Everyday socialism, American-style, is happening now all across the country 2

Editor’s note: The City of Vero Beach Utilites and Finance Commissions will meet Aug. 30 to review the terms of the proposed sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power and Light. City Hall watchers expect the Council to approve the terms of the proposed sale when it next meets in September. As Vero Beach prepares to hand over its municipally owned utility for net proceeds of little more than existing cash reserves, the following article on public utilities is worth considering.  This article exploring the benefits of public ownership of utilities was first published in 2013 by truth-out.org.

According to the most recent bills comparisons published by the Florida Municipal Electric Association, FPL’s rate for 1000 kilowatt hours per month is $106.05, allowing for a six percent franchise fee. Vero Electric’s rate is $116.08. Based on current rates, then, Vero Beach residents could expect to save approximately 9 percent on their electric bill, if the deal were to close now. However, FPL will be making a number of rate hikes over the coming years, all of them already approved by the Florida Public Service Commission. Whatever saving Vero Beach residents will see on their electric bills will be somewhat offset by cuts in services and/or tax increases, as the City deals with the loss of $7 million no transferred annually from the Electric Fund to the General Fund.

For a start: It’s often forgotten—or simply not known—that there are more than two thousand publicly owned electric utilities now operating, day by day, week by week, throughout the United States (many in the conservative South). Indeed, 25 percent of US electricity is supplied by locally owned public utilities and co-ops.

Moreover, most of these now conventional “socialist” operations have a demonstrated capacity to provide electricity at lower cost to the consumer, not to mention cheaper and more accessible broadband. (Nationally, on average, customers of private utilities pay 14 percent more than customers of public utilities.)

One obvious reason: Public utilities and co-ops simply don’t pay the same exorbitant executive salaries common in the private sector. They get pretty much the same work done for far less. General managers of the largest class of publicly owned power companies earned an average salary of roughly $260,000 in 2011. Average compensation for CEOs of large investor-owned utilities was $6 million—almost twenty-five times as much.

Also, of course, public utilities and co-op producers don’t have to pay private shareholders any dividends. And they return a portion of their revenues to the city or county to help supplement local budgets, easing the pressure on taxpayers. A recent study found an average transfer of 5.2 percent of revenues to municipalities—compared with average tax payments by private-investor-owned utilities of 3.9 percent.

Continue reading…

Old clarifies comments about management of Vero Electric 1

Editor’s note: Vero Beach City Council candidate Randy Old issued the following statement today clarifying his position on the City’s capacity to manage a $100-million-dollar-a-year electric utility business.

Apology Necessary: To the Staff and Management of Vero Electric

I wrote an article entitled “Update on The Sale of Vero Electric” that came out in the last couple of days and it said “Vero has proven that it cannot run a utility” and I meant that the complicated task of running a $100 million utility business was too complicated for a City Council that turned over every couple of years. It needed a structure of people who knew the business, a Utility Authority, or a consulting agreement with a Utility Management Company who could help the City Council make good decisions. In no way was I criticizing the City of Vero Beach employees of the utility, in fact I should have commended them for putting up with our community for the past 10 years while this keep/sell debate was raging and jeopardizing their jobs. I have spent a good deal of time talking to staff trying to understand the situation, rode around with Ted Fletcher just after the last hurricane, and have tremendous respect for him, Tom Richards before him, and his whole unit. I was criticizing City Council people like me, not knowledgeable people in Vero Electric. My apologies.

See Old’s original statement: Old sees power sale closing in 2018

When private thoughts go public 16

Editor’s note: Recently, a now-former Tump Administration official, Anthony Scaramucci, and current presidential advisor, Steve Bannon, gave reporters what they claim were to be off-the-record interviews. The full transcripts of both interviews soon became public. Neither Scaramucci nor Bannon appear to understand the rules under which journalist agree to receive off-the record comments. Locally, civic activist Phyllis Frey wrote an email to Press Journal columnist unilaterally declaring her comments to be “off the record.”  There is no indication, though, that Reisman made public Fry’s wacky email. It seems more likely Fry decided her rant too clever to keep private, and so shared it with others, perhaps with Vero Beach City Councilwoman Laura Moss. What we do know is that Moss read from Frey’s comments during a City Council meeting, thus making the email to Reisman a part of the public record. Below is the full text of Frey’s message to Reisman. Given Frey’s bizarre comments, that Moss seems to be on the same page with her is a bit troubling. 

