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TroianoAn August survey of the High Springs Police Department officers and staff seems to tell a different story than a previous survey conducted by the Police Benevolence Association (PBA) of Florida in 2009.

High Springs Police Department (HSPD) Chief James Troiano, who resigned Sept. 2 amid budget woes, said in an interview last week that the surveys reflect a positive direction for the department.

“We’ve made great strides in bringing the department together,” he said.

In comparing the survey he conducted to that of the PBA more than two years earlier, Troiano said, “I believe that the commissioners and the members of this community clearly see that they were duped.”

With more than a week to answer the anonymous survey, just six respondents turned them in according to Troiano’s records.  That’s three fewer respondents than the PBA survey.  Unlike the previous survey, which was open only to members of the PBA, Troiano supplied the survey to the entire HSPD staff, which at the time included about 13 potential respondents.  Troiano said he and Lieutenant William Benck were excluded from the latest survey, although a member of the command staff was permitted to participate in the PBA survey.

One of the survey respondents wrote, “I believe the morale is low because of staffing issues that have been going on for several years.  A lot has to do with unforeseen problems… illness, injuries and terminations.”

Another wrote, “…overtime creates stress as well as single officers shifts.”

Again, pointing to the staffing shortages, a respondent wrote, “Morale is low but I feel this is due to a low staffing issue within our department; however, the morale is much better than it has been in the past… there is a lot less division within our department.”

Last week, Troiano said continued pressure to reduce the City budget has forced his department to cut back in areas where it shouldn’t have to.  “We already lost one police officer from the budget last year, now we’re losing another in me,” he said.

Troiano echoed the sentiments of one of the survey respondents who wrote, “It is ironic that with some staffing issues we’ve had that more will be paid in overtime to tired and overworked officers covering shifts than would be paid to regular full time employees if we had full staffing.”

As for how the chief ranks among the staff, there is a marked improvement based on survey results.

In the 2009 survey, seven officers directly stated that Troiano should be replaced, one other officer wrote “I have no confidence in [Troiano] as the Chief,” while another wrote, “I would like to have a leader that I can feel is looking out for me and not their own personal gain.”

In the August 2011 survey, however, when asked about the statement that “The Chief looks out for the best interests of the employees,” five agreed or strongly agreed while one respondent disagreed.

Again, five respondents agreed that disciplinary actions taken by the department were fair and commensurate with the complaint/violation, according to the survey tabulation.  Again, one respondent disagreed.

When asked what has changed at HSPD since the 2009 survey, one respondent simply wrote, “Absolutely nothing!!!”  Others meanwhile said that there were too many changes to list, but that they were for the better.

“I believe some officers took ‘sides’ when the new administration came in, and ‘balked’ at new ideas that were presented, which caused friction within the department,” another respondent wrote.

Other complaints by officers ranged from those relating to insurance benefits to a lack of advancement opportunities.

Summarizing the survey results in a memo to High Springs Interim City Manager Jenny Parham, Troiano said, “It is clear from the majority of the responders that a positive change has occurred at the HSPD.  Specifically, the departure of unnamed employees, more compliance or cooperation between the management and employees, better morale, people working together as a team, and less division.

“For the one who said ‘absolutely nothing,’ they just solidify my assumption that they are still part of the problem that I inherited in March 2008 when I became Chief of Police.”

Troiano said the surveys demonstrate that HSPD is better now than it was in 2009.

“I’m very proud of the survey results,” said Troiano. “I think it shows how much improvement we’ve made at the department.”

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Political activist Charles Grapski is apparently facing a charge of contempt of court.

In an Aug. 25 letter, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office was instructed by an Alachua County court to serve Grapski with court documents demanding his presence at a September hearing.

Judge James Nilon signed an order stating that sufficient evidence existed to charge Grapski with criminal contempt for his alleged statements and actions at a June 21 court hearing.

The order states that as Grapski’s case was called for hearing, he approached the podium and told Assistant State Attorney Shawn Thompson to “get a real job.”

At a later hearing on the same day, Grapski allegedly approached the table of Assistant State Attorney Shawn Thompson in an “aggressive manner,” pointed his finger at Thompson and stated to him, “you are a f---ing liar” not less than two times, the order alleges.

