Letter: Selling Vero Electric is Un-American 2

Editor’s note: The following letter received by InsideVero yesterday was also sent to City Council of Vero Beach, Town Council of Indian River Shores and Board of County Commissioners, Indian River County.

“I believe in municipal ownership of all public service monopolies… because if you do not own them, they will in time own you. They will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions and finally destroy your liberties!” – Thomas L. Johnson, Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, 1908

 

Selling Vero Electric to FPL is Un-American!

Please acknowledge about Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) upcoming multiple rate increases, surcharges and more increase(s) and surcharge(s) to come later.

Please acknowledge about FPL’s SurgeShield program is ripping off their customers. Vero Electric already have surge protections in all places and does not charge.

Please acknowledge about local media blackout (Indian River Press Journal/TCPalm and 32963/VeroNews) on FPL’s multiple rate increases and surcharges. InsideVero and out of town newspapers reported the increases.

Please acknowledge about Bob Brunjes, Indian River Press Journal/TCPalm publisher is married to Amy Brunjes, FPL executive.

Please acknowledge the current rates between Vero Electric and FPL is now less than 8% – greatly reduced from 34% in 2009. More…

Press Journal columnist misstates electric rate comparison Reply

The Indian River County Commission assesses a 6% franchise fee on the electric bills of country residents who are customers of Vero Electric, and of FPL. Similarly, If an when the become customers of Vero Electric residents and businesses within the city will also pay a 6% franchise fee, yielding an effective FPL rate of $108.69, compared to Vero Beach’s current rate of $116.08. The difference between the two rates is 6.4%, not 20%, as many continue to claim.

COMMENTARY

“Reisman and his colleagues at Treasure Coast Newspapers persist in presenting the rate differential between Vero Electric and FPL in a way that shows how much more FPL customers would pay, if they switched to Vero Electric. This is a misleading and meaningless comparison. The relevant percentage is the savings Vero Electric customers could expect by switching to FPL. At 1000 kilowatt hours, that number is 8.7% for county customers and 6.3% for customers within the city. At 1200 kilowatt hours, based on today’s rates, the savings would be 14.3% for county customers and 9.1% for customers within the city.” 

MARK SCHUMANN

For years, in comparing rates between Vero Electric and Florida Power and Light, the FPL-friendly Press Journal has followed FPL’s lead in quoting 1000 kilowatt hour rates.  Probably because this measure now yields the least favorable comparison from FPL’s perspective, the Press Journal is quoting rates at 1,200 kilowatt hours.

On the mainland, inside and outside the city limits, some 90 percent of Vero Electric’s residential customers use an average of less than 1000 kilowatt hours per month. Based on the most recent information available from FPL and the City, at 1000 kilowatt hours, the rate differential between the two utilities is 8.7 percent, $116.08 for Vero Electric and $102.64 for FPL. Reisman seems not to want to use these numbers, probably because he has for the last 7 years been telling his readers they could save 25 percent or more, if the City would only sell its electric system to FPL. In fact, the FPL-friendly Press Journal has played key role in leading the public to embrace an exaggerated sense of the benefits of the proposed power sale.

Not only has Reisman taken to using a different rate level for comparison, he misstates the delta. As of March, FPL’s rate for 1200 kilowatts of residential power was $122.40. Vero Beach’s rate was $142.87.  The difference between those two rates is 14.3 percent, not 17 percent, as Reisman claimed when he wrote, “That’s about 17 percent more than FPL rates.” The simple, undeniable, indisputable fact is that at 1200 kilowatt hours customers of FPL are paying 14.3 percent less than customers of Vero Electric, not 17%. More…

In the face of shifting facts, will opinions on power sale remain unchanged? 4

Vero Beach FPL* Differential
March, 2017 116.08 105.98 8.7%
October, 2016 116.08 94.63 18.5%
November, 2013 130.93 98.29 24.9%
June, 2009 158.82 104.37 34.3%
COMMENTARY

“If the residents of Vero Beach who continue to support the power sale believe the deal will lead to significantly lower electric rates, they are going to be disappointed. If they think the move will not result in higher taxes, cuts in services, and major setbacks for the City, they are sorely misguided.”

“Sponsored and supported by FPL, aided by a power-hungry County Commission, and advised by Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot, what Howle, Moss and Sykes most lack is loyalty to the City and to the people of Vero Beach. Bathed in blissful ignorance, and supported by outside interests, they are prepared to drive the City to the brink of financial disaster.”

MARK SCHUMANN

In 2009, utility activists Glenn Heran and Steven Faherty began making presentations throughout the community to build support for the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power and Light. At the time, the rate differential between the two utilities was 34.3%. Not only did Heran and Faherty promise impressive savings on electric bills, they assured everyone the sale would net the City more than $180 million. The money, they reasoned, could be invested, with the earnings used to make up for the $7 million that is annually transferred from the electric fund to the General Fund. That money helps pay for municipal services, such as police protection, recreation programs, life guards and parks maintenance.

It has been eight years since the two utility activists, encouraged and aided by FPL, began persuading the public of the supposed benefits of selling Vero Beach’s electric utility. Over the past eight years much has changed. FPL’s rates have risen, but more importantly Vero Electric’s rates have continued to decline. As a result, customers of Vero Electric stand to save far, far less than originally promised. Based on information available through the Florida Municipal Electric Association, for Vero Beach residents, the effective rate differential is now 8.7%. According to rate information quoted on FPL’s website, the differential is just 6.3%. (According the rates currently being quoted by FPL on its website, the after residential customers using 1000 kWh per month is paying $102.64, this is $2.66 more than the 1000 kWh rate listed on the FMEA website. The difference may have to do with peaking charges, but suffice to say FPL’s rate structure is complicated.) More…

Candidate Randy Old releases statement on proposed power sale 3

Editor’s note: Former Vero Beach City Councilman Randy Old will be running again for a seat on the Council this coming November. Old today released a statement supporting the sale of Vero Electric on the terms recently proposed by FPL.  

