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 Today many of those businesses have been replaced by private, upscale condos and the concern is whether the vision of previous City Councils will fall victim to big money interests.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/

Moss forces cancellation of Finance Commission meeting 4

Council to discuss mayor’s authority, procedures for boards and commissions

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

Laura Moss

Laura Moss

Glen Brovont

Glen Brovont

More back and forth yesterday between Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss and Finance Commission Chairman Glen Brovont led to a postponement of Monday’s scheduled meeting of the citizen advisory board.

After failing to persuade Brovont to drop from the agenda any discussion of the proposed sale of Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customers to Florida Power & Light, Moss directed the City Clerk to inform the members of the Finance Commission that their meeting scheduled for Monday was cancelled. In response, Brovont wrote the mayor, “With all due respect, please provide a copy of the written statutes, or other supporting legal documents, that authorizes you to cancel a duly called meeting of the finance commission.”

Though City Staff advised Brovont that he was within his rights to hold the meeting as scheduled, he ultimately agreed to postpone the next meeting of the Finance Commission until after the Council can discuss and review commission procedures.

Moss,who was identified last fall by Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot as being “a member of the Shores team,” won election in November with unprecedented outside support from Indian River Shores residents and from FPL. The “Shores team” member seems determined to do whatever she believes necessary to move forward with the Shore’s requested partial sale, including shutting down any discussion or review by the Finance Commission. More…

What exactly is the role of City government? 4

COMMENTARY
city-council-2-7

Vice Mayor Harry Howle, Mayor Laura Moss, Councilman Richard Winger

MILT THOMAS

Despite a community-wide call to action, the City Council this week rejected a proposal for establishing a storm water utility. Though some claimed otherwise, the move would not have have led to the hiring of more public employees, or the formation of a new “layer of bureaucracy.”  The proposal would simply have created a dedicated source of funding to pay for expanding, improving and maintaining the City’s stormwater system. Given that the Council, by a vote of 3-2, rejected the stormwater utility primarily on philosophical grounds, (limited government, low taxes), one must question the role and responsibility of local government.

The marathon debate that began mid morning and lasted until 3:30 in the afternoon, featured experts on water quality, conservationists, environmentalists and citizens all making impassioned pleas to pass the storm water utility. These speakers represent easily a majority of Vero Beach citizens concerned about the deteriorating condition of the Indian River Lagoon. They contend Vero Beach can and must to more to help address the crisis.

Speaking against the idea were limited government advocates and tax protestors. Mrs. Jackie Solari read a letter from her husband, County Commissioner and leading limited government advocate, Bob Solari, in which he demonized “another layer of government bureaucracy.” That was also his rallying cry when the County Commission refused to join the Indian River Lagoon Council, a consortium of all counties bordering the Indian River Lagoon created to coordinate efforts aimed at saving it. The net result of that decision motivated the three major Indian River County municipalities to join the consortium anyway. Last November’s election ultimately provided the one vote necessary for County Commissioners to “rethink” their decision and agree to join the effort.

More…

Reader Comment Reply

Good thing the three that voted against this were again not confused by the facts. Just like our $30,000,000 sale of our $47,000,000 assets these three Indian River Shores representatives will vote contrary to the advice of trained professionals when it doesn’t suit their objective. So, so far since they’ve been in office we lost $17,000,000 and have a more polluted river in the future. I can only anticipate their glee with the City of Vero Beach losing about $60,000,000 to $70,000,000 on the sale of the electric company. Maybe the Fletcher, Turner and Carroll days weren’t that bad after all. They only cost us $3,000,000 to $4,000,000 in attorney fees after all. – John Wester

Related story: City Council votes against continuing stormwater utility study

Lagoon advocates post video promoting proposed storm water fund Reply

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

Lagoon advocates want to see the City of Vero Beach step up efforts to better filter storm water runoff.  To address the Lagoon crisis, Councilman Richard Winger believes it is time for Vero Beach to follow the example of most surrounding municipalities along the Lagoon. Nearly all of them have establishing a source of dedicated funding for maintaining and expanding storm water filtration.

At its 9:30 meeting tomorrow morning, the City Council will vote on a proposal to begin assessing a storm water system user fee on property owners. The proposed fee is estimated to average $5 a month per property, and is expected to raise just under $1 million a year.  An alternative proposal would have the City increase it property tax to pay for handling storm water runoff. This alternative approach, Winger points out, would leave all non-profits and governments exempt from helping to pay the cost of removing and cleaning the runoff from their properties.

