Acting on behalf of the Vero Beach Chamber of Commerce, Mark Mucher submitted a proclamation request to the Clerk’s Office on March 27, nearly four weeks beyond the deadline for the April 2 City Council meeting. To ensure the proclamation was place on the April 2 Council agenda, Mayor Laura Moss overrode the City Clerk’s Office.
City Code requires that requests for proclamations be submitted “at least four (4) weeks prior to the Council meeting date requested for presentation or issuance.”
Less than two weeks before intervening on Mucher’s behalf, Moss and he were seen working the crowd at an event held in Riverside Park. “Let me introduce you to the mayor of Vero Beach,” Mucher was heard saying, as he proudly introduced Moss to those who presumably had never seen Indian-River-Shores-funded campaign post cards featuring Moss’ photograph.Moss’ willingness to set aside published guidelines and requirements for requesting proclamations suggests the mayor sees her office, not as a sacred trust, but as a privilege bestowed for the benefit of herself, her friends, and her Indian River Shores benefactors. (In the 2016 municipal election, fully 70% of Moss’ campaign contributions came from Shores residents.)
This is not the first time Moss has disregarded City Code in overreached her legal authority. Several months ago, without consulting her fellow Council members, Moss sought to control the agenda of a Finance Commission meeting. Unsuccessful in muzzling the citizen advisory board, Moss then attempted to unilaterally cancel the Commission’s meeting. The dust-up put the City Attorney in the awkward position of having to clarifying the limits of the mayor’s authority.
Under Vero Beach’s “weak-mayor” form of government, the city manager, not the mayor, is the City’s chief executive officer. Beyond the responsibilities of any other Council member, the mayor’s only additional duties are to preside over Council meetings, sign legal documents on behalf of the City, and represent the City at ceremonial events.
In supporting Donald Trump’s successful rise to the Presidency, may voters may have concluded that his disregard for norms, traditions and bureaucracy are exactly what is needed to end partisan gridlock that has all but crippled Washington.
By electing Laura Moss to the Vero Beach City Council, voters were clearly reaffirming their desire to see the City conclude the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power and Light. However, it is a stretch to conclude that Moss’ election also signals widespread support for her limited-government agenda, an agenda which was never mentioned during the campaign?
Support for the power sale, for example, is no indication that the people of Vero Beach want a mayor who assumes more power and authority than is conferred by the City Charter? Let us be clear, as mayor, Moss is one of five Council members. She has no legal authority to set aside City Code for her benefit, or for the benefit of her friends and supporters. And it is certainly not her place to direct Staff, cancel citizen advisory meetings, or control the agenda of those commissions and boards.
Recently, Moss has been pressuring the Finance Commission to consider the viability of the City continuing to own and operate a marina. Documents released by the City Clerk’s Office in response to public records requests reveal that Moss has been in conversation with representative of the Vero Beach Yacht Club.
A meeting to include Moss, City Manager Jim O’Connor, as well as several representative of the Yacht Club, is scheduled for April 19. O’Connor said he was told the subject of the meeting will be the Club’s parking needs. Yacht Club general manager Shawn Witmer said the Club is interested to know what plans the City may have for the marina property.
According to Witmer, the Yacht Club is growing in membership, and has been challenged to meet parking needs. Any change in use to the adjoining property, he said, would impact the Yacht Club.
Vero Beach Marina facilities lie north and south of the Yacht Club. The area to the north of the Yacht Club, including the docks and parking lots, is protected by the City Charter. As a result, that land and those facilities cannot be sold or leased for commercial use without voter approval. The dry dock storage and kayak racks to the south, and the building housing an insurance office to the east are encumbered by grants and a loan from the Florida Inland Navigation District. Short of holding a referendum, how Moss plans to get the City out of the marina business is not clear.
Equally troubling is the fact that Moss’ actions raise serious questions about her commitment to fairness, to the rule of law, and to chain of command within City government.