FPL’s offer to buy the full utility system is coupled it with agreement to a partial sale of the City’s Indian River Shores customers for $30 million. If the board of the Florida Municipal Power Agency does not approve the deal, or if for any other reason it cannot be completed, Vero Beach will be obligated to sell its Shores customers and infrastructure to FPL for $30 million.

While running for re-election last fall, Old said agreeing to sell the Shores portion of Vero Electric for $30 million would have been a violation of his fiduciary responsibility to the City and to the people of Vero Beach. The statement Old released today does not make clear whether he now supports a partial sale at $30 million, though he did indicates some points in FPL’s proposal may “need to be altered or negotiated.”

Florida Power and Light Makes Offer to City Electric Business

Randy Old

FPL’s offer to the City to buy the entire electric business was announced yesterday. Simply put, FPL is offering to pay $185 million leaving the City with $37 million in cash after the City pays to exit its contracts with FMPA ($108) and OUC ($20), and pays off electric business debt ($20). This should be accepted by the City Council.

The agreements are long and detailed, and there may be some issues that need to be altered or negotiated, but most seem straight forward and reasonable. There are some key issues included. FMPA’s board must unanimously approve the transaction. One City voting against the sale could stop it. I believe that FMPA will approve the transaction and the full sale will be achieved. However, the other key point is, that if the full sale does not go through then, there is a commitment to sell the Indian River Shores portion of Vero Electric to Florida Power and Light.

FMPA reduced its price for Vero to exit its obligations from over $350 million to $108 million, or a 70% reduction. This reduction which happened in the fall, allowed the transaction to become viable. FPL’s past offer was similar to this in size but included our existing plant and other issues not appropriate in this offer. However, had past City Councils agreed to take FLP’s offer of $185 million, and had to pay $350 million to get out of FMPA, plus pay OUC $20 million to exit its contract, and repay its debt of $20 million, the City would have had a net loss on the transaction of $205 million ( +$185 – $350 -$20-$20 = – $205). An impossibility. With the reduced cost to exit FMPA, the transaction is not only possible but attractive.

FMPA changed its mind, was is the new CEO, was is the amount of legislative pressure in Tallahassee, or just a change of heart. But it doesn’t really matter; this is a reasonable transaction that should be accepted.

Next steps, be sure the city uses the proceeds of the sale wisely to minimize the adverse effect on Vero’s finances and its taxpayers. Also, it goes without saying, that it will be a huge relief to the community to have this issue not dominate and divide the city, as it has for the past several years.

Randy Old

Solari’s fingerprints all over deceptive email newsletter 2

COMMENTARY

In the name of liberty, Solari proposes taking from the people of Vero Beach the freedom to make their own decisions about development restrictions, protections against short terms rentals, and choices about levels of service from police protection to recreation programs.

Make no mistake about it, the current push to sell Vero Electric is not about lower electric rates. Underlying all the arguments made by Solari and his fellow County Commissioners is a darker motivation to force the City of Vero Beach into disincorporation. 

MARK SCHUMANN

An extreme limited government Libertarian masquerading as a conservative, Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari is a master of deception.

A local “group” calling itself “American Conservatism” today sent out an email newsletter full of the exact kind of misinformation that has so confused in many people’s minds the real costs and benefits of the proposed sale of Vero Electric. Though no names of leaders or officers are presented in the newsletter, it gives at the organization’s address the home address of Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari.

Solari, to be sure, embraces and typifies, not conservatism, but Libertarian, limited-government extremism.   What the Commissioner is really after, of course, is consolidated local government. Solari, who feeds at the public troff, hates government in any and all forms. He hopes and expects the sale of Vero Electric will lead to a fiscal crisis that will force the City to then sell its well-run and profitable water and sewer utility to the County. Solari, who is informally directing Vero Beach City Council members Harry Howle and Lange Sykes, also hopes for the consolidation of other public services, and eventually the absorption of the City into the County in a unified local government.

In the name of liberty, Solari proposes taking from the people of Vero Beach the freedom to make their own decisions about development restrictions, protections against short terms rentals, and choices about levels of service from police protection to recreation programs.

Make no mistake about it, the current push to sell Vero Electric is not about lower electric rates. Underlying all the arguments made by Solari and his fellow County Commissioners is a darker motivation to force the City of Vero Beach into disincorporation.

Solari’s propaganda piece included the following misleading statement. “One result of City service is that for the past 10 years COVB ratepayers have been paying some 20% to 30% more for electricity than private sector customers have been paying –  paying roughly an extra $200 million that could have remained in the community helping residents lead a better life.”

What Solari was careful not to mention is that for Vero Beach residents the effective rate differential between Vero Electric and Florida Power and Light is now down to less than 7%, to the 20% 30% he claims.

Further attempting to mislead the public, Solari’s newsletter claimed that over the next 10 years, the customers of Vero Electric will pay $200 million more than if they were customers of FPL.  Given the narrowed and continually narrowing gap between the rates of FPL and Vero Electric, the claim is preposterous.

Facebook comments on power sale reveal that some, perhaps many are misinformed, or uninformed 1

COMMENTARY

“If the general belief is that electric rates are going to come down 20% to 30%, and if the widespread assumption is that the sale will not results in tax increases, and/or cuts in municipal services, then pressing ahead with the sale amounts to malicious obedience.” 

MARK SCHUMANN

This past weekend, I took exception to a commenter’s assertion that, despite the unprecedented level of outside money that poured into last fall’s municipal election, the results were a fine example of democracy in action. In truth, the election of Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes to the Vero Beach City Council is a sad example of how money can buy power, especially when the press fails to do its job.