Limited-government advocates, chief among them Councilman Harry Howle, oppose Winger’s proposal, because, they says, it will lead to more government. Echoing Howle, Press Journal columnist Larry Reasman again yesterday repeated the claim that Winger’s proposal will create a “new utility,” as he put it in his front page column. Winger counters that what he is proposing, and what the Council is set to vote on tomorrow, is a user fee to fund improvements to and expansion of the City’s network of canals, culverts and filters.  The proposal to be voted on tomorrow restricts the use of the money to be raised.  It cannot be use to hire employees, or to establish “a new utility,” as Resiman and Howle claim.

Both sides are bracing for what will likely be a long and spirited debate tomorrow.

Howle, Moss and Sykes voting ‘under the influence’ 1

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

Howle

Howle

Moss

Moss

Sykes

Sykes

Speaking before the City of Vero Beach Finance Commission earlier this week, City Manager Jim O’Conor said he agrees with and stands behind the assessment that it will take some $42 million, plus a $5 million allowance for contingent liabilities, to ensure a sale of Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customers does not negatively impact the remaining customers over the next 30 years.

By agreeing to accept just $30 million, O’Connor said the new City Council majority of Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes will be shortening by 10 years the period of time over which Vero Electric’ remaining customers will be protected from rate increases resulting from the sale.  This carving up of the utility is being done at the request of, and for the benefit of the Shores.

Why would Howle, Moss and Sykes make a $17 million concession that in no way advantages their constituents or the future customers of Vero Electric?  Quite simply, they are voting under the influence of Shores leaders and Florida Power & Light. More…

Young issues report on ‘work in progress’ Reply

Editor’s note: Under the heading “Tony’s News and Views,” Vero Beach City Councilman Col. Tony Young today issued an update and report on the actions and direction he sees the Council taking in 2017.  Following is Young’s email report is reprinted in full.

TONY YOUNG

Col. Tony Young

Col. Tony Young

Welcome to my initial offering! This is one manner for me to express subjects that are currently on my radar. It is critical for you to periodically learn of the work I am doing on your behalf. These updates will serve as a means for me to reflect on observations and priorities that stem from my work as part of the City Council. These are my views and are not official record or positions. This will be a conduit for my personal ideas and serves to facilitate productive dialog in the coming year.

2017 is in full swing! Since Election Day, several City Council Meetings and a couple Special Call meetings have already been completed. Yes, I have enjoyed being a City Council Member. And, I am pleased that I have already contributed in a small measure to our community. This business is a collective effort. I have learned from all of my fellow members. In addition, the City Staff has been of great support as I get my feet on the ground. My phone, email and office are operational. My door located on the west hallway is always open. The City is now center stage on my calendar. More…

Local minister delivers open letter to President Trump 4

Guest Commentary
Editor’s note:  Rev. Scott Alexander, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Vero Beach, delivered the following open letter to President Donald Trump.  Alexander also delivered the message as a sermon to his congregation yesterday. 
SCOTT ALEXANDER 
Rev. Scott Alexander

Rev. Scott Alexander

Yesterday I preached the following “Open Letter to Donald J. Trump” on the occasion of his inauguration as the 45 th President of the United States…those in attendance (we had one of the biggest crowds of the year) urged me to share it as widely as possible…here is the complete text.

THE SERMON

The following letter was sent (under my signature) to President Donald J. Trump (care of The White House in Washington D.C.) two days ago (on Friday, January 20th) the day he was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. I share it with you now…and will publish it and share it as widely as I can in the coming days.

Dear Mr. President,
I am writing you this “Open Letter” on your inauguration week – which will be shared with the congregation I serve here in Vero Beach, Florida, and subsequently publishing it as widely as I can for other American’s to read and consider – because I have deep and serious concerns about the kind of moral leadership you may bring to your Presidency.

Let me begin, please, by briefly introducing myself. My name is Rev. Scott Wells Alexander. I am a 10th Generation American — with the first of my family arriving in Massachusetts in 1630 with the first wave of Puritan immigration. I have lived and worked in the United States my entire life, and have been a Unitarian Universalist minister for the last 43 years – serving congregations in Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Florida and also working as a denominational executive for a decade (in the 1990’s) out of our national headquarters in Boston. I write you today as a proud and patriotic American, a religious leader (particularly focused on addressing hunger, poverty, and inequality in my community) and a faithful Unitarian Universalist.