Grapski is being ordered to answer for the contempt charge in an arraignment set for Sept. 20 at 3 p.m.

Following the June 21 court incident, Grapski’s public defender, Deborah Phillips, submitted a motion to withdraw as counsel.

In her motion submitted on July 20, Phillips cited an “irreconcilable conflict of interest” as reason for her request.

In the June court hearing, Judge Nilon dismissed charges of probationary violations pending against Grapski.  The one-time Florida House and City of Alachua commission candidate had been facing four violations of probation alleged in a March 15 report.

The probationary supervision under which Grapski is currently monitored stems from a case dating back to August 2007.  That case didn’t make it to trial until November 2009, more than two years later.  After the five-day trial, a jury found Grapski guilty of battering two Alachua Police Department officers during a 2007 arrest.  In the days following his arrest, he reportedly also caused an officer at the Alachua County jail to be injured after she was pushed to the ground.

Grapksi may continue federal case

Last month, Federal District Court Judge Maurice Paul denied several motions by the City of Alachua and others defending themselves from a lawsuit filed by Grapski.

The 35-page ruling essentially requires Grapski to file an amended complaint by Friday, Sept. 9.  The judge agreed that Grapski’s lawsuit was too ambiguous in many respects, but said he could continue with the case provided clarity is given.

“The plaintiff shall file a second amended complaint by Friday, September 9, 2011, which more clearly articulates the specific conduct and charges applicable to each defendant,” Judge Paul wrote.

Among the reasons the City wanted parts of the case dismissed was that it said Grapski failed to state claims on which relief can be granted.

The lawsuit alleges a host of federal violations including several constitutional abridgments.  Grapski is claiming that his rights to freedom of speech, equal protection and against illegal searches and seizures were violated when he was removed from at least one Alachua City Commission Meeting in 2006 and handcuffed on two occasions.

The more than 60-page lawsuit has already been amended by Grapski on at least one prior occasion.

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Hopeful cat owners turned out over the weekend to adopt 258 of the felines that were seized in June from Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary near High Springs.

Held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the adoption event was considered a success by officials with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

“For a cat-only adoption, finding this many homes is unprecedented,” said Jordan Crump, Public Information Officer with HSUS.  “We’re excited about the way the Gainesville area community came together to help with these cats.”

The event was held at the Alachua County Humane Society which otherwise has no connection with HSUS.  Adoptions were just $5 per cat.

Crump said some 70 additional cats were placed with partner shelters and rescues.  Volunteers caring for the felines adopted an estimated 30 cats.  About 220 cats remain up for adoption, Crump confirmed.  In all, 330 cats were placed in homes or other shelters and rescues, she said.

Of the 697 cats seized from Haven Acres, about 70 either died or were euthanized after veterinary staff determined they were beyond care and recovery.

Approximately 50 of the cats will not be immediately adopted out, Crump said.  They will remain in the care of the HSUS and are reportedly being kept as evidence in a criminal trial that may ensue against Pennie and Steve Lefkowitz, who are now facing dozens of animal cruelty charges.

Crump estimates the HSUS will have spent several hundred thousand dollars on the seizure, care and adoption of the cats.

“We’ve been flying staff and volunteers down to Gainesville for three months now,” said Crump.

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ChamberGrantGrant funding received by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce will be used to renovate the city’s former police station for use as a welcome center and office.

 A vacant Main Street building that was once a United States Post Office and later the Alachua Police Department will soon serve another purpose thanks to a $25,000 grant.

Awarded by the Alachua County Tourist Development Council (TDC), the grant provides a match to funds raised by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of renovating the old police station to create a welcome center.

Board member Linda Rice Chapman submitted the grant in hopes of obtaining funding to augment a building fund already underway by the Chamber.  When she received the news last week that the TDC was fully funding the grant, Chapman said she was overjoyed.

“I think this grant is the key to the success of our project,” Chapman said. “It’s what we have needed to make this project work.”

Renovations to the building include outfitting it as a welcome center for the Alachua area and Main Street.