Last fall, more than $100,000, half of it given by Florida Power and Light and half contributed by Indian River Shores residents, funded a political action committee supporting Moss and Sykes. The committee used the money to carry out an extensive disinformation campaign of truly outlandish claims and promises. Further, Sykes received 90 percent of his financial support from Shores residents. Moss took in 70 percent of her campaign contributions from outside Vero Beach. Without question, outside money bought their seats on the Council.

The commenter wrote, “Their paths to office are in accordance with their constitutional rights, and now the City’s decisions rest in their hands.”

In a response titled “A failure of the fourth estate,” I wrote: More…

Dereliction of Duty: Council members continue to allow Mayor Moss to exercise monarchial powers 2

Mayor Laura Moss, who recently described herself at the “queen” of Vero Beach, continues to mistake the ceremonial role of mayor with that of a chief executive officer. Moss recently refused to respond to public records request for copies of notes she took during meetings and telephone calls with representatives of Florida Power and Light. As of April 28, Moss also had in her possession a draft of FPL’s letter of intent to acquire Vero Electric. Moss was asked on May 2 to provide the documents as a part of the public record. She delayed releasing them until May 10.

Dear Editor:

I read with interest your article with regard to Vero Beach mayor Laura Moss and her letter titled “Dereliction of Duty.”  In this letter she shifts blame to the City Attorney for her wrongful and illegal attacks against citizens who express differing opinions.   

Having a police officer take any citizen into custody and removed from a public meeting and further issuing orders banning citizens from meetings is in short an attack on our fundamental freedom of speech. 

Her analogies that differing opinions are akin to yelling fire in a crowded theater are equally absurd. And her new attempt to blame the city attorney for not controlling her is yet another absurdity. Her allegation of his “Dereliction of Duty” is actionable. You can’t make false allegations against those under your command without consequences. And now the public record shows that mayor making formal allegations against the city attorney which become part of his job history.  If you were in the hiring position for a city attorney would you hire an attorney who has been accused by his mayor of not doing his job?

In summary, for city council members to allow or condone by inaction her behavior is the real “dereliction of duty.”  The other council members have an obligation to the taxpaying citizens to remove such a person from a seat of power.

Brian Heady

See: In the hot seat, Moss seeks to shift blame

Today, Coment provided the following response to Moss:

In the hot seat, Moss seeks to shift blame 3

COMMENTARY

“‘He was redundant, and that was the key. He was getting redundant,’ Moss said redundantly.” 

“Moss said, ‘Do you want him back in here? How late to you want to stay?'”

“Amazingly, Moss titled her memo to Coment, “Dereliction of Duty.” Moss is either loose with words, does not understand what constitutes “dereliction of duty,” or, to draw attention from her mistakes, is willing to level against the City Attorney a most serious charge.” 

MARK SCHUMANN

City Attorney Wayne Coment

Before election to the Council, Laura Moss herself made frequent appearances during  public comment time.

The list of ways Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss embarrasses herself and the City continues to grow.  Last summer, as Chair of the Utilities Commission, Moss wrote a letter to the head of the Florida Public Service Commission without providing a copy of the correspondence to the City Clerk’s Office. The omission on Moss’s part was a clear violation of City policy. (Ironically, the point of Moss’s letter was to inform the PSC Chair of a position taken by the Utilities Commission that was ultimately not adopted by the Council.  Now on the Council, Moss is quick to point out that members of citizen advisory commissions, such as she was at the time, are not the elected representatives of the people of Vero Beach.)

More recently, since her election to the Council, Moss has overstepped her authority by going around the City Manager to direct staff, by attempting to unilaterally cancel advisory Commission meetings without the knowledge or approval of her fellow Council members, by leading an effort to muzzle all dissenting opinions and legitimate questions about the proposed power sale, by describing herself at the “queen” of Vero Beach, and by refusing to provide documents in her possession which should clearly be part of the public record.

At last Tuesday’s Council meeting, Moss had Vero Beach resident Brian Heady removed from the Council Chambers when he objected to her false claim that the terms of FPL’s pending letter of intent to acquire Vero Electric are “proprietary” information. In fact, the terms of the sale, which supposedly Moss is negotiating, should be made public, not when Moss deems it convenient, but now. More…

Does anyone really wonder if money buys influence? 1

Laura Moss

Lange Sykes

Harry Howle

MARK SCHUMANN

In a television interview today, Iowa Congressman Rod Blum insisted he represents only the interests of the residents living in the district from which he was elected. In fact, at a town hall Blum is holding today he is only allowing residents of the First District of Iowa to participate. When asked if he would accept political contributions from outside his district, Blum got up and walked away from the interview.

Watching the Blun interview, I could not help but think of Vero Beach City Councilman Lange Sykes, who received 90% (ninety percent) of his campaign contributions from Indian River Shores residents. Laura Moss raise 70% (seventy percent) of her campaign money from the Shores. Along with Harry Howle, Moss and Sykes were elected with additional and significant support from Florida Power and Light.

Given the unprecedented flood of outside money into Vero Beach’s most recent municipal election, the important question the people of Vero Beach should be asking is whether Howle, Moss and Sykes can be expected to represent the people of Vero Beach, or the interests of the state’s largest investor owned utility and the residents of Indian River Shores.

Watch Blum Interview

 

Is Moss misleading public about ‘financial review’ of power sale? 3

Editor’s note: During last Tuesday’s Vero Beach City Council meeting, Mayor Laura Moss claimed City Staff has been conducting an ongoing financial review of the likely terms FPL will propose in a letter of intent to be presented to the Council at a special call meeting on May 16. When Vero Beach resident Brian Heady asked for the release of any documents related to Staff’s review and analysis of FPL’s pending offer, Moss claimed the information is proprietary and had Heady removed from the Council chambers. The information Heady sought is not proprietary, as Moss claimed. Saturday, InsideVero requested the information. Yesterday, apparently after the Press Journal weighed in, City Staff began releasing documents. Attorneys with the law firm of Carlton Fields, who are acting as agents of the City, appear to have informed City Manager Jim O’Connor that they will not release documents in their possession until FPL’s letter of intent is made public. 