Before I tell you what is on my mind today (as you begin your Presidency) let me share just a little about my religious tradition, which informs and animates everything I want to say to you as my President. Although the roots of our liberal faith tradition go all the way back to Jesus’ gospel message of compassion, inclusion and justice for all — and the earlier teachings of other great religious leaders (such as Buddha, Moses, Mohammad and Confucius) who also taught human unity, dignity and compassion — our formal institutional roots go back some 500 years to the European Reformation. Today, we are an inclusive, diverse and progressive 21st Century American faith tradition built on the bedrock principle of “The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person,” and devoted to building a world (and a nation) with justice, equity, compassion, dignity and safety for all. More…

Partial utility sale could hurt local businesses Reply

NEWS ANALYSIS

MARK SCHUMANN

Local business owners enthused about the proposed sale of Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customers to Florida Power and Light may be in for an unpleasant surprise, if not a rude awakening.

In the short term, any partial sale is likely to lead to higher rates for the remaining customers of Vero Electric.  City leaders pushing for the downsizing of Vero Electric, namely Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes, say the sale for the Shores is being pursued “in the context of a full sale.” Yet, they have so for offered no explanation for how a partial sale would in any way improve the prospects of eventually selling the remainder of the system.

If the sale of the full system proves undoable, then local businesses could be facing higher electric rates, not just short term, but for many years to come.  Not only will local business face higher power costs, but so too will schools, governments, the hospital, churches, the Vero Beach Museum of Art, the Riverside Theatre and other non-profits. Worse, if the sale must be partially funded by a significant, long-term surcharge, that burden will fall entirely on the remaining customers of Vero Electric, including commercial customers, city and county government, the hospital and non-profits.  Make no mistake about it, with only 2.7 percent of Vero Electric business customers located in Indian River Shores, and some 97 percent of the City’s commercial customers located outside the Shores, any shift if electric costs could be significant.

Though the Shores represents just 8.7 percent of the City’s total customer base, those customers use more power than the average resident. What does this mean?  Quite simply, the Shores portion of Vero Electric contributes more than 8.7 percent of operating profits. The loss of these profits will inevitably lead to higher rates, and/or higher taxes for everyone else. More…

Reader Comment: Half the experience for twice the price? What gives? Reply

Being both a resident of the City of Vero Beach and thus an owner of Vero Electric, I am writing in hopes that you could straighten out this “Sale situation of Vero Electric”.

#1- The former city council of Turner, Fletcher and Carrol signed an agreement to sell to FP&L some years back.   After spending several $MILLIONS by Vero Electric on attorneys they found no way forward, neither did FP&L’s attorneys.  Attorneys the City hired said we should get $185,000,000, but they accepted and offer for $85,000,000 less.  

#2-Then when a new city council came in they hired new attorneys and also spent $MILLION or so to find out that out prior $MILLION attorneys were right. This attorney also advised us not to sell a $47,000,000 asset for $30,000,000 because this would lead to higher rates. That city council took his advise.

#3- Now the new city council majority of Howle, Moss and Sykes fired that attorney that advised us not to take the deal  because they want to sell it for $30,000,000, because somehow that’s the neighborly thing to do. They then interview new attorneys, one of which knows all the details of all these bonds and contracts, but because this very knowledgeable of the facts attorney says a sale will NEVER be able to go through for the entire system, they do not hire him.  Instead they hire an attorney that knows none of the facts and details of all the contracts and bonds, but at $500.00 per hour he will gladly get educated in all the sales agreements that we have already paid other attorney $MILLIONS and who have all come up with the same conclusion that we will never be able to sell the entire system and that we are losing $17,000,000 on the sale of Indian River Shores and that our rates will be increasing.

If this is not the case, could you please tell me what really happened?

Thanks

John Wester.

Editor’s note: At a special call meeting of the City Council Jan. 10, Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes voted to hire the law firm of Carlton Fields at a rate of $495 an hour.  The firm will head the City’s negotiations to sell the Indian River Shores portion of Vero Electric to Florida Power and Light.  Councilmen Tony Young and Richard Winger preferred the firm of Gray Robinson, which has worked in utility and municipal law for some 38 years, and has handled utility sales.  In contrast, the lead attorney for Carlton Fields had not represented a municipal utility in a sale. Gray Robinson’s proposed fee was $250 per hour. Howle and Sykes were so sure they wanted to hire Carton Fields, that they moved to dismiss attorneys from Gray Robinson before even hearing their presentation. “I think it would be a complete outrage for the City of Vero Beach to invite a law firm here and then dismiss them without listening to their presentation,” said Young.  