“We want it to be a place where people who are visiting the area can stop in and get information about places to go, things to do and businesses nearby,” said Chapman.

Among the scope of work anticipated in the first phase of renovations is a new air conditioning system, electrical wiring and plumbing.

But the old police station will be much more than a welcome center for visitors.  Located across from Alachua County Today newspaper, the building will also become the Chamber’s first-ever permanent office.  The chamber’s new address will be 14801 Main Street, Alachua.

And thanks to a partnership with the Alachua Historical Society, a museum to be housed in the downtown center will give locals and visitors alike a bit of insight into Alachua’s more than 100-year history.

Phase one of the renovations will also include compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), making the building accessible to disabled individuals.

In conjunction with volunteers, the Chamber already conducted a workday during which interior walls, furniture remnants and debris were removed.  That came at a cost of about $250, Chapman said.  The Chamber spent another $3,000 for a contractor to remove asbestos from the building.

Phase two renovations would include additional cosmetic upgrades including exterior work and landscaping.

The entire renovation project is expected to cost an estimated $70,000.

In May, the Chamber and the City of Alachua, which owns the building, signed a lease on the facility.  Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, City Manager Traci Cain and Chamber President Bob Page inked the lease agreement during the Chamber’s annual banquet in May.

The deal had been several years in the making, first surfacing when the Alachua Police Department began moving into its new location in 2006.

In lieu of charging a fee, the City agreed to provide the space to the Chamber in exchange for the Chamber’s repair, maintenance and general upkeep of the building in addition to continuing to fulfill the common business interests it shares with the City.  The term of the lease is 10 years.

The grant provided through the TDC will become available in the next fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.

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Repairs costly, officials say

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Utility workers were on the scene Friday to replace a damaged utility pole, which caused a power outage lasting more than nine hours.

A tractor trailer turning too sharply is apparently to blame for a snapped utility pole that left about 20 customers without power for much of the day Friday.

The driver of a 1999 Freightliner truck operating under Lee’s Trucking of Perry, Fla., reportedly struck a utility pole near the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and NW 133rd Terrace, Alachua Police Department Spokesman Jesse Sandusky said.  Traffic in the northbound lane of U.S. Highway 441 was re-routed for more than four hours.

The incident, which occurred at about 8:30 a.m., knocked out power to several business customers including Alachua Elementary School, City of Alachua Public Services Director Mike New said.  Crews finally restored power around 6 p.m.

The interruption in service meant that hundreds of students at the elementary school reportedly had a general field day in lieu of regular classes.  The City’s downtown water treatment facility was also affected.

The replacement utility pole and necessary components came at a price tag of more than $1,500, New said.  Including labor, equipment and contractor costs, New estimates the grand total will reach $10,000.

The City of Alachua is closed on Fridays, but nine City employees were called in to help with replacing the damaged utility pole and restoring power.

“The replacement of the damaged utility pole was not a simple matter,” New wrote in an e-mail about the incident.  “Our staff executed the work flawlessly under less than ideal conditions. The damaged pole was connected to one of the City’s two major feeder circuits serving all of western Alachua including the downtown business district and the Interstate 75 commercial corridor.”

After being struck by the trailer, the broken utility pole was left dangling free from the ground.  It was held up only by the utility lines that ran it.  The force of those lines exerted such pressure that the pole broke in a secondary location at its upper end.  A remnant section of the utility pole was still attached Wednesday to the lines overhead.

No injuries resulting from the accident were reported.  Authorities report that charges are pending.

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A man was found dead at a local motel Sunday afternoon.  Alachua Police Department (APD) officers responded to a call at the Quality Inn Motel at 15960 NW US Highway 441 at approximately 1:30 p.m.

APD spokesman Jessie Sandusky said the deceased, who was identified as Clayton Thomas Calkins, was found by motel cleaning staff.

Calkins and a friend were both in town from Kansas, and working for a private firm.  Calkins had been seen drinking at Kazbor’s in Alachua Saturday night.

Authorities say it is unclear at this time what caused Calkins’ death.  Toxicology tests are being conducted to determine if drugs or alcohol were a factor.