Unless members of City Staff are withholding other documents in their possession, the information released yesterday makes clear Moss is not telling the truth in claiming Staff has conducted a financial review of the proposed deal. In fact, all Staff appears to have done to date is respond to requests from FPL officials for information the company needs to prepare an offer to acquire Vero Electric. What this means is that by the time FPL presents its letter of intent, company officials will have had months to consider the terms they are proposing. 

When the Council meets next Tuesday City officials will have had little, if any time at all to thoroughly review FPL’s terms. Despite this handicap, Council members Harry Howle, Moss and Lange Sykes have all indicated they will be prepared next Tuesday to accept the terms in FPL’s letter of intent. In short, there will be no negotiation on the terms of the sale. FPL’s offer will be a take-it-or-leave-it deal, and Howle, Moss and Sykes, all of whom were elected to the Council with significant support from FPL, show no inclination to negotiate the best deal possible for the people of Vero Beach.

BRIAN HEADY

Brian Heady

If there are no meaningful consequences for violating the Sunshine Laws then we have no real access to public records.

Our mayor said at the last meeting being mayor was like being queen.  In the current example the queen has wrongfully violated the constitutional rights of citizens by having me taken into custody and removed from meetings. Last Tuesday was not the first time.  

Her argument the information I requested is privileged is not legally defensible,  and the notion that no notes or written records of the FPL offer exist is impossible to take seriously.  A business entity such as our electric utility valued at over $200 million being offered for sale without a shred of written documentation is just not believable. If true this is completely and wholly irresponsible.  

More likely and more believable is there is a criminal conspiracy to hide the records from public view.  

Why?

 

Winger calls on Vero Beach residents to be informed, stay engaged Reply

COMMNETARY

Editor’s note: Richard Winger is a member of the Vero Beach City Council.  Today, he issued the following statement calling on Vero Beach residents to follow closely development at City Hall and to let their opinions be known. 

RICHARD WINGER

Richard Winger

On Tuesday, May 16  there will be two council meetings: The first at 9:30am is a Special Call.  We are expecting FP&L to present a “Letter of Intent.” 
The second at 6:00pm is a regularly scheduled City of Vero Beach Council meeting and is scheduled to deal with tearing down “Big Blue.” 
Both meetings will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

I believe you all know I have been working towards a full sale of the City’s electric utility and I remain committed to it. The 9:30 meeting is very important to that end.  
Our prior effort to sell came from a Letter of Intent presented by FP&L in May 2011. It was merely accepted, not vetted, and 6 years and millions of ratepayer-dollars later, the sale could not be completed as written and the contract was allowed to expire by the current Council and Mayor December 31, 2016.

If we are going to finally complete this sale we must not repeat past mistakes.  We must vet the details of any written document requiring signatures by both parties and we must keep the public informed.  
Because they have muzzled me as a City Council member, I am not allowed to comment further, so I am sharing a Press Journal editorial which is a must read.  http://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/editorials/2017/04/27/our-view-thoroughly-review-proposed-purchase-fpl/100982566/
The sale of the Electric Utility is the biggest financial event the City of Vero Beach has ever, or will ever, go through and you are the owner.  A price must be fair to protect the future of our City. More…

Is City delaying release of public records? O’Connor says ‘yes,’ and ‘no’ 1

NEWS ANALYSIS

“In part that is right,” and, “No,” cannot both be accurate answers to essentially the same question.  O’Connor’s equivocation regarding the City’s rationale for not releasing the requested public records until May 16 further suggests City Staff is being pressured by Moss to conduct the public’s business in the shadows.

MARK SCHUMANN

Jim O’Connor

Contradictory answers City Manager Jim O’Connor gave yesterday regarding recent public records requests suggest the City is delaying the release of documents in order not to complicate efforts to negotiate terms of the Vero Electric sale in secret. Mayor Laura Loss claims the information requested is “proprietary.” It is not.

Moss, (who in the most recent election received $50,000 in support from Florida Power and Light), along with members of City Staff and attorneys with the law firm of Carlton Fields have been holding private discussions with FPL representatives on the proposed sale of Vero Electric. According to Moss, members of City Staff, likely O’Connor and Finance Director Cindy Lawson, have been conducting “a thorough review” of the terms of FPL’s pending offer.

FPL is to submit a letter of intent to City Council on May 16. That letter, Moss says, will become a part of the public record this coming Wednesday when it is included in the agenda packet for the May 16 special call meeting.

If the documents are not released until May 16, that will be fully 8 days after the initial request was submitted by Vero Beach resident Brian Heady. More…

Kept in the dark, Winger seeks attorney’s time sheets Reply

NEWS ANALYSIS

“FPL’s determination to acquire Vero Electric is evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars the company has spent pushing referendums and sponsoring council candidates friendly to its cause. The larger objective, of course, is FPL’s desire to expand its customer base by acquiring additional municipal utilities in Florida. Vero Beach is just the first move in a much broader, state-wide chess game. FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy admitted as much in public statements made at an investor conference in March, 2013.” See: FPL president tells investors Gov. Scott is urging other municipal utilities to sell to FPL (Since 2013, FPL’s rates have risen steadily and significantly. Accounting for a franchise fee, the rate differential between Vero Electric and FPL at 1000 kilowatt hours per month is now less than 10%.)

MARK SCHUMANN

Richard Winger

Laura Moss

The law firm of Carlton Fields, engaged by the City three months ago, has yet to submit invoices for work the firm has done and is doing to negotiate a sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light.

