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ALACHUA – Decisions about who should represent the City of Alachua against four separate lawsuits sparked a contentions discussion Monday evening.

In a special meeting, not open to the public, before the regular city commission meeting Sept. 26, commissioners, legal staff and other city officials strategized about a host of legal issues facing the city.  During the regular public meeting that followed, commissioners took action on four lawsuits in particular, prompting a debate on the part of at least two commissioners who said they were concerned with legal representation on the cases.

City Attorney Marian Rush asked that her firm, Rush and Glassman, be appointed by the commission as co-counsel with attorney David Theriaque in a federal lawsuit.  Brought by The Lions Den, that case challenges the legality of a city ordinance and seeks to overturn it, allowing the company to open an adult novelty store near Interstate 75 and U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

Theriaque was responsible for writing the city’s Ordinance 11-06, an ordinance that restricts the types of businesses allowed to operate within an area labeled the “Gateway Activity Center,” a 2,000-foot zone surrounding the intersection of I-75 and U.S. 441.

The city’s insurance carrier has reportedly agreed to pay $180 of Theriaque’s $200 per hour fee to defend the city.  But Monday, Rush said her firm should be appointed as co-counsel in the case because “this case is going to be inextricably intertwined with the case in 2003,” a similar lawsuit by another adult novelty store.

Vice-Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr. opposed appointing co-counsel and cited concerns of increased legal fees saying, “I don’t know that we need more than one person or a group to litigate for us.”

Rush, whose firm defended the city against the 2003 case brought by Adult World, argued that her knowledge of the prior case would be a benefit.  She also noted that three law firms are representing the Lions Den.  Addressing Boukari’s concerns, Rush said, “It’s actually going to save money.”

Boukari, however, suggested that the $10,000 monthly fee already paid to Rush and Glassman should be sufficient to cover Marian Rush’s involvement.

“Should [Theriaque] need help or information, I would imagine under our current contract with our city attorney, she would provide what needed to be provided,” Boukari said.  “My concerns are financial.  I don’t want to see us push the limits in terms of legal costs.  [Theriaque] can defend that ordinance, I would think, on his own, that’s why he’s being hired.”

City Manager Traci Cain said assistance with The Lions Den lawsuit wouldn’t be covered under the $10,000 monthly fee.  “If [Rush] helps in anyway with this case, it’s not going to come under her retainer,” said Cain.

Responding to Commissioner Gary Hardacre, Cain said “We can always monitor and make sure that Mr. Theriaque’s office is performing more of the duties and that he is doing the leg work since his fees would be paid by insurance, rather than Ms. Rush.”

Apparently referring to earlier statements made by Rush, Cain said, “This is going to be a case that is probably going to be very lengthy.  It’s going to go on for several years probably and be very costly.”

Those costs are what, Boukari said, the City needed to control.   “Costs are going to hit our general fund directly and not just our insurance,” he said.  “This strictly comes down to money.  I’m concerned that should this go on for years, like we’re expecting it to, [Rush is] saying it will save money, I’m not so sure.”

After the heated discussion, commissioners voted 4-1 to appoint David Theriaque as the lead attorney with Rush and Glassman as co-counsel.  Boukari cast the dissenting vote.

In two separate cases against the City brought by the same company, JGC Land Development, LLC, commissioners were asked to give Cain and Rush the authority to negotiate with Theriaque and attorney Skip Kohlmyer to defend against the cases.

The company is seeking injunctive relief to keep the City from spending nearly $1 million set aside for infrastructure in the Heritage Oaks neighborhood near Santa Fe High School. In a separate case, JGC Land Development is seeking $3.2 million plus interest and legal costs because it claims the City “interfered” and “disrupted” its project.

Commissioner Robert Wilford opposed utilizing Theriaque in either of the cases pointing to the City’s case load already being carried by Theriaque.

“I don’t think it should be Mr. Theriaque.  I think it should be Mr. Kohlmyer or someone else because we’ve got a lot of things tied up with Mr. Theriaque.

In a vote of 4-1, commissioners approved the negotiations, with Wilford dissenting.

