So much for “conservative” support of local control 2

Corcoran touts Legislature as more responsive

Editor’s note: If House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s point is that through big spending in political campaigns corporate giants such as Florida Power and Light can gain control of local governments, as they have done in Vero Beach, he has a point. At the same time, though, FPL has poured so many millions of dollars into the campaign accounts of members of the Florida Legislature that one can now reasonably argue the Legislature is a wholly owned subsidiary of FPL. 

ADAM C. SMITH/TAMPA BAY TIMES

Florida House of Representatives Speaker Richard Corcoran thinks Tallahassee knows best.

Florida’s Legislature is more responsive to Floridians and less susceptible to special interest influence than local governments, House Speaker Richard Corcoran asserted to a skeptical and occasionally hostile group of Tampa Bay residents Friday.

 

“If you are a special interest or you are somebody that wants to curry favor, it is generally much more difficult in a comparative scale to get something through in the state government that would affect the state than it is the local government,” the Pasco County Republican told about 100 people gathered for the weekly Cafe con Tampa breakfast in South Tampa. Continue reading…

Related article… Local governments responsive to citizens

 

Decency. Diligence. Democracy. 

Where are you?  6

COMMENTARY

RICHARD WINGER

Richard Winger

There seems to be a reluctance on the part of a Council majority to examine the details of FP&L’s offer for our Electric utility.  This is difficult to accept.

The last contract was blindly signed by Council members who were not diligent about the terms, specifically to standing contractual obligations. After millions of our ratepayer dollars were later spent on legal actions, the courts confirmed those legally binding contracts.  The result was having a contract with FP&L which could not be executed.  We are supposed to learn by mistakes and not repeat them.

I have been working for 7 years to complete this sale and I am not stopping now. But it has become problematic.

When I bring up challenges to the successful completion of the sale my comments are routinely interrupted by Mayor Laura Moss who attempts to silence me. Vice Mayor Harry Howle then raises his voice, leans forward, turns towards me and proceeds with accusations that have no basis in fact.  Silence. The agenda moves on. More…

Finance Commissioners raise questions about power sale 3

NEWS ANALYSIS

“I share the concern of many ratepayers that the proposed purchase price of $185,000,000 may be insufficient.” – Dan Stump

“Sykes claims executive experience. In truth, the company he ran was a one employee, home based business. Similarly, Howle and Moss lack the financial experience to conclude a nearly $200 million transaction without advice and input from members of the City’s advisory commissions. Lacking that vital input, they could at least use some courageous guidance from O’Connor.” 

MARK SCHUMANN

Glen Brovont

Dan Stump

Peter Gorry

Vero Beach City Council members Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes last week voted to forbid the Finance and Utilities Commissions from discussing, reviewing, or analyzing the proposed sale of Vero Electric. (Like former Council member Tracy Carroll, Howle, Moss and Sykes all benefited from substantial campaign contributions from Florida Power & Light.)

Clearly displeased at being muzzled, Finance Commission Chairman Glen Brovont wrote to City Clerk Tammy Bursick, “While censorship may be in vogue, a finance meeting should be scheduled as soon after receipt of the budget data.” He added, “Even dictatorial societies found while the mouth may be shut, the brain can still question and think.”

Even Commission member Dan Stump, who headed a political action committee that raised and spent more than $100,000 supporting Moss and Sykes, is now calling for negotiation of the purchase price of Vero Electric. In an email to City Manager Jim O’Connor Stump wrote, “I share the concern of many ratepayers that the proposed purchase price of $185,000,000 may be insufficient.” More…

Howle, Moss and Sykes are selling out the people of Vero Beach 5

Lange Sykes' acceptance of so much outside money in his latest campaign, (90%), suggest that, if elected, he may have an extremely difficult time balancing loyalty to his patrons against his fiduciary responsibility to the people of Vero Beach.
COMMENTARY

“The troika seems determined to make the best deal possible for FPL and for Shores interests.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Imagine the suspicions that would be raised if a U.S. presidential candidate received 70 percent of their total campaign contributions from Russian oligarchs.

The Russians don’t care about public policy in Vero Beach, Florida, but Indian River Shores oligarchs sure do. They contributed heavily to the campaigns of Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes, and they joined Florida Power and Light in raising more than $100,000 to fund a political action committee to support Moss and Sykes in last fall’s municipal election. (Moss received 70 percent of her campaign funds from Shores residents. Sykes took in 90 percent of his campaign funds from the Shores.) More…

MPO gets scolded by its newest member, Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss 3

COMMENTARY

Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss (foreground) addresses the MPO.