Absent invoices and itemized time sheets with which to assess the work of Carlton Fields, Councilman Richard Winger today submitted a public records request seeking those documents.  Even though Carlton Fields may be holding back on submitting invoices, surely the firm is keeping detailed records of time spent and work done. Those records will be needed to eventually prepare invoices. In his records request Winger wrote, “Such sheets, (time and billing sheets), should include time billed, or to be billed, and who acted or was “Present” (in person or on the phone) and on what specific day. “Present” means all personnel, whether from the City, Carlton Fields, FMPA, FPL, etc.”

Given Mayor Laura Moss’s secretiveness about discussions she has had with representatives of FPL and with Carlton Fields, it seems likely Moss may have requested Carlton Fields to delay submitting invoices and billing records.  Her goal would be to keep from public view as long as possible the nature of the discussions and of the work being done to craft a deal acceptable to FPL, to the Florida Municipal Power Agency and to the Orlando Utilities Commission. More…

Power sale being negotiated behind closed doors 3

COMMENTARY

“Florida’s open government laws are intended to insure that the public’s business is conducted in the public, not in secret.  Moss appears to be flaunting, if not violating those laws. (In her recent election to the Council, Moss benefited from a $50,000 contribution FPL made to a political action committee supporting her.)”

Editor’s note:  Following receipt today of InsideVero’s latest public records request, City Manager Jim O’Connor replied, “My office has no documents related to the proposed sale, but I have been involved ini discussions, but there were no documents passed between parties in the discussion where I participated.” When asked how staff could be conducting an ongoing financial review of FPL’s proposed terms without putting any information in writing, O’Connor replied, “I know better than to take notes in fact I usually will not carry a pen.” O’Conner’s explanations make unmistakably clear he and just one member of the City Council, Laura Moss, are negotiating the sale of a public asset and are doing so behind closed doors. Further, his comments raise questions about the veracity of Moss’s claim that members of City Staff have been conducting “an ongoing financial review” of the deal.

MARK SCHUMANN

When it comes to Mayor Laura Moss’s negotiations with FPL, no one knows what is said behind closed doors.

During last Tuesday’s Vero Beach City Council meeting, Mayor Laura Moss acknowledged that the City’s outside attorneys have in their possession “complete information” on a pending letter of intent from Florida Power & Light. That letter is to be presented to the Council at a special call meeting scheduled for the morning of May 16.

At least based on public statements they have made to date, Council members Harry Howle, Lange Sykes and Moss intend to accept FPL’s letter of intent at the May 16 meeting. Unlike Howle, Moss and Sykes, Councilmen Richard Winger and Tony Young have said they will be reluctant to accept even an outline of FPL’s offer until the terms can be reviewed by the Finance and Utilities Commissions.

According to Moss, member of City Staff have access to at least the outline of FPL’s pending offer. The information, Moss said, has been the subject of “an ongoing financial review by Staff.” Despite Moss’s public admission that the specifics of FPL’s pending offer are in the hands of the City’s outside counsel, as well as Staff, no one at the City has yet been willing or able to provide the information in response to public records requests. More…

The PJ, even the PJ, now questions strong-arm tactics of Moss 3

Editor’s note: In a recent editorial, the TCPalm.com-Press Journal editorial board finally questioned the strong-arm tactics of Vero Beach City Councilwoman Laura Moss. (The newspaper has yet to report on the unprecedented outside contributions Moss received from Florida Power and Light and Indian River Shores residents.)  The board, which until now has offered unquestioning and unqualified support for all thing FPL, is now urging the Council to thoroughly assess the utility giant’s latest offer to acquire Vero Electric.  “A review of a potential FPL deal will not occur overnight and must include thorough analysis of future settlements with the city’s existing power providers, the Orlando Utilities Commission and Florida Municipal Power Authority,” read the editorial.  Regarding the rate differential between FPL and Vero Electric, the Press Journal and FPL have long used each utilities 1000 KWH rate as a benchmark for comparison. Accounting for a 6% franchise fee, that differential is currently 8.7%.

PRESS JOURNAL EDITORIAL

Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss delivered her fellow council members and city electric ratepayers some good news recently: She expects Florida Power & Light Co. to deliver the city a letter of intent to purchase Vero Beach’s electric operation. Continue reading...

Will FPL’S political investments in Howle, Moss and Sykes pay off? 2

And who is looking out for Vero Beach?
COMMENTRY

“Certainly a majority of Vero Beach voters have more than once expressed support for selling Vero Electric. What voters have never approved, however, is the kind of determination Howle, Moss and Sykes are showing to hand over the City’s largest asset on terms that are not carefully reviewed, and that might be terribly unfair to the City, its residents and taxpayers.”

MARK SCHUMAN”N

Laura Moss

At the Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 9, representatives of Florida Power and Light are expected to present a letter of intent to acquire Vero Beach’s municipal electric utility. Except perhaps for Councilwoman Laura Moss, who has been in direct discussions with FPL representatives, no one knows exactly what terms FPL will offer.

When Richard Winger first ran for a seat on the Council in 2011, his campaign theme was “A Fair Deal” for Vero Beach. Winger’s concern at the time was that the Council not simply cave to FPL’s terms, but instead negotiate terms that would be fair to the City. As it turned out, the Council majority of Tracy Carroll, Craig Fletcher and Pilar Turner approved a fatally flawed, unworkable contract that expired last December.