Commissioners unanimously agreed not to file a counterclaim in lawsuit filed against the City by Jones Edmunds & Associates, Inc., a design and engineering firm working on the city’s wastewater treatment plant expansion.  The company is seeking a half-million dollars in redesign costs it says were necessary because of the City’s failure to provide information from its Land Development Regulations (LDRs).

In its complaint, Jones Edmunds said a city representative approved the necessary changes mid-project, but the city has only paid the fees of $1.25 million outlined in the original agreement rather than the increased fee of $1.8 million.

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NEWBERRY – The Newberry City Commission gave the final nod to the City’s proposed 2011/12 fiscal year budget for $7,761,518.  Except for the inclusion of a $6,000 commission travel expense item Monday evening, little changed in the budget since the first public hearing on Sept. 12.

Funding for commission travel expenses was reinstated in the budget when City Commissioner Alena Lawson suggested that each commissioner and city manager have $1,000 available for projected city-related travel, adding up to $6,000 to the final budget. The move sets up a travel fund reserve, leaving it up to the individual commissioner to decide if they need to use the money for city-related travel expenses.

Commissioners also formally approved a 2 percent salary increase for all city employees. Commissioners clarified that raise does not increase the salary of commissioners.

The property tax millage rate was kept at 3.8500, the same as last year.  The millage rate determines the taxes a property owner must pay based on the assessed taxable value of their real estate or tangible property.

Meals on Wheels, a non-profit program for senior citizens, which was at risk for of being cut from city funding during the first hearing, survived with its $22,000 budget intact.  Funding for a city fireworks display was slashed after commissioners determined that a senior citizen program was a priority.

Ashby said the most challenging part of getting the budget approved was making sure the City had enough revenue to continue providing city services. Money transfers were made from investment funds to shore up the final budget.

“With those transfers, we were able to meet our level of service requirements,” Ashby said.

The Canterbury project is still in the works, Ashby said, referring to the City’s request for funding from the Alachua County Commission. Ashby added that before further planning continues with the equestrian center, Newberry has to submit its proposal to several committees as directed last week by the Alachua County Commission.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The Gainesville Tea Party will host a forum for the High Springs City Commission candidates on Oct. 4 at the High Springs Civic Center.

Candidates Bob Barnas, Linda Clark Gestrin, Mayor Larry Travis and Vice Mayor Byran William were invited to attend. Barnas and Gestrin have confirmed their participation.

These are the four candidates running for the two expired commission seats. Travis and Williams currently hold the seats.

The event will begin at 7 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.

This is the first time the Gainesville Tea Party has hosted a forum for High Springs Commission candidates.

The High Springs New Century Woman’s Club will hold its forum on Oct. 25.

The city election will be on Nov. 8.

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HAWTHORNE – Hawthorne city commissioners unanimously approved the city’s final budget of $2,425,416 for the 2011/12 fiscal year during a meeting on Sept. 20.

The city’s general fund is budgeted at $767,281; the water fund at $220,800; wastewater at $1,217,335; and the sanitation fund at $220,000.

The new budget represents an overall increase of about 18 percent when compared to the 2010/11budget of $1,987,983. Although the budget was initially believed to be balanced last year, there was a deficit of nearly $400,000 that placed the city in a state of financial emergency.

Commissioners also unanimously adopted the final 2011/12 millage rate, or the rate at which property taxes are levied on property, at 5.3194 mills.  City Manager Ellen Vause estimates that the adopted millage rate, which is the same as last year, will result in $244,386 in ad valorem tax revenues to the city.

A surcharge was added to the water and sewer bills beginning in May to help reduce the budget deficit. During the meeting, City Attorney Audrie Harris described the deficit as a “work in progress.”

“Our water and sewer rates should stabilize our historical deficits that we have had every year so that we could be able to start a rebuilding process,” she said. “It will be a long journey for us because there are a lot of things we have to straighten out before we start rebuilding.”

In a letter to the State of Florida Auditor General that detailed the current economic standings of Hawthorne, the City said 2012 is expected to be the break-even year for the budget.

However, there is still a $1.12 million deficit between the enterprise and general funds. Commissioner William Carlton said he believes more action will need to be taken to reduce the deficit.

“We are shortchanging ourselves by not trying to get enough taxes in to start reducing this deficit we have,” he said during the meeting.