Is a stormwater utility finally in the cards? Reply

Vero Beach leaders propose to establish a storm water utility to raise funds to better filter storm water runoff into the Lagoon.

Vero Beach leaders propose to establish a storm water utility to raise money to better filter polluted storm water runoff draining into the Lagoon.

Editor’s note: This story was first published Oct. 15, 2015.  On Jan. 10 of this year, in a joint meeting of the City’s Utilities and Finance Commissions, commission members voted 11-1 to recommend the City Council continue moving forward with forming a stormwater utility. The new utility, which would assess charges averaging $5 per month, is seen by many as the preferred means of establishing a dedicated source of funds for addressing stormwater runoff that is contributing to the Lagoon crisis. 

NEWS ANALYSIS

MILT THOMAS

The Vero Beach City Council has now taken the first steps in forming a stormwater utility. While that might not be the first thing on residents’ (and taxpayers’) minds, it ties in to the one subject on everyone’s mind, the future of our Indian River Lagoon. More…

Author to discuss Florida’s ‘fringe subcultures’ Reply

NEWS RELEASE

lynnwaddellWhat do “mud boggers, furries, ufologists, and nudists” all have in common?

They are among the weird, wacky, and wonderful cultural curiosities who have found refuge in Florida and are making an indelible mark on the reputation of the Sunshine State.

On January 12 at 7 PM, author and journalist Lynn Waddell will appear in a free lecture at The Emerson Center’s Florida Humanities Series to explore Fringe Florida: The Unusual Subcultures of the Sunshine State. Her presentation, drawn from her 2013 book published by the University of Florida Press, begins at 7:00 p.m.

Waddell contends that many Florida tourists are bypassing the attractions of Miami Beach, Orlando, and Tampa.  Instead, they are spending their time in less familiar locations, seeking to witness odd behaviors and lifestyles that challenge traditional cultural norms.  To make her point, Waddell will go behind the sensational headlines to take our audience inside some of the state’s most eclectic and daring worlds.  She will reveal the colorful people and lifestyles that make Florida truly unique, while discussing how these edgy subcultures came to

Moss departs from her own ‘decree’ that all communication must be ‘cordial and positive’ 1

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

Laura Moss - "Team Shores"

Laura Moss – “Team Shores”

Departing from the published agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Laura Moss opened by publicly berating Councilman Richard Winger for writing a guest column in which he shined a light on instances when previous City Council’s have made major decisions and commitments that have not turned out well for the taxpayers of Vero Beach and for the customers of Vero Electric.

Winger’s central point was that previous Councils have not alway taken the time necessary to properly “vet” important decisions. Winger said he wants to avoid making that same mistake with the proposed partial sale of Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customer base to Florida Power & Light.

The original wholesale power agreement with the Orlando utilities Commission and the purchase of the old Dodgertown golf course for $10 million were to example Winger sited. In his column, Winger went on to urge the current Council to carefully consider and fully understand the implications of selling Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customers base to Florida Power & Light for $30 million. (A team of 5 independent utility experts hired by the City concluded a sale for less than $47 million will expose Vero Beach taxpayers and the remaining customers of Vero Electric to higher taxes and higher electric rates. When the team reported its recommendations, their conclusions were supported buy City Staff.) More…

Howle’s Press Journal guest column simplistic, misleading 5

COMMENTARY

“The people of Vero Beach must decide for themselves if Howle is lying to them. At the very least, he is, intentionally or otherwise, misleading them into believing that what good for Indian River Shores is necessarily good for the taxpayers of Vero Beach.”

“If the customers of Vero Electric are not to be hung out to dry, it is critical that the Council first determine under what terms a sale of the remainder of the system could be possible.  To take this so-called “first step” without fully understanding what the next step will be is nothing short of foolish.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Harry Howle

Harry Howle

In 2015, when he won a seat on the Vero Beach City Council, Harry Howle promised the voters of Vero Beach he had a solid, five-point plan for selling Vero Electric to Florida Power and Light. More than a year has passed since Howle took an oath to serve the best interests of the City of Vero Beach and its residents, and yet he has not followed through on a single one of the five steps he once claimed were necessary to sell the system.