Now the new council majority of Harry Howle, Moss and Lange Sykes, all of whom were elected with significant financial support from FPL, seem set to swallow hook, line and sinker the utility giant’s new offer.  So determined are Howle, Moss and Sykes of concluding the sale on FPL’s terms that they have, over the objections of Winger and Councilman Tony Young, muzzled the Finance Commission by instructing it not to discuss the proposed deal. More…

A major case of sticker shock Reply

COMMENTARY

MILT THOMAS

I received this postcard in the mail yesterday and the first thing I noticed was the price on this small, basic home. At first I thought it was a joke, no way a house this size could sell for that price, even if it was on the waterfront. Then I thought it must be very special, like inside was John Dillinger’s vault, or the building was a storage shed at Mar-a-Lago.  But clearly, it was a realtor’s postcard (name blurred to protect the flood of fake inquiries sure to follow) and the address was in North Hollywood. I know real estate is much more expensive in South Florida, but this is ridiculous.

Wait a minute…there is no North Hollywood in Florida – but there is in California.

I flipped the postcard over and it was addressed to a person  in North Hollywood, California. So how did I get it? I have certainly received other people’s mail and then either walked it over to the appropriate neighbor or put it back in the mailbox. But to mis-deliver a postcard 3,000 miles away? It had to go through the hands of more than one person, more than one post office, and many screw-ups to arrive in Vero Beach.

More…

What is your vision for the future of Vero Beach? Reply

If it matters to you whether the now-decommissioned power plant site and other public lands are preserved for public use and are not sold for high-rise developments, consider attending Monday’s Visioning workshop. The meeting is to begin at 11:00 in City Hall.

COMMENTARY

MILT THOMAS

If you care about the future of the city we all call home, then you should consider attending tomorrow’s Vision Meeting at Vero Beach City Hall, 11:00 a.m. This is the second Visioning meeting held by the current Council, but unlike last month’s meeting, it will address specific issues. At least according to the published agenda, tomorrow’s meeting will not be a free-for-all public input session.

Here are the specific issues to be discussed:

Commercial Districts

There are five districts scheduled for discussion and the issues related to each:

  1. Historic Downtown

Although some would consider the beachside commercial area as “downtown,” the true downtown is between U.S. 1 and the western edge of the Twin Pairs at 20th Avenue. It includes City Hall, the main post office, Pocahontas Park, Vero Theater Plaza, Art district, Crestlawn Cemetery, County Administration complex, County Courthouse, Vero Beach Municipal Airport – in other words every government and historic property within Vero Beach’s city limits. Back in 1975 the state created a plan to facilitate the flow of traffic through downtown because I-95 ended at the SR 60 exit. That plan was implemented in 1991 and created the Twin Pairs. It is essentially a bypass through the heart of our Historic Downtown. Creating a more pedestrian-friendly downtown is one of the issues to be discussed.

  1. Royal Palm Pointe

The City created a destination out of what was formerly the western end of the original Barber Bridge. City taxpayers authorized $6 million of improvements to create parking and a public park that would attract visitors who would then shop at the businesses on what became Royal Palm Pointe. Today many of those businesses have been replaced by private, upscale condos and the concern is whether the vision of previous City Councils will fall victim to big money interests. More…

Our mutual inheritance 1

COMMENTARY

“Caught in a rip current, even the most strident limited government extremist would likely welcome rescue, even if the person helping them just happened to be an employee of municipal government.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Landscaped photographers will tell you subtle colors and striking images are often to be found looking, not directly into a rising or setting sun, but in the opposite direction. That was certainly true yesterday evening. (picture above)

This past week, I have been a guest in an oceanfront home in Castaway Cove in Vero Beach. Yesterday, I photographed that magical time when the setting sun paints the earth’s shadow across the eastern horizon in shades of purple and pink. After the show was over, I settled into a comfortable deck chair on the front porch. Dusk slowly slipped to night, as sea grape leaves rustled in a ocean breeze. All the while, a near full moon stood guard against darkness. Ocean waves rhythmically caressed the shoreline, while the soft colors of “pink time” faded into monochrome. More…

By default or by design, budget crisis looms for City of Vero Beach 2

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

Several members of the Vero Beach City Council are sounding increasing hopeful of concluding a sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power and Light, perhaps as soon as April, 2018. Given their growing optimism over the proposed power deal, it is puzzling why City officials are preparing a 2017-2018 fiscal year budget that does not account for the financial impacts of the sale.

Equally perplexing is the Council’s direction to Staff to develop a 2017-2018 budget that maintains current employment levels, does not reduce the quality of municipal services, provides for capital projects, while also avoiding a tax increase. Given this approach, if the power sale is indeed imminent, a financial crisis for the City is brewing. They only question is whether this coming crisis is by default or by design. More…

Constructive disruption, or heedless destruction? 3

Council members Laura Moss, Harry Howle and Lange Sykes have indicated a desire to sell off “surplus properties.”

Is the Vero Beach Marina soon to be for sale? Will voters approve?

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

Marine property lies to the north and south of the Vero Beach Yacht Club. Club representative say their organization is growing and is finding it increasingly difficult to meet parking needs. Any change in land use, they say, will impact the Club.

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. More…

Councilman Young looking ahead to April 17 visioning meeting Reply

Editor’s note: In a regular newsletter titled, “Tony’s News and Views,” Vero Beach City Councilman Tony Young issued the following update March 29.

TONY YOUNG 

It has been way too long! We have lots to catch up on. First, I am still grateful to serve you and this great city. Yesterday was an example of what motivates me. Patriot the Palomino was returned to Pocahontas Park. Todd Biron restored the icon after it was damaged in the past hurricane. He and his wife, Julie, along with Ron Smith were aided by the city crew to place it back on the pedestal. And, I learned from another that it was first at the Palomino Hotel in Ft Pierce. This is vintage Vero! More…

We have to stay the course 2

COMMENTARY

Editor’s note: Richard Winger is a member of the Vero Beach City Council. 