Correction: The original version of this story posted August 17, 2017 at 8:01 p.m. indicated that Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss opened the August 10 Special Call meeting of the Vero Beach City Council with a statement that included excerpts from an email Phyllis Frey sent to Press Journal columnist Larry Reisman. While some of Moss’ opening statement reflects Frey’s views, it did not directly quote Frey’s email. One commenter to InsideVero, Susan Mehiel, cnfirmed that Frey’s email was sent to Moss and “was sent to 4 or 5 people after the meeting…”

Related story: Vero Beach Cultural Arts Village will be transformative

From:

Phyllis freyTo: larry.reisman reisman

Sent: Friday, August 11, 2017 8:55 AM

Subject: Fw: Follow up to the Special Call workshop: A star performance

Phyllis Frey

Good morning Larry,

Before I get down to a serious strategy, I thought I would impart a few private thoughts—off the record, about yesterday’s star performance by an all-star cast.

I set about my early morning reflections upon the charade that posed as a city council meeting yesterday. If all the world’s a stage, even Shakespeare would have been impressed by the parade of entertainers that strutted, pranced and danced their hour upon the stage, swirling like dervishes before the camera, entertaining all those “wonderful people out there in the dark” in true Norma Desmond fashion.

It was a five star performance by the art village. There were jesters hypnotizing the politicians who sat behind the dais, taken to their own final act of trolling for votes. The original purpose of researching and evaluating the Comprehensive Land Use 2035 POLICY Plan turned into a shadow puppet show then was shown the nearest exit. It was a document too boring, too filled with facts, much too sobering for such a giddy-faced crowd worked into a froth, lined up at the podium to extol the virtues of the arts. When the snake charmer brought the cobra from the basket, Councilman Winger was so entertained he said he would pass the Comp Plan on the spot as is! Bravo, bravo, another Zinger from Winger who was eager for the next act billed as “Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils.”    More…

An eerie silence 3

COMMENTARY

“Even our Representatives to Congress have two year terms. I fail to find any justification for increasing terms for City Council members.  More than ever before, Council members must be held responsible for their actions and face you the voter.” 

RICHARD WINGER

Richard Winger

It has always been said that 15-20 hours a week of “homework” was necessary for a City Council member to do the job.  I found this to be true from the very beginning. But recently there has been very little paperwork of any kind coming to my In-Box. Therefore no homework or study required.

This has been going on for a while now, and departs from past years when my 50 years experience with Fortune 100 companies was called upon for financial planning. It was especially troublesome when this year’s Budget session was approaching.

The Budget session has now ended leaving the City of Vero Beach underfunded and in deficit spending. This Council majority dismissed the long term financial planning that recent Council instituted, and for the third time they rejected Council Member Young’s request to have the Finance Commission study the proposed finances of the Electric Utility sale and its’ impact upon the City. More…

Behind closed doors 1

NEWS ANALYSIS

Though Moss has no legal authority to negotiate on behalf of the City, or to act with O’Connor as an ad hoc committee, that clearly seems to be what she is doing. Her actions, and those of O’Connor, could well be in violation of Florida’s open government laws.

MARK SCHUMANN

Jim O’Connor

Laura Moss

Today, representatives of the Florida Municipal Power Agency, the Orlando Utilites Commission, Florida Power and Light and the City of Vero Beach are to meet to discuss the proposed sale of Vero Electric to FPL.  Representing the City will be City Manager Jim O’Connor and Councilwoman/Mayor Laura Moss.