Hawthorne will continue to be considered in a state of financial emergency until the deficit is corrected.

City commission members met on Aug. 2 to announce the millage rate proposals. On Sept. 8, they adopted the preliminary millage rate of 5.3194 mills.

In anticipation of its annual audit, Vause said the city has completed five of eight balance sheets to close the 2010/11 fiscal year.

“We are really doing a whole year’s worth of bookkeeping in two months,” she said.

City Commissioner William Carlton said he hopes the new budget can aid the current deficit.

“We still got a $1.12 million deficit between our accounts here. Somehow, we have to get money from somewhere to pay for this.”

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua adopted a budget of $33,663,115 for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. This figure represents an 8.76 percent reduction over last year’s budget of $36,897,118.

At Monday night’s regularly scheduled commission meeting, commissioners also approved keeping the property tax rate the same as the last two years.

The final millage rate, which will be used to calculate city property taxes in the 2011 tax year, will be 5.5000 mills. At 5.5000 mills, taxes for a property worth $100,000 would be $550.

The ad valorem taxable value has decreased for properties in the city, meaning the commission would have to adopt a roll-back rate of 6.0242 mills to generate the same revenue as last year. Instead, in maintaining the 5.5000 mills rate, there will be a $368,582 decrease in property tax revenue coming into City coffers.

The commission expressed a desire to maintain the 5.5000 mills rate to provide tax relief for residents. Resident Donna Hope, who was attending the meeting, thanked the commission, saying, “We all need this break.”

The city expects the public service tax revenue, which increased by almost 26 percent, to offset the hit from the millage rate, bringing in about $300,000 in additional income.

Although the FY 2011/12 budget is $3.2 million less than the FY 2010/11 budget, city officials expect similar operating costs in the coming year.  The primary reason for the budget decrease is the completion of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, a $20 million facility.  With the construction finalized it will no longer be an additional expense to the budget.

The City will be funding two new programs this year to help alleviate the disrepair of city-owned roads.  A road resurfacing program budgeted at $152,000 will be used to repair crumbling roads that need asphalt.

An additional $45,000 was budgeted for a “chip-seal” program to surface some unpaved roads with a gravel-type asphalt mix, reducing the maintenance of those roads.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs commission voted on Sept. 22 to continue the search for a new city manager.

The commission had interviewed Judith Jankosky on Sept. 15, the last candidate for the position. The search, which started out with 47 candidates, was narrowed to a list of six hopefuls.

Out of that six, four dropped out due to the salary offered. The commission decided at the Aug. 25 meeting to publically interview the last two candidates, Jankosky and Terry Leary, after they both had individual meetings with each commissioner.

However, Leary took a job at another city.

Commissioner Sue Weller expressed concern should the city hire Jankosky without interviewing other candidates. She said she was impressed with Jankosky’s background and knowledge, but did not feel comfortable focusing on one candidate at this point.

“We don’t know at this point if there’s a candidate out there that would be available, that would meet our qualifications, that might be a better fit,” she said.

Mayor Larry Travis agreed with Weller. He said he was unsure that Jankosky had the necessary ability to come before the public and put together a plan of action.

“This position is very, very important,” he said. “So I feel it’s advantageous for us to go forward in looking for other individuals to fill this seat.”

The position will be advertised again, seeking another round of new candidates. Once the city has a list of applicants, Paul Sharon, a “Range Rider,” will review the individuals.

The Range Riders is a group under the auspices of the Florida City and County Management Association. They offer free guidance to cities in the search for city managers, using former city managers as counselors.

The new advertisement will include the salary for the position, set at $50,000 to $72,000. This additional information is at the request of Commissioner Eric May.

He suggested this in light of the city losing two-thirds of its candidates after announcing the salary. After an unsuccessful five-month search, he does not want to see the city follow the same procedures.

“We don’t do this everyday, as Mr. Sharon pointed out,” May said. “I don’t want to see us use the exact same process and get the exact same results.”

Vice Mayor Byran Williams reiterated that the salary must be mentioned at the beginning of the process. Commissioner Dean Davis did not attend the meeting.