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Santa Fe and Newberry face off in annual rivalry game Friday

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This 2005 game marked the last time the Santa Fe Raiders defeated the Newberry Panthers in an intense rivalry that annually kicks off the local high school football season.  Bottom: Newberry’s rise to power was evidenced in their run to a state championship appearance against Pahokee High School in 2007.

The last time a former Newberry High School football coach took over the reins of the Santa Fe High School football program, the Raiders trounced the Panthers 23-8.  That was the 2000 season and newly-appointed Raider head coach Scott Pritchett rode the victory to a 7-3 year for Santa Fe.

This season, the storyline has set a similar stage as Santa Fe travels to Newberry Friday night, Sept. 2, for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in Panther Stadium.  Former Newberry coach Tommy Keeler bid farewell to the Panthers after six seasons and a state championship appearance and now leads the Raiders into Panther Stadium against his former squad.

As if this annual rivalry game didn’t have enough storylines, Keeler’s former assistant at Newberry – Chris Baker – is now the head coach of the Panthers after returning from Trenton High School where he served as head coach for three years.

It’s no surprise the personnel involved in this Friday’s game have shared the same sidelines in the past.  The programs have been playing each other in the season opener since 1991 and only 12 miles of asphalt separate the two small schools.  The players involved in both schools have played area youth league football for years and know each other a little better than the average opponent.  Personnel mingling and new head coaches in each program are bound to cross paths in the northwest rural area of Alachua County.

“The only time I’ve ever been on that other sideline [visitor’s sideline at Panther Stadium] was for an intrasquad scrimmage,” said Keeler.  “So it’s going to be quite odd coming off a bus and going to the visitor’s sideline.

“[Newberry] was a young team last year, quite a few of those kids played for me last year so I know most of the team still.”

Baker, who posted a 7-3 mark with Trenton last season, is well aware of the storylines, but is pleased to be back in blue and gold.

“It’s very exciting. I’m happy to be back in Newberry,” explained Baker.  “I’ve lived here the whole time I was in Trenton, but it’s great to be back over here coaching this team.

“Regarding Coach Keeler, we’re used to playing each other. I think it’s going to be more emotional for him, but once the thing gets kicked off, I have a gut feeling things will smooth out to a normal game.”

Santa Fe has struggled over the last decade as each new Raider team after team tried to restore the program to its once prominent status highlighted by a pair of state titles in 1991 and 1994.  The closest a team has come was 2004 in which the Raiders posted a 7-5 record and reached the Class 3A regional semifinals.  Outside of the 2004 campaign, Santa Fe has produced subpar results including a 2-18 record over the last two seasons.

While Keeler may not be decreeing a state title run just yet, he has expectations for this year’s team to put Santa Fe football back on track and it starts against the Panthers.

“As always, we’re trying to treat it as another game,” said Keeler who takes over a team that posted a 1-9 mark a year ago.  “We’re well aware that it’s a big rivalry and a huge game for us.”

Newberry found recent success under the direction of Keeler.  He led the Panthers to a state runner-up finish in 2007 and his teams reached the playoffs three times in six years.  Baker was the defensive coordinator for the Panthers during its 2007 state championship appearance run, but now takes over a team that won just a pair of games last season.  He’s looking for a fresh start against the Raiders Friday night.

“I just think we’re going to have to come out and play very well,” explained Baker.  “I think they’re going to be pretty jacked up.  It’s a good test for us because it’s a bigger school. I want to see if we can clean up some of the mistakes from our preseason game.”

Santa Fe has come up on the short end of the rivalry game for the past five years as its current head coach led the Panthers to five consecutive victories over the Raiders.

“I think the motivation’s there,” said Keeler.  “The kids want it bad and the coaches want it bad.

“For a game like this you don’t have to get the kids hyped up, they’re pretty much ready to go.”

While the Raiders are trying to snap the streak, for Baker the challenge is just the opposite – extend the win mark to six consecutive.

“We’ve got to cut down on our mistakes,” said Baker.  “If we make too many mistakes Santa Fe is going to overpower us.

“Me and Coach Keeler are going to be great friends.  I’m going to pull for Coach Keeler every night but one.”

Undoubtedly that one night is this Friday.

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