In explaining why the discussions will not be open to the public, and why other members of the City Council are not allowed to attend, O’Connor described the meeting as “administrative.”  The meeting may well be “administrative,” but it is also part of the entire decision-making process, or what Florida’s courts have described as “the inquiry and discussion stages.” These discussions, the courts have ruled, are also subject to the Sunshine Law.

Though Moss has no legal authority to negotiate on behalf of the City, or to act with O’Connor as an ad hoc committee, that clearly seems to be what she is doing. Her actions, and those of O’Connor, could well be in violation of Florida’s open government laws.

Addressing a similar situation, then Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth wrote that for the Sunshine Law provisions requiring open meetings to apply, “2 or more members of a body or other entity or group to which the Sunshine Law applies must be present, or there must be delegation of decision-making by such a body to either a single member thereof or to an advisory group or committee used by the covering entity.” (Below is the full text of the Attorney General’s opinion.)

The City Council has never voted to delegate to Moss the authority to represent the City in its negotiations on the proposed sale of Vero Electric, but the Council’s acquiescence in Moss’ assertion of authority to do so could well be construed as consent.

If Moss, and now O’Connor, are skirting, if not violating, Florida’s open government laws and the City’s policies for handling public records, it will not be the first time. Last summer, as Chair of the Utilities Commission, Moss wrote the head of the Florida Public Service Commission, but failed to forward the correspondence to the City Clerk’s Office. More recently, Moss wrongly claimed as “privileged” documents that should have been public record, and Moss and O’Connor seemed to have collaborated in delaying the release of those documents until FPL was ready to make a public announcement relating to the documents.

Moss has publicly likened her role “like being the queen of Vero Beach.” If Moss is assuming she is above the law because “the monarch can do no wrong,” then she must think she is living in some country other than the United States of America.

At stake here is the interest of the City and the people of Vero Beach. With only Moss and O’Connor in the room, who is looking out for the people of Vero Beach?

Given that Moss was aided in her election by a $50,000 contribution from FPL to a political action committee supporting her, it is difficult to imagine how she can be expected to do anything other than capitulate to FPL’s every demand.

For his part, ever since assuming his position as City Manager, O’Connor has focused on protecting his job by shifting his priorities to conform to changes in the Council majority. Given that O’Connor well knows the current proposal is not a fair deal for Vero Beach, his going along with Moss can be seen as nothing other than malicious obedience.

More…

Will City Council members keep campaign commitments? 3

COMMENTARY

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

RICHARD WINGER

Richard Winger

Three days of budget discussions did absolutely nothing to bring our City into a financially secure future.  The can has been kicked down the road and it is financial management by crisis.

We now have deficit spending amid millions of dollars of financial shortfall.

All the good work of the last four Councils, when they began long term financial planning, was tossed away.

Summarily dismissed was the need to address the ancient stormwater infrastructure, collapsing culverts, unpaved and failing streets  and recreational facilities in need of repair.

Instead those monies were directed to other areas.  94% of the budget goes to City departments to provide services and cover fixed costs.  With employee numbers down, there is additional need to hire outside personnel to provide for essential services.

Prior Councils, in the recent past, addressed Employee Pension and Benefits under-funding, deferred purchase of cars and trucks, and deferred maintenance and repair of aging infrastructure/structures.  More…

Brovont raises questions about power sale ‘negotiations’ 1

MARK SCHUMANN

Glen Brovont

“Shut down,” “censored,” and “muzzled” are a few words being used to describe the state of Vero Beach’s Utilities and Finance Commissions. As Press Journal columnist Larry Reisman wrote this week, “In 3-2 votes two months apart, the council majority of Laura Moss, Lange Sykes and Harry Howle muzzled their advisory commissions from meeting to analyze the latest details of a possible sale.”

One community leader who is deeply concerned over the decision of Moss, Sykes and Howle to press ahead with the proposed power sale without conducting due diligence is Finance Commission Chairman Glen Brovont