City Clerk Jenny Parham will stay on as interim city manager while the city continues its search to replace former city manager Jim Drumm, who resigned last October.

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Four candidates running for two seats

 HIGH SPRINGS - On Nov. 8, voters will elect two commissioners to fill the expired seats of Mayor Larry Travis and Vice Mayor Byran Williams. There are four candidates running for the seats, including the incumbents. Here voters can find the candidates’ responses to a selection of Alachua County Today’s profile questions.

In alphabetical order:

BOB BARNAS

Basic overview

Age: 63

Family: Married to Shirley Mogensen, two sons, two daughters-in law and seven grandchildren

Education: Attended college for Police Science, Business and Marketing

Occupation: Realtor

Time in High Springs: Since Jan 1999

Political experience: Have been involved in local politics and issues since 2005.

 

Questions

What is the main issue that needs to be addressed in High Springs?

One word: the “debt” that is choking us. We must determine the acceptable level of debt a city our size should have. Do not take on more or uncontrolled debt service.

 

As a commissioner, what would be your short-term and long-term goals?

Short term would be to listen to voters, look at recent ordinances and revaluate the sewer project and its fee structure.

Long term would be to plan events out a year in advance, and to develop joint sewer/business plans with Alachua and Newberry with help from the county. We must work as a tri-city community.

 

Why are some residents unhappy with local government?

Residents are unhappy or happy, depending on your group. Some, because of spending money on artistic bike racks. Some, because alcohol laws were changed for one or two people over the objection of a large number of voters. Some, because they became friends, or not friends, with the recently lost chiefs and city manager. But understand that for all those people that are unhappy, there are others that are happy with the way the government is run.

 

What should High Springs do to gain strength economically?

Focus on eco-tourism now; we have the resources in rivers, parks, springs and Gulf Coast waters within an hour drive. They are ours to share with the world. We need to focus on growth on 441 in the next five years. Be ready for that.

 

What are your ideas about the budget for the city?

Look at each position we now have, and if they are needed in a city of 5,000. We need to see where we need less, and where we need more. Have staff look and question every bill the city gets. But most importantly, look at how much debt a city of 5,000 should have. There is a formula and common sense that says enough is enough.

How do you feel the fire department should be restructured?

No need for restructuring. We now have a qualified Captain in charge that has, is and will be perfectly fine as Captain. We must watch our call volume and be ready and willing to add staff if needed. But for now, we are good. Communication with the county is now back and great, and calls they are giving us are up.

 

What are your core political principles?

Less government rules, guidelines and regulations. Less taxing and sensible fees.

 

What made you run for city commissioner?

The unwillingness of the incumbent commissioners to listen to ideas and information given to them by taxpayers and business owners that would save tax dollars, reduce water, reduce sewer fees and reduce our choking debt service.

 

What would you bring to the commission that other candidates would not?

As previously said, I would bring the ability to listen. I would open meetings up to allow public comment on all subjects. This is not being done by our incumbents now.

 

What is something residents do not know about you?

I volunteer with Florida Wildlife Care along with my wife and rehab injured or abandoned native Florida wildlife for release back into the wild.

 

Is there an issue that these questions did not mention that you would like to address?

The police department. The police chief is gone. We now have an opportunity to rebuild not only the department staff, but the morale as well. We had, have and must continue to have a local police force. It would be my goal to build the best small town local police force in the state of Florida.

 

LINDA CLARK GESTRIN

Basic Overview

Family: Married to Dennis Gestrin

Education: Two years at Valencia Community College

Occupation: Appraisal business, nonprofit volunteer/ fundraiser

Time in High Springs: Since birth

Political Experience: Urban planning committees; attended more commission and workshop meetings than any current commissioners

 

Questions

What is the main issue that needs to be addressed in High Springs?

We need a correction of our direction. It’s time to re-evaluate all our commitments. For example, High Springs is $8.5 million in debt due to the sewer system and the current commission has voted to increase our debt approximately $5 million more, to expand phases 4 and 5 of our sewer system. To me, this increased debt is irresponsible.

As a commissioner, what would be your short-term and long-term goals?

