fitness, Lee’s Preschool Center and Visit Gainesville/Alachua County.

Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper said this year’s MLK celebration was a success for everyone. “This event is always a great way for the community to come together and honor Dr. King and his legacy,” said Coerper. “It was especially great this year to see so many young people in attendance and participating.”

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HIGH SPRINGS, FL - In December, the High Springs Garden Club elected the following members to serve two-year terms on their board: The 2024-2025 officers (L-R) are Treasurer - Chereene Haywood, Secretary Ginger O'Loughlin, Vice President Billie Jo Hanlon, and President Claudia Wolfson.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The large Florida hospital that shut down surgeries abruptly last week over concerns about sterilized operative room equipment is suspending all non-emergency surgeries for one week longer as it grapples with issues that could lead to serious patient infections, surgeons said.

The surgical schedules at North Florida Hospital in Gainesville have fallen into chaos since its decision last week to suspend all elective procedures, according to surgeons inside the hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity because executives there have ordered all medical staff not to talk to reporters about the issue. Multiple surgeries were called off Friday.

The hospital is performing only a fraction of the number of surgeries it usually would, and some procedures were canceled with only hours’ notice, surgeons said. In recent days, three cardiac surgeries and four orthopedic surgeries were called off on the day of the operations, they said.

North Florida Hospital – previously known as North Florida Regional Medical Center – is one of the largest hospitals in Florida with 510 beds and 15 operating rooms. It treats more than 50,000 patients each year and has more than 1,000 employees.

It is run by HCA Florida Healthcare. The company sent executives from its corporate offices to Gainesville to manage media inquiries and has ordered that no one in the hospital talk to reporters without approval, one surgeon and other hospital employees said.

In a statement, a spokeswoman, Lauren Lettelier, emphasized that the hospital has resumed some surgeries and was working to reschedule patients whose surgeries were postponed. She declined to answer questions about the numbers of surgeries that had been canceled since Jan. 17, numbers of affected patients or what percentage of surgeries were going forward.

The most important thing for people to know is that the hospital is doing its best to continue to care for the community, Lettelier said. 

The hospital shut down surgeries last week amid concerns over the activities of the Sterile Processing Department, the unit in charge of cleaning and sanitizing instruments used for medical procedures. In statements last week, the hospital said the move was proactive and described it only as an unspecified “operational matter” and an “equipment-related issue that impacted presurgical processes.”

Instruments were found in operating rooms with blood and tissue residue from earlier surgeries, according to the surgeons and other medical staff. In one case, three different trays of equipment for a single cardiac operation were found to be compromised, and the hospital canceled the procedure with the patient still on the surgical bed.

It wasn’t clear whether or how many patients might have been infected by improper sterilization procedures discovered by the hospital. The unit responsible is supposed to clean surgical equipment by hand, wash it and sterilize it at high temperatures before storing equipment on trays that remain sealed until surgeons need them.

A patient scheduled for orthopedic surgery Jan. 19 said his operation was abruptly canceled and has been rescheduled twice for mid-February with no explanation. He also spoke on condition of anonymity due to concerns about upsetting hospital employees who would be operating on him in the future.

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