RICHARD WINGER

Richard Winger

Thank you for your support on the last two issues I reached out to you about.  With your help, Vero Beach City Council voted 4-0 to take the “old golf course: Dodgertown property” off the market.  While we did not succeed with the Storm Water Utility yet, that issue still needs to be addressed to save the Lagoon.

Now, I need your help again, by coming to the City Council meeting about the long term, or what is called THE VISION PLAN, 2:00PM this coming Monday, March 13th at City Hall.  Or if you are committed Monday, you can e-mail your feelings about keeping Vero Vero to the City Clerk at tbursick@covb.org.

My thought is we have to stay the course, or lose Vero.  Once a bad development, traffic pattern, or building exists, we cannot change it.  Once the Lagoon is dead, we cannot bring it back to life.  Once we become Fort Lauderdale, we “can never go home again.” More…

YouTube video questions motives for partial sale Reply

Watch YouTube Video

Posting under the name “VideoM,” someone recently created a YouTube video raising questions about why City Council members Laura Moss, Lange Sykes and Harry Howle so fervently support the sale of Vero Electric Indian River Shores customers to Florida Power and Light.  The video mentions $50,000 in campaign contributions FPL made to a political action committee supporting Moss and Sykes.

The video also questions campaign promises made by Moss and Sykes about how proceeds from the sale could directly benefit the City and its residents.

Unaddressed, however, is the direct campaign support Moss, Sykes and Howle received from Shores residents. In the November elections, for example, Sykes took in 90% of his campaign funds from Shores contributors. Fully 70% of Moss’ campaign expenses were paid for with Shores money.

 

 

 

Beware of hidden agendas 4

COMMENTARY 

“Anyone who does not see the interconnected ways in which developers and their limited-government allies are trying to strangle the City of Vero Beach is simply missing the larger picture.”

MARK SCHUMANN

The Loggerhead Marina in Riviera Beach. Can Vero Beach expect to see a similar development on what is now the power plant site? You can bet some are hoping so.

The Loggerhead Marina in Riviera Beach. Can Vero Beach expect to see a similar development on what is now the power plant site? You can bet some are hoping so.

As City of Vero Beach officials are approaching a fateful decision on selling 35 acres of public open space, some who remain concerned about the future of the community are, quite correctly, urging the City Council to slow down, draw back, and take a long view.

Ironically, one person raising questions about the wisdom of disposing of irreplaceable public land is Press Journal columnist Larry Reisman. “If you don’t like local government selling open space, attend their meetings and speak out,” Reisman recently wrote, adding, “You can give the Vero Beach City Council a piece of your mind at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall.”

Whether Reisman is willing or able to recognize the connections between the proposed sale the old Dodgertown property, the resistance to establishing a stormwater utility fund, and the relentless drive to dispose of the City’s electric utility, these are, in fact, related, for they are all about paving the way for more development, while at the same time limiting the role of local government.

Why would the City consider selling for $2.7 million dollars land it purchased in 2005 for $10 million?  Quite simply, the sale is being proposed to improve the City’s cash flow. And why is improving cash flow a priority? Because the City does not now have sufficient revenue to provide important municipal services and at the same time maintain and improve infrastructure.

Currently, the City is spending some $600,000 a year in debt service on the Dodgertown property. Selling the land now, even at a $7.3 million loss, will free up $300,000 a year in sales tax revenue. That money can then be redirected to stormwater filtration projects designed to reduce the amount of pollutants flowing into the Indian River Lagoon.

Recently, Councilmen Richard Winger and Tony Young called for establishing a dedicated source of funding for stormwater projects. Creating a so-called stormwater utility to help address the Lagoon crisis would have brought Vero Beach in line with nearly every other municipality along the fragile estuary. However, Reisman and other advocates of “limited” government cheered on Council members Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes, as they rejected creating a dedicate means of paying for stormwater projects.

If funding seems tight now, just wait until the City hands Vero Electric over to Florida Power and Light. With the sale of the electric utility, budget issues will only get worse, for the City will lose $5 million a year it now earns off the utility.

How one person can advocate for the sale of Vero Electric, reject the formation of a stormwater fund, and oppose moves to improve the City’s cash flow defies logic. Further, why people like Reisman do not see the ways limited government extremists are using the power sale to further the interests of developers is beyond me. Anyone who does not see the interconnected ways in which developers and their limited-government allies are trying to strangle the City of Vero Beach is simply missing the larger picture.

Once the City has disposed of the old Dodgertown property, and then the electric utility, next will come the sale of its water and sewer system to the County. That move will be forced on the City, and at a fire-sale price. “Relieved” of approximately $6 million annual earnings from its two largest enterprise funds, the City will then be pressured to sell fro commercial development the riverfront land north and south of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge. The result? A bonanza for developers.

Cultural Calendar Reply

ONGOING

weekend-vbma-art-school-painting-dawn-mill-1The Vero Beach Museum of Art his holding registration for its Spring art classes with sessions beginning the week of March 20.  Professional instructors are on-hand to address the needs of both beginners, intermediate and advanced students, with opportunities to explore watercolor, oils, acrylics, drawing, photography, art history, beading, ceramics, and more.  For a full list of available classes, visit VeroBeachMuseum.org online.

Create at Studio MA, 835 17th Street in Vero Beach is offering Spring Break Classes for children from 9 am to Noon for the weeks of March 6 through 10 and March 20 through 24.  The cost is $35 each day.  Call 772-538-1989.

 

THURSDAY, MARCH 2

weekend-new_the_weight_wsMusic Works, Inc. presents Live! From Vero Beach with The Weight, former members of The Band performing their hits such as “Up On Cripple Creek”, “Rag Mama Rag”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and so many others on  Thursday, March 2 at 7 pm at the Emerson Center.  For tickets to these concerts, call the Cultural Council of Indian River County at 772-770-4857 or visit MusicWorksConcerts.com.

