High Springs Voters To Decide Commission Races, Await New City Manager

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With six candidates running for two city commission seats on Tuesday and five finalists for the city manager’s post, there will be at least two new voices among those leading High Springs.

Ross Ambrose, Sharon Decker and Janet Evans are competing for Commission Seat No. 1, with Commissioner Nancy Lavin opting to not seek reelection.

Vice Mayor Gloria James is trying to keep Zachary Walter and Katherine Weitz from taking her spot on the governing body in a race for Commission Seat No. 2.

The candidates touted their readiness during a recent forum at the High Springs Farmer’s Market pavilion. Among other items, they touched on their love for the city, preserving its history while maintaining development, improving municipal water quality and restoring local roads.

Walter, 30, a human resources and training employee at CAMPUS USA Credit Union, pledged accountability and transparency as a commissioner, saying he would ensure everyone knows how the city’s actions benefit the public.

City Commissioner Linda Jones shares her thoughts about the qualities and experiences High Springs needs in its next city manager. (Nichole Celotto/WUFT News)

“I really want High Springs to flourish not just now,” he said, “but for the generations that will come after us.”

James, 75, agreed that a water quality development plan is needed, but said it can only happen through proper funding and grant applications. She also wants to develop a local Head Start program, and to provide programs that will benefit senior citizens and young people.

“My thoughts are a little different than everyone else,” said James, a retired supervisor of human resources at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Trenton, New Jersey.

Evans, 59, called for developing a clear plan with short- and long-term budgeting goals and bringing awareness to the issues of local wastewater and infrastructure. The retiree said her skills include grant writing and 25 years of experience as a school administrator.

“Everybody who comes to the table as one of the commissioners has to bring some skills with them,” Evans said.

Ambrose, 56, said his involvement with the Main Street program, the community theater and serving with parks and recreation for 18 years gives him the experience needed to help guide the city. He also said its budget should reflect the city’s priorities.

“One of the things that makes High Springs special is that core downtown area,” Ambrose said. “I’d like to continue to see some vibrancy … relevant to our sense of community.”

Weitz, 54, discussed how discharging wastewater in a new system could be an expensive process, and the importance of planning ahead with long-term budgets toward a solution.

“I am a chemist, it’s not really exciting,” she said. “But when it comes to water and wastewater issues we’re having here in town, I really think I can make a difference.”

Decker, 74, said her main focus would be increasing economic development and saving deteriorating buildings and the city’s history. She also plans to go out in the community, talk to the people and listen to their needs – so she can hear from their hearts.

“You can save this town and not change it,” she said.

Meanwhile, the commission has interviewed five finalists to replace Joel DeCoursey Jr. as city manager. DeCoursey, 60, the former police chief of both High Springs and Alachua City, became High Springs’ manager in September 2019. His resignation takes effect on Nov. 30.

“I have truly been blessed and I thoroughly enjoyed working here as well as serving the citizens of this great community,” DeCoursey’s letter states. “I have committed to one year of service, and I have fulfilled my obligation. It is time for a new set of eyes to lead the city into the future.”

The finalists for the position, which will pay between $90,000-$100,000 a year in salary, emerged from a field of 27 applicants. The application said the city needs someone with professional and fiscal management experience as well as problem solving and interpersonal relations skills. The successful applicant must also live within the city limits.

The commission interviewed the finalists – Jon Cameron, Seth Lawless, William Lawrence, Don Rosenthal and Ashley Stathatos – last week. A new manager was expected to be picked Nov. 12.

Commissioner Linda Jones said among the things she hopes for from the new manager is keeping the city quaint and enabling it to develop responsibly.

“I hope we can find someone who feels as much at home as we do here,” Jones said.

Based on the set of finalists, she said, “We think we’ll be able to do that.”

Corrections appended: A previous version of this story misstated Walter’s name as Walters and incorrectly stated Decker’s age.

About Nichole Celotto

Nichole is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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