Instead of fulfilling his promise to bring rate relief to the people of Vero Beach and to all 34,000 customers of Vero Electric, Howle now claims selling just the Indian River Shores portion of the system is “an important first step.” (Howle offers no explanation for why selling off the Shores portion of the system now will in any way improve the prospects for selling the remainder of the system.)

What makes this “first step” so important?  As puppets of the Indian River Shores Town Council, Howle, and two new members of the Vero Beach Council, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes, have made it clear they intend to give Shores leaders what they want, regardless of the likely negative impacts on the taxpayers of Vero Beach and the customers of Vero Electric. More…

Reader Comment: Shores residents being ‘milked’ 8

Related Story: Civic Association calls for referendum on partial sale

Larry Wapnick writes:

“All of you are correct, but remember what got all of us into this mess. Bad decisions many years ago by elected former city council members. Since then we have all paid the price, but unfortunately the present residents of Vero are “holding the bag” and must do the right thing. Continuing to “milk” Indian River Shores Residents benefits the city, but it is wrong! Yes the new council members were voted in, the voters knew their platforms, and have owned up to doing the right thing. Let us move on, we will all survive. We will all support the city, and perhaps with lower electric rates be able to support it even more.”

InsideVero response:

One: The “bad” decision made years ago by former city council members that led to this “mess” was the initial agreement to serve the Shores with utilities. The second decision that led to this season of discontent, in which some Shores residents are customers of Vero Electric and other customers of FPL, was the Shores Town Council’s annexation of area north of the original Town limits.

Two: Vero Beach has not “milked” you or any other Shores electric customer. When those who wanted to develop the area of the island now known as Indian River Shores came to Vero Beach requesting utility services, they were well aware that Vero Beach does what nearly all other municipalities do in earning a percentage of its utility revenue as a return on investment/equity. Unlike FPL, Vero Beach does not use its earnings to pay multi-million dollar salaries to top executives. Rather, the money goes to outfit police cars with defibrillators, to pay municipal employees fair wages, to guard public beaches, to maintain the parks and other facilities Shores residents regularly enjoy at no cost. More…

Left unchecked, Howle, Moss and Sykes could do much harm to the people of Vero Beach 3

Tax hikes and electric rate increases will also affect businesses

COMMENTARY

Later, if and when it becomes clear the City’s contract obligations will continue to stand as an impediment to selling the remainder of the system, the slick talkers from FPL will be long gone; while the people of Vero Beach, and all the residential and business customer of Vero Electric, will be left with higher taxes and/or higher electric bills. The alternative, of course, would be to layoff still more City employees and gut municipal services.

MARK SCHUMANN

Robert Auwaerter

Robert Auwaerter

As implausible as it may seem, the current chairman of the City of Vero Beach Utilities Commission, Robert Auwaerter, also serves on the governing body of a municipality that sued Vero Beach, and that has asked the Florida Public Service Commission to force Vero Beach to abandon a portion of its service territory.

For the taxpayers of Vero Beach and the customers of Vero Electric the stakes a high. Auwaerter and his fellow Indian River Shores Town Council members are seeking to force a sale of Vero Electric’s Shores customers to Florida Power and Light at a price that is likely to lead to higher taxes and higher electric rates for the City’s remaining customers.

Auwarter has left no doubt where his loyalties lie, and they are clearly not with the people of Vero Beach, or with the customers of Vero Electric. Though he serves on Vero Beach’s Utilities Commission, Autwarter had no reticence in going before the PSC in September to assert that Vero Electric’s rates are excessive, abusive and monopolistic. Auwaerter was, of course, seeking to persuade the PSC to strip Vero Beach of its right to serve within the Shores.

When it became clear to Auwaerter and other Shores leaders that the Town’s PSC challenge would likely fail, they decided to instead get what they want by gaining control of the Vero Beach City Council. Their takeover of Vero Beach’s government did not require an invasion, or even email hacking. Shores leaders simply ran and funded a slate of candidates for the Vero Beach City Council. Those candidates were Laura Moss, Lange Sykes, and Norman Wells, all of whom attended a meeting in the Shores in late September where they were introduced by Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot as members of what he described as “the Shores team.” More…

Council moves ahead with partial sale 3

Electric rates and taxes likely to rise

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

By a vote of 3-2, the Vero Beach City Council yesterday accepted Florida Power and Light’s letter of intent to buy the Indian River Shores portion of the City’s electric utility for $30 million.