Short-term, I will bring back civility and common sense to our city meetings. As commissioners, we must decide what we can afford and spend no more than that. We need to re-evaluate our sewer system immediately. Once those goals are accomplished, restoring our fund balance policy and rebuild reserve funds are critical over the long term.

Why are some residents unhappy with local government?

When issues arise, our residents need someone to talk to, and many times the city will not return their calls. High Springs residents want leaders who will listen with genuine concern. They want someone who will take action and make decisions with residents in mind. I will ensure they have that.

What should High Springs do to gain strength economically?

It’s very difficult to start a new business in High Springs today. I want that changed and use incentives to attract clean industries that are compatible with our town, such as tourism. I would revitalize our downtown to better serve our residents and business owners. Developing the 441 corridor will bring more commerce, leading to new jobs and revenues.

What are your ideas about the budget for the city?

We definitely need to spend no more than we are allotted – that’s a given. I would like to see an increase in the visibility with major decisions that have an impact on High Springs. Our citizens often find out after the fact without public review and input. We have wasted so much, and that needs to stop.

How do you feel the fire department should be restructured?

At this time, I believe our High Springs Fire Department is meeting our needs. Our captain and his team do a great job, and we have some of the best firefighters you could ever ask for.

What are your core political principles?

I believe strongly in sensible, fiscal conservatism at this time of economic instability. Bringing integrity and decency back to our political discourse is the only way we can achieve the goals our citizens elect us to accomplish. I believe we need leaders in High Springs who respect our town’s traditions.  I bring that respect to this race.

What made you run for city commissioner?

We received a $390.01 water bill from the city. Normal during this time was $38. Through persistence, we resolved the situation.  When I heard the words “pay this or your water will be cut off,” I became very concerned for our elderly citizens. Everyone needs someone to listen, to help and to stand up for them. I want to be that person.

What would you bring to the commission that other candidates would not?

I bring new insight and a citizen’s concern with an insider’s perspective of our community. I have deep family roots here, which gives me a long-term vision and a true commitment to High Springs. I believe we can do better, and I have the persistence to make that happen.

 

What is something residents do not know about you?

I have recently been working to complete a book on the life of my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. They lived in this area and had amazing stories. I’ve met with a movie director who is interested in filming their story in High Springs.

 

Is there an issue that these questions did not mention that you would like to address?

I’m concerned why we gave our dispatch services to the county without proper research. The costs could be greater than our local system. That’s unacceptable. In addition, I don’t care for the required address changes, which add more expense to residents, businesses and the city. Because the safety of our town is most important, I’ll be monitoring the new system’s cost and performance.

 

MAYOR LARRY TRAVIS

Basic Overview

Age: 70

Family: Married to Dorsey Travis for 50 years. Three children and four grandchildren

Education: Bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education from the University of Florida

Occupation: Retired

Time in High Springs: 11 years

Political Experience: Six years on city commission, two of those as Mayor

Questions:

What is the main issue that needs to be addressed in High Springs?

Continual loss of property values which is costing the city ad valorem tax revenue, and the number of empty houses which impacts our utility income. Another issue is the time it is taking to get our sewer system subscribers on line, which impacts our ability to pay for the system.

As a commissioner, what would be your short-term goals?

We need to hire a city manager. We must finish all the projects underway, including the old school and all of the approved paving. We have to finish and pass the Land Development codes to enable us to offer a more diverse plan to bring new growth to our city. Long range would be to finish all phases of the sewer system and to move forward with implementing our economic development plan.

 

Why are some residents unhappy with local government?

As you say in your question, some residents are unhappy and these are a small group of individuals who have their own agenda, which is contrary, I believe, to the majority of our citizens.

 

What should High Springs do to gain strength economically?

High Springs should continue to push for the goals of the economic development task force and be more pro-active in creating a positive environment for potential investors in our community.

 

What are your ideas about the budget for the city?

The city should continue to budget conservatively and monitor income to expense ratios.

 

How do you feel the fire department should be restructured?

I believe we were over-staffed in the command positions and feel we need to keep a chief and three lieutenants.

 

What are your core political principles?

I am pretty conservative, but believe very strongly that we do what is best for the majority of the people of High Springs, and make High Springs the very best community for all of our citizens.

 

What made you run for city government?

