Sat10252014

Last updateWed, 22 Oct 2014 10pm

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Full Swing

Double World Series kick off in Alachua, local coaches say teams are ready

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SUZETTE COOK/Alachua County Today

Santa Fe All-Stars shortstop Zach Wetterqvist covers second base during scrimmage against the Santa Fe Force.

ALACHUA – With the Babe Ruth World Series upon us, the local teams representing Alachua are doing their best to prepare for the big tournament. Lindsay Fico, head coach of the Santa Fe All-Stars softball team and former University of Florida softball player, explained that being ready for the World Series is simply about being comfortable.

“We’re trying to not change anything that we’ve done over the entire summer in preparation,” Fico said. “The thing is, when you try to change practice schedules and the way you approach practice with a group of girls at this age, you can bring more nerves than excitement.”

Fico said that in order for her team to succeed in the World Series, they just have to play like they have in previous tournaments this summer.

“Over the summer, they’ve played in a bunch of travel ball tournaments in anywhere from Cambridge, Georgia to Panama City and even down in little parts of Central Florida in tournaments. They managed to go undefeated and win those tournaments. I truly think that if they just approach [the World Series] the same way that they approached those last few tournaments, we’ll have a really good showing.”

Fico, who started with the team as outside help and a hitting coach, was named head coach for the World Series not only for her dedication to the team and her experience as a player, but because of the example she has set for the girls.

“She’s been a big inspiration for these girls,” said Bubba Burnham, a fellow coach of the All-Stars and president of Santa Fe Babe Ruth Softball. “Us other coaches, we’re just dads. We haven’t played softball at their level. Lindsay brings a lot to the table for these girls to look up to. She’s been there and done what they’re doing now.”

Burnham and two other dads to players on the team even stepped up to help the team practice by pinch running bases during practice.

“I was one of them, out of breath, another coach that had been coaching with us all that time, Dean Snyder, he was another one and one [David Watson] was a parent on this team.”

“That’s one of the ways that we have found to put pressure on the girls in live situations, to see how they react.”

“What we’ve done the last couple of weeks to help the girls try and experience game-like situations is put a full defensive field out there and have the dads that come to practice who are always willing to help anyway they can, run bases for situations to help them see people moving on the bases and see real time movement,” Fico added.

“The biggest reason why I wanted to help with them is that I remember how fun it was at this age to play in a World Series and on a big stage like they have there in Alachua,” said Fico. “It’s just a really cool time for a kid. To help these girls improve physically, mentally and emotionally in the game that they love, I jumped at the opportunity.”

Al Beckelhiemer, head coach of the Santa Fe Force baseball team, explained that he gave his guys a couple of days to rest up before the big tournament.

“Right now, we’re taking a break,” he said.

Beckelhiemer said that before his team’s brief time off before the World Series, they were playing “lots and lots of games,” practicing five days a week and were even having doubleheaders.

“We gave them the last couple of days to rest up and be ready to go for when the World Series starts,” he said.

Beckelhiemer added that being prepared for the big tournament is something that he has to worry about more than his players.

“They’re way more prepared than I am,” he joked.

“One of the ways that I keep them on the right track is that I just stay on ‘em hard and keep them focused on the main thing: doing what their job is supposed to require of them on the ball field. And just keep ‘em moving.”

Beckelhiemer wasn’t even afraid to share his thoughts on his team’s championship potential.

“I feel the team has a chance of getting into the actual World Series Championship as long as they all keep their head up,” he said.

Wesley Carter, head coach of Santa Fe All-Stars baseball team, explained that hard work and fundamentals are his main points of emphasis in preparation for the World Series.

“I have a great bunch of boys and they’ve been working very hard on fundamentals, throwing strikes, running bases well and trying to hit the baseball better,” Carter said. “They’re a hardworking bunch and a pleasure to coach.”

Carter explained that they are just trying to go into this tournament like it’s not as big as its name.

“I’ve just tried to tell them that it’s just another ball game,” he said. “We’re just playing teams from way off and we’re going to do the same things we always do.

“We’re gonna’ throw strikes, we’re gonna’ run bases like crazy and we’re gonna’ play good defense.”

Carter added that at the end of the day, it’s just a game.

“Most importantly, we’re going to strive to have fun,” he said.

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Cain gets 4-year extension

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ALACHUA – During the July 28 City of Alachua commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to extend City Manager Traci Cain's contract for another four years to September 2018. Her current contract was set to expire on Sept. 30 of this year.

Cain began her career at Santa Fe College prior to joining the city in January 1992 as a fiscal assistant. She was promoted to Utility Billing Supervisor and has since served as Human Resources Director, Assistant City Manager, Interim City Manager (twice) and was appointed as City Manager in March 2010. She has also served under five city managers during her time with the city and says she has learned a lot from each one.

“One of the things that I appreciate about Traci is that she has done several different jobs at City Hall,” said Mayor Gib Coerper. “The knowledge and experience a person gets by doing that is incredible. She has built on what she's learned in those positions and has a great understanding of what it takes to do many of the employees' jobs, which is extremely helpful,” he said.