Rather than pushing ahead with a sale of the full electric system, the new Council majority of Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes has set in motion a downsizing of Vero Electric that is sure to result in higher rates and higher taxes. In explaining their support for the partial sale, each member of the Council’s new troika claimed, falsely, that the public has wanted “this” since 2009.

In truth, the “this” Vero Beach voters have supported is a sale of the full system. Such a sale would, in a single move, bring rate relieve to all 35,000 customers of Vero Electric. Vero Beach voters have never been asked if they would be willing to pay higher rates and higher taxes in order to bring lower rates to the residents of Indian River Shores. More…

Wilson is back, but remains unacquainted with the truth Reply

COMMENTRY

MARK SCHUMANN

truth squadCivic activist Charlie Wilson, who more than once has promised to ride off into the sunset, was again at the podium speaking before the Vero Beach City Council yesterday. Wilson, who has long had an adulterous relationship with the truth, was again making outlandish claims and telling outright lies.

For example, Wilson claimed the Indian River Neighborhood Association has paid InsideVero.com $5000 a year “to write stories.” In truth, the IRNA has placed advertising with InsideVero.com, both online and in print. Interestingly, Wilson does not also claim the tens of thousands of dollars of advertising Florida Power and Light places with the Press Journal and with the island weekly in any way influence their reporting. More…

The great deception 1

No one can serve two masters

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

Dan Stump

Dan Stump

Lange Sykes

Lange Sykes

Laura Moss

Laura Moss

During the recent Vero Beach City Council election, a political action committee headed by Dan Stump and funded by Indian River Shores residents and by Florida Power and Light promised voters a sale of Vero Electric’s Shores customers would result in a $30 million windfall that could be used to:

 

“Completely suspend ALL Ad Valorem taxes for the next 5 years”

“Lower the current Ad Valorem tax rate by 20% for the next 25 year”

“Suspend Utility Taxes for Vero Beach residents for the next 14 years”

“Pay for Vero Beach’s 4th of July Celebration for the next 2,000 years”

“Write a check to every single Vero Beach resident of Vero Beach for $1,941.09: for a family of four that’s $7,884.36”

“Pay off 80% of the $37 million that Vero owes in unfunded pension liabilities”

“Fully fund Vero Beach’s Police Department for the next 4 years”

As Vero Beach resident Steven McDonald explained during last week’s City Council meeting, the City’s bond covenants require that any proceeds from a sale of Vero Electric’s assets must be kept in the electric fund, and cannot be used to subsidize operating expenses. Further, and just as importantly, the proceeds from a partial sale can certainly not be used in any of the ways promised by the FPL-Shores-funded deception machine known as “Clean Sweep For A Brighter Future.”

Newly elected Council member Laura Moss and Lange Sykes seem determined to join Harry Howle in pushing the partial sale forward. Like Howle, they are prepared to reject the advice of five independent utility experts. Hired by the City to determine a “break-even” price, this group concluded that any partial sale of Vero Electric’s Shores customers for less than $47 million would lead to higher electric rates and higher taxes.

Accepting FPL’s offer of $30 million will certainly benefit FPL and Shores residents, but it also seems certain to disadvantage the remaining customers of Vero Electric and the residents of Vero Beach. Given that Moss and Sykes received nearly all their campaign contribution from Shores residents, and considering that they were supported by an FPL-Shores-funded PAC that flooded local mail boxes with political flyers full of lies and misinformation, it should come as little surprise that the Council’s newest members are willing to join Howle in selling out their own constituents in order to appease their patrons in the Shores and at FPL.

Above is screen shot from Operation Flip Switch's website. The Shore-FPL funded political action committee that supported Laura Moss and Lange Sykes turned out to be a misinformation machine. If Vero Beach is to honor its bond covenants and is to avoid destroying its credit rating, any proceeds from a sale of Vero Electric's shores customers will have to remain in the utility fund, and cannot be used in any of the ways promised by the FPL-Shores funded PAC that supposed Moss and Sykes.

Above is screen shot from Operation Flip Switch’s website. The Shores-FPL funded political action committee that supported Laura Moss and Lange Sykes turned out to be a misinformation machine. If Vero Beach is to honor its bond covenants and is to avoid destroying its credit rating, any proceeds from a sale of Vero Electric’s shores customers will have to remain in the utility fund, and cannot be used in any of the ways promised by the FPL-Shores funded PAC that supported Moss and Sykes.