More…

Concerns raised about proposed sale of old Dodgertown property 6

Editor’s Note: In an email addressed to Vero Beach City Councilman Richard Winger, and copied to each member of the Council, Finance Commission member Vic DeMattia raised several concerns about the proposed sale of 35 acres of public open space.  Winger is also questioning the proposed sale of the property, which was once a 9-hole golf course owned and operated by the Los Angeles Dodgers.  

Relevant facts:

  1. The property was bought by the City in 2005 for $10 million dollars, when it was appraised for $9.9 million.  Currently, the land is appraised at $3.5 million.
  2. In 2005, the Council was concerned to prevent a 300-unit residential development from being built on the property, which is located southeast of 43rd Avenue and Aviation Boulevard, and is immediately under the flight path of one of the airport’s two main runways.  
  3. According to minutes from 2005 City Council meetings, city leaders were also interested in eventually developing a westside park similar to Riverside Park. 
  4. The land is currently unused. The City spends $15,000 a year on maintenance and insurance on the property.
  5. The City now owes $6.1 million on the property, with debt service of approximately $600,000 a year.
  6. A Palm Beach Gardens developer is proposing to buy the property for $2.7 million, and to build a mixed use development with 280 homes.
  7. If the City accepts the $2.7-million offer, it will still owe $3.4 million on the original note, and will still have debt service obligation approximately $300,000 a year. 

Mr. DeMattia’s letter to Councilman Winger:

I very much agree with your request to delay any decision on the sale of our Dodgertown Golf Course property.  Please see videotape of the few minutes of my comments at the very beginning of yesterday’s Finance Commission meeting.

It appears to be the opinion of the City Manager and some members of the Finance Commission that we should just dump the property for a 73% loss (plus continued interest cost for 10 years!).  It has been presented by them and our realtors to have a very limited current value and even that value will likely decline in the future.

It was hypothesized that the City tax revenue from the development would be a strong positive to offset the loss.  The proposed population would be ~1,000 residents.  The likely COVB RE tax contribution from those properties would likely be on the order of $100 per person per year.  Considering the stress on roads/traffic, schools, water, sewer, Fire Protection, Police Protection, social services, etc., any improvement of the city’s economic situation from this development is highly unlikely.  In fact, the opposite may well be true … even cruelly true.  Certainly, this high density neighborhood will negatively impact the taxable value of many properties in the surrounding neighborhoods.

We have at least three potential positives for the area:  Airport, commercial and environmental/recreational. More…

Concerns over possible sale of old Dodgertown course raise larger questions about City’s future 2

COMMENTARY

“Reisman quoted former Vero Beach mayor Mary Beth McDonald as questioning if the City is really so desperate that it can longer afford to hold on to the Dodgertown property. The larger question everyone should be asking is whether, after the sale of Vero Electric and the forced takeover of its water and sewer utility, the City will be able to continue to exist as an incorporated municipality.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Related Story: Should Vero Beach sell old Dodgertown course?

Press Journal opinion columnist Larry Reisman today addressed a proposal for the City of Vero Beach to sell for $2.7 million 35 acres of land it purchased in 2005 for $10 million.

At the time the City acquired the old Dodgertwon golf course, supporters of the purchase argued that the move would prevent further residential development in an already congested area, and would provide for more public open space. If the City Council accepts the offer it has received from a Palm Beach Gardens developer, it will be taking a net loss of $7.3 million. Further, the Council will be paving the way for 280 new homes to be built on what was once a nine-hole golf course open to the public.

Reisman argues that selling the property for just $2.7 million will “compound the problems associated with a bad investment made 12 years ago,” concluding, “Quality of life is our No. 1 asset.”

If Reisman truly believes quality of life is the community’s “No. 1 asset,” then his unquestioning and unqualified support for selling Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light is, to use his words, “a sick irony.” More…

An open letter to the Press Journal’s Adam Neal, Larry Reisman, Colleen Wixon 4

Colleen, Larry, Adam:

As Laura Moss continues to assert authority not given her by the City Charter, things at City Hall are heating up and may soon be out of control. I hope you are paying attention, for when the press does not fulfill its responsibilities autocrats can get away with all kinds of unreasonable and irresponsible acts.

As I trust you are aware, Vero Beach does not have a strong-mayor form of government, and certainly, at least until now, has not been governed by an autocrat.

Given the current tension between Finance Commission Chairman Glen Brovont and Mayor Moss, it should be remembered that Borvont was first appointed by Pilar Turner, and was recently re-appointed by Moss. He is by no means among the so-called opponents of the proposed power sale.

Surely you will recall when, a number of years ago, then councilwoman Tracy Carroll went before the Marine Commission telling them what advice she wanted to receive from the board.  Why have independent citizen advisory boards and commissions, if members of the City Council are going to instruct them what to think. Moss is now taking Carroll’s brand of manipulation to another level.  

So far, your newspaper has failed to report on the building tension at City Hall.  Similarly, during the fall elections the Press Journal never reported on the unprecedented level of outside money that poured into the campaign accounts of Laura Moss and Lange Sykes. Not offering commentary on the attempt by Indian River Shores residents and Florida Power and Light to influence the outcome of Vero Beach’s municipal election is one thing, but failing to report the facts is quite another. Freedom of the press is a public trust, and thus it is both a right and a responsibility. That cherished freedom is given, not for your commercial benefit or convenience, but in order that the public will have access to the information needed to cast informed votes.

Again, please pay attention to what is happening at City Hall. You have a job to do!

Sincerely, 

Mark Schumann

https://insidevero.com/2017/02/14/moss-asserts-authority-to-cancel-finance-commission-meeting/

https://insidevero.com/2017/02/14/finance-commission-chairman-responds-to-moss/

https://insidevero.com/2017/02/13/questions-raised-about-role-of-mayor-and-of-advisory-commissions/