“Traci took over at a time when the city was in dire financial straits,” said Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. Due to the economic downturn and other factors, the city was facing several financial obstacles. “We needed to make some changes,” said Boukari.

Cain said her first audit report alerted her to specific financial concerns that needed immediate attention. With each successive year, our city's audit reports have improved dramatically, said Boukari. “Under her leadership, the city is in much better financial shape and is growing responsibly,” he said.

Clearly her first goal was to strengthen the financial condition of the city and provide financial solvency. “The economy was impacting the government and the city had financial challenges to overcome,” said Cain.

Cain immediately cut the budget and made sure the city's utility rates were competitive. “The city had not raised water and wastewater rates in 16 years at that time, but the costs were going up each year,” she said. “We needed to have all of our utility funds be self-sustaining, which they currently are.”

Since that time, a lot has changed. Under her leadership, the city has managed to set their millage rate at 5.5 mills for the fifth consecutive year. “We have not raised taxes, but have managed to reinvest in our infrastructure and continue to enhance the quality of life for our citizens,” she said.

In the past few years the city has been able to build a new wastewater treatment facility, make upgrades to the electrical substation, resurface roads and provide road reconstruction projects like the one just completed in front of City Hall at 142nd Terrace and 150th Avenue. The city has also purchased 105 acres of land adjacent to the Hal Brady Recreation Complex to provide for future expansion of the city's recreation facilities.

Another feather in the city's cap is that they have promoted good economic development. “We are making sure the city is a player and is involved in all levels of economic development throughout the state,” said Cain. She believes economic development is critical to the long-term health of the city.

Cain credits a good commission and her excellent staff for the improved condition of the city.

“This is a team effort,” she said. “We are not satisfied with the status quo. We have to provide excellent customer service to our citizens and continue to invest in our infrastructure if we are to continue to attract more businesses and residents to our city,” said Cain.

According to commissioners, Cain continues this team concept into other aspects of her job. “Traci could have asked for and probably received salary increases,” said Boukari. “Instead, she sticks to whatever the employees get. If they get a cost of living increase, then she does. But she doesn't believe she should be rewarded when the employees aren't eligible for the same rewards,” he said. “That's pretty admirable.”

Her contract calls for a continued salary of $118,500. Her starting salary as city manager was $111,500.

“I can't be successful without the employees,” said Cain. “We have all made sacrifices to get the city in a better financial situation. I can't take credit for doing that and not see them get the same rewards knowing they have sacrificed as well,” she said.

Regarding her future goals for the city, Cain said one goal would be to work toward diversifying the retail opportunities for citizens so the city is self-sufficient. She would also like to see city services continue to grow with the technology age to enable the city to deliver faster, more efficient services to its citizens.

By April 2018, the 46-year-old says she will have 30 years in with the state and will be eligible to retire. She says she plans to do so, which is why she did not ask the commission for a longer contract extension.

“It has been great working at the city,” said Cain. “To be born and raised here and be in this position is humbling and makes me very proud,” she said.

“The financial future of this city is strong. With the direction of the commission and the commitment of the staff, I believe the city will continue to grow in a responsible manner and offer its citizens a great place to live and work,” she said.

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Taking back Turkey Creek

Developer wants other locals to revive golf course, initiate recovery

ALACHUA – A tee shot straight down the middle of the fairway will still put you in the rough at the Turkey Creek Golf Course in Alachua.

The once proud golf course community has seen their course of lush greens turn into a much thicker, unplayable course of lush untamed foliage since the closing of the golf course more than three years ago.

The gated community of 1,000 homes on U.S. Highway 441 has watched property values plummet over the last several years and some residents are fed up. One resident in particular said he has had enough and plans to lead the community in an effort to revitalize the property.

John Tingue is the man with the plan. A retired father of six and grandfather of 10, Tingue has been a resident of the Turkey Creek Community since 1997 and said he is ready to take a stand with the help of fellow Turkey Creek resident Forest Hope.

“We’re a wounded, but we’re not a defeated community,” Tingue said.

Tingue’s group, the Turkey Creek Member’s Club (TCMC), hosted five invitation-only meetings with the Turkey Creek Master Owner’s Association, the Alachua City Commission and the Alachua County Commission about its plan to restore Turkey Creek. The TCMC now plans to host a community meeting at 7 p.m. on July 29 at Cavalry Baptist Church located at 13920 NW U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua to discuss the plan with the Turkey Creek community as well as other interested parties.

“We have a whole new concept, a whole new plan for our community,” Tingue said. “We’re hungry for recovery.”

If the plan comes to fruition, Turkey Creek Golf and Country Club will acquire the property by Oct. 1, 2014, become the Turkey Creek Members Club and have a grand opening by June 2015.

“It’s less about the product and more about the people,” Tingue said.