I ran for the commission the first time because I felt like I could bring someone who had administered multimillion dollar budgets for athletic departments and could move us forward into a budget that could be understood and controlled. I also felt we needed to move forward with economically with managed growth.

 

What would you bring to the commission that other candidates would not?

I bring experience and a record of positive changes to our city. Through the years, I have formed strong bonds with the leaders of the other Alachua County cities. This led to my election as president of the Alachua County League of Cities. This position gives me the insight to keep up with all of the changes in the Florida’s growth management and transportation concurrency legislation, so that I can make better decisions when it comes to how this legislation will affect my city.

 

What is something residents do not know about you?

When I retired, I knew I would settle close to the University of Florida, because the University gave a poor kid from Miami a chance to play football and get an education impossible otherwise. My brother found this wonderful land in High Springs, and I also fell in love with the city. As I got more involved, I wanted to serve in other ways to help us move forward. I did by getting involved with the Main Street Program.

 

Is there an issue that these questions did not mention that you would like to address?

I wish we could make everyone happy with the sewer system. This is an issue that was passed by the sitting commission in 2001, setting in motion a plan to build the system in five phases. The city is committed to this project by this action, and must secure the required number of customers to pay for it. If we don’t, those already on the system will have to pay a higher cost to cover what is already in the ground.

 

 

VICE MAYOR BYRAN WILLIAMS

Basic Overview

Age: 53

Family: Single, father of four, four grandchildren

Education: Currently enrolled in Emory International Theological Seminary, Atlanta, GA; Florida League of Cities Institute for Community Housing; Advanced Institute for Elected Municipal Officials; Institute for Elected Municipal Officials; Santa Fe College

Occupation: Pastor of Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church, High Springs; Owner of Byran’s Car Wash & Wax

Time in High Springs: Life-long resident

Political Experience: High Springs City Commissioner (7 Years), Presently Vice Mayor, Member of the Florida Leagues of Cities, Member of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, Former Mayor, Former Member of the Growth Management and Transportation Committee

 

What is the main issue that needs to be addressed in High Springs?

I would like to bring economic development to our city so that we can become more financially self-sufficient.

 

As commissioner, what would be your short-term and long-term goals?

In the short-term, I will concentrate on completing paving the streets that were previously approved for improvement. Also, I’d like to start recreation programs for our citizen’s seniors, adults, youth and children. For a long-term, my goals would be to bring economic stability to the city of High Springs by bring clean industry that provides high quality jobs.

 

Why are some residents unhappy with local government?

One area of concern would be the short line of communication concerning local government. Some residents are feeling left out. However, this problem can be solved by civic education. Civic education is the educating of citizens of civic affairs.

 

What should High Springs do to gain strength economically?

In addition to the above stated ideas, I would address the area of affordable housing, increasing tourism in the city, and encouraging cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.

 

What are your ideas about the budget for the city?

Our 2011 – 2012 budget was passed, and we were able to keep the mileage rate at the current level of 6.15. This means that the citizens of High Springs will not have to endure any increase of taxes this coming year. We were also able to put money into Contingency Funds and Reserve Funds accounts.

How do you feel the fire department should be restructured?

With the passing of the final budget, we were able to successfully restructure the fire department by eliminating the captain’s position and retaining the chief’s position.

 

What are your core political principles?

My political principles are simple: I believe in fairness, honesty, listening, and open communication with all people.

 

What made you run for city commissioner?

I am seeking re-election because I am a life-long citizen of High Springs, and I am committed to the welfare and development of this city and its citizens. I love High Springs and I am totally invested in its economic development and expanding its capacity to be self-sufficient. I have served this community for two terms as Commissioner, Mayor, and presently, Vice Mayor.

 

What would you bring to the commission that other candidates would not?

I bring seven years of experience as a High Springs city commissioner and proven leadership skills. I am a member of the Student Advisory Council of both Santa Fe High School and High Springs Community School.  I am a life-long resident of the area, having built relationships with various sectors of the community.

 

What is something residents don’t know about you?

I was in the Army, serving in Germany, Fort Campbell, KY, and was an instructor at West Point.

 

Is there an issue that these questions did not mention that you would like to address?

Not at this time.

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