MILT THOMAS

The regularly scheduled June 19 Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting began as scheduled but abruptly veered into controversy. The MPO is the legislative agency responsible for transportation planning in the urbanized area of Indian River County. It’s 12 voting members represent the local governments within the county. City of Vero Beach City Councilmember Laura Moss was attending her first meeting.

Twenty minutes into the meeting reviewing projects,  Moss proceeded to complain, “On this list of projects there’s not a single one that benefits the City of Vero Beach. My question is how is that allowed to happen with all these millions and millions of dollars being spent and virtually none of it goes to the City of Vero Beach?”

Phil Matson, the County’s MPO staff director, responded that the list of projects includes $16 million dollars  for the intersection of 43rd Avenue and SR60 and $6 million for A1A resurfacing. More…

Indian River Shores Councilman derails Vero Beach’s Utilities Commission 2

City Code:

The utilities commission shall meet at least once every quarter.”

COMMENTARY

“…Howle, Moss and Sykes continue to insist a partial sale at $30 million would be a good deal for the City. Just this week though, Finance Director Cindy Lawson released a report projecting that a partial sale will lead to a 1.9 percent rate increase for the remaining customers and a tax hike on City residents of 9 percent to 12 percent.”

“With Howle, Moss and Sykes in the majority at City Hall, and with Brian Barefoot and Bob Solari behind the scenes pulling their strings, Vero Beach is quickly becoming like Venezuela, a failed democracy.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Robert Auwaerter – The fox in the henhouse

Laura Moss

In what appears to be a clear violation of City of Vero Beach Ordinances, the City’s Utilities Commission has gone dormant. Indian River Shores Town Councilman Robert Auwaerter, who just happens to also be Vice Chair of the Vero Beach Utilities Commission, has yet to call a meeting of the Commission in 2017.  Auwaerter assumed responsibility of the Commission when the previous Chair, Laura Moss, was elected to the Vero Beach City Council.

Vero Beach City Ordinances require the Commission to meet to elect a new Chair.  According to City Clerk Tammy Bursick, her office has inquired with Auwaerter monthly about convening the Utilities Commission. Each month he has declined to do so.

Auwaerter is a ally of Moss, who won election with overwhelming financial support from Indian River Shores residents and from a political action committee that raised more than $100,000 exclusively from Shores residents and Florida Power and Light. (Shores residents graced Moss with 70 percent of her campaign contributions. Lange Sykes took in 90 percent of his funds from the Shores.) One has to wonder if, in failing to convene the Utilities Commission, Auwaerter is taking direction from Moss, who appears to be receiving her marching orders from Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot and from FPL. More…

The latest conspiracy theory Reply

Listening to public comments made during yesterday’s Vero Beach City Council meeting, one might wonder if blowhard conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has contacts in Vero Beach. The latest suspicion theorizes that a broadly popular proposal to develop an Arts Village as a way to help revitalize downtown Vero Beach is a dark conspiracy being foisted on the community by leaders of  the Treasure Coast Regional Planing Council. And, as everyone knows, the TCRPC is controlled by United Nations officials who seek to create “One World Government.” All of this is absurd, of course, but that doesn’t keep devotees of County Commission Bob Solari from making such claims. Perhaps unwittingly, they are being used to create an issue for the next municipal elections.  If the electric issues is well on the way to being concluded by the end of this summer, Solari, the local Tea Party and other limited government extremists will need another issue to help elect candidates determined to turn the City of Vero Beach over to the County Commission.

OUC wants far more than $20 million to settle electric contracts Reply

Winger, Young decry lack of negotiations

NEWS ANALYSIS

“Who is looking at the financial implications of this deal? It is not being done.”  – Councilman Tony Young

“Given that, as candidates, Howle, Moss and Sykes were all heavily supported by FPL, perhaps Young should not be surprised to see them accept whatever FPL offers.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Tony Young

Richard Winger

In an email sent yesterday to Vero Beach City Manager Jim O’Connor, Orlando Utilities Commission Vice President Jan Aspuru put the City on notice that it will cost far more than $20 million to settle its obligations to the OUC. Aspuru noted that the letter of intent between Florida Power and Light and the City for the sale of Vero Electric provides no more than $20 million to release Vero Beach from its contractual obligations to the OUC. Vero Beach buys the bulk of its wholesale power from the OUC.