In the presentation, Tingue shows the property value of two homes inside the community built in 2009: one for $305,000 and the other for $448,000. Over the last five years, the home’s values have dropped by $56,000 and $99,000, or 18 percent and 22 percent respectively.

One misconception Tingue wants cleared up is that Turkey Creek may be gated, but it is not a private community and the rejuvenation of the community will benefit more than just those living within the gates.

“There’s a lot of people today that want to have a facility to bring their families and friends to dine, to play golf, to go to the pool, play tennis,” Tingue said. “So outside of our community […] there was a huge interest [in the Turkey Creek Community].”

The TCMC has set up a website, FixUsFirst.org, for those interested in learning more about the plan or interested in becoming members.

“Whether it’s somebody that just wants to volunteer from $15 a month to somebody that wants to be a financial partner, which we’re seeking 10 of, which is $200,000,” Tingue said.

Alachua City Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr., said that the City of Alachua will try to help the TCMC any way it can to get Turkey Creek back to where it needs to be.

“We’ve got to look at ways to see how we can help them,” Boukari said. “We’ve just got to be creative and look for ways to support them.”

Boukari, who has seen the TCMC presentation, said he likes the plan Tingue and Hope have in place for the future of Turkey Creek.

“I think it’s fantastic, I think it’s exciting, […] I spoke to Forest Hope several weeks ago and John Tingue and they were just saying ‘you know, look, we can’t wait for someone to come buy this course. We can’t let it go any further or any longer just sitting there, we’ve got to do something ourselves,’” Boukari said. “I think it’s a great plan and you know I’ve been around that golf course, I worked there back when I was in high school.”

Boukari also acknowledged that the success of Turkey Creek could have a large impact on the rest of Alachua.

“They’re 33 percent of our population, they’re part of our community, they make up our community,” Boukari said. “They’re our school teachers, and our students, and our shoppers, our business owners. Turkey Creek is Alachua.”

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ATV benefits law enforcement

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SUZETTE COOK/Alachua County Today

The City of Waldo bought this ATV Polaris with drug bust funds.

WALDO – The City of Waldo turned drug forfeiture dollars into a $9,500 red Polaris 500 All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) to help them monitor the back roads and wooded areas of their rural community. Waldo Police Chief Mike Szabo explained that they used these funds to purchase the vehicle in May 2011 and the two-seater has remained a very useful law enforcement tool.

On any given day you might see the red patrol vehicle parked in between brick buildings, tucked away and out of sight.

“Sometimes CSX Railroad will contact us and ask us to patrol their railroad tracks,” he said. “When we have to go back in the woods to areas impassible by other vehicles, this is what we take. We have used it during Click It or Ticket campaigns, along tree lined areas and trails, and sometimes along sidewalks next to parked vehicles,” he said.

In addition, the Alachua Police Department has borrowed it to use during their recent July 4th event.

“We send someone along from our department,” said Szabo, “but their department finds it useful to get into places where there is standing traffic or where normal patrol vehicles cannot go.”

The Polaris has been used by Alachua County and by Lake City during the Olustee Festival and Battle Reenactment in February.

The vehicle is something Szabo says their small city could never have afforded on their own, “but it has been really useful in a number of situations,” he said. “We are pleased to have it.”

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Local leader elected to lead power agency

ORLANDO – Managers and public officials from municipal electric utilities throughout Florida elected six of their own to lead a statewide power agency in 2014-2015. Elections for the Florida Municipal Power Agency’s Board of Directors and All-Requirements Project Executive Committee took place at the Agency’s annual meeting held on July 18 in Naples, Fla.

Members of FMPA re-elected Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad as Chairman of the Board of Directors for 2014-2015. This is his second term as Chairman. He previously served one term as Treasurer and has served on FMPA’s Board of Directors and FMPA’s Executive Committee since 2009.

Homestead Public Services Director of Electric Utilities Barbara Quiñones was re-elected Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors. She was first elected to fill an unexpired term as Vice Chairman in January 2014, and she has served on FMPA’s Board since 2009.

William Thiess, Director of Utilities for Fort Pierce Utilities Authority, was re-elected Treasurer. This is his second term as Treasurer. Thiess was appointed as his city’s alternate to FMPA’s Board of Directors in 2006 and as a member of the Board in 2012. He was also appointed as an alternate to the Executive Committee in 2006 and as a member of the Committee in 2012.

Lynne Tejeda, General Manager and CEO of Keys Energy Services, was re-elected Secretary. This is her second term as Secretary. She was appointed as her utility’s alternate to FMPA’s Board of Directors in 2005 and as a member of the Board in 2013. She has served on the Executive Committee since 2005. She is also Chair of FMPA’s Conservation and Renewable Energy Advisory Committee, of which she is a founding member.

FMPA’s Board of Directors makes policy decisions for the power supply projects of FMPA, except the All-Requirements Project. Each of FMPA’s 31 members appoints one representative to the Board of Directors, and Board officers are elected by popular vote of the members.

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