“I wanted you to know that the OUC’s damages will far exceed the $20 million if Vero Beach defaults on its contractual commitments to the OUC,” Aspuru wrote.

FPL is now offering some some $20 million less for Vero Electric than the company was willing to pay in 2014. Previous forecasts based on FPL’s offer suggested the City would net $30 million in cash from FPL. Aspuru’s caution raises the prospect that the City could wind up getting nothing from the deal.

Despite these developments, Council members Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes continue to insist FPL’s offer is more than fair. This week, over the objections of Councilmen Richard Winger and Tony Young, Howle, Moss and Sykes voted to impose a gag order on the City’s Commissions. Those boards are now forbidden from discussing or analyzing the impacts of the proposed sale. More…

Our obligation to endow the City of Vero Beach 1

COMMENTARY

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

RICHARD WINGER

Richard Winger

The Good news in my message today is that FP&L has submitted a document stating their intent to finalize a Purchase and Sale Agreement at Council’s only meeting in July on the 18th. Their document includes details of their  “Due Diligence” for the Acquisition of our Electric Utility.  The draft had been submitted and now they will finalize it.

This “Agreement” will be something determined by each party: FP&L’s part is the “Purchase” and the City’s part is the “Sale”. When does the City start to work on our “due diligence”?  Surely it cannot be an Agreement when only one party to it has done “Due Diligence”.

This is where the Bad enters my message. Not only have we not done our due diligence, but we now learn the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) has just made it clear they find FP&L’s offer in the Letter of Intent for the Vero Beach exit unacceptable. This is the same situation we had in the prior contract which expired last December.  At that time FP&L wanted to pass along $26,000,000 to the ratepayers, to be attached to their monthly bills, to accommodate OUC’s exit cost. If we are face with that again, power bills would likely increase over current Vero Beach rates, given the City has gone down 15% and FPL has gone up 10%.  The differential has shrunk greatly.
 More…

A possible ugly outcome for the budget 1

COMMENTARY

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

RICHARD WINGER        

Richard Winger

The Good news is property values have increased by 6.9% and is expected to provide an additional $400,000 to City revenues this year.

The Bad news is we are going into our Annual Budget preparations with an existing more than a million dollar shortfall in funding for just street and storm water repair.  And, there is not enough money for existing staff.

Please don’t accept arguments that the City has too many employees.  That simply is not true.  Past Councils have systematically reduced staff to a barebones level.

The Ugly is there is no other significant revenue increase coming in. And, there will be a loss of annual funds, once the sale of the Electric Utility to FP&L is completed. More…

The very good, the bad and the ugly 8

FPL Letter of Intent

“FP&L’s $30 million offer for a Partial Sale is low, and should it be accepted, over time, the city will have to raise rates for every remaining ratepayer to absorb the loss of the Shores customers.” 

RICHARD WINGER/VERO BEACH CITY COUNCILMAN

Richard Winger

It is Very Good that Florida Power and Light has presented a new Letter of Intent to purchase Vero Beach’s entire Electric Utility. They outlined costs and terms, which signal the start of negotiations prior to a contract being signed.

Negotiations, simply put, occur when each participant has something to gain and something to lose. A successful negotiation concludes when each party benefits to the maximum extent possible.

The financial offer for the system is considerably lower than the last contract signed 3 years ago. And, it does not take into consideration the millions spent since that time to upgrade the system, close the plant, etc. My responsibility to the people of Vero Beach and the ratepayers of the Utility requires my attention to such detail. It is a starting point in negotiations.

Moving towards the full sale, through myriad details,  is something I have worked on for years and I sincerely want it to be completed this time.

FP&L last submitted a Letter of Intent on August 2012.  It led to a contract for sale in March 2014. That contract could not be executed because of contractual obligations, upheld by law, with other agencies to produce, transmit and distribute electricity. That contract expired December 31, 2016.

Those obligations exist because Vero Beach is a member city in the Florida Municipal Power Authority.  There are 19 other member cities which must, unanimously, approve an exit. This obligation blocked the sale previously, but there is a new level of optimism that approval can finally be accomplished. More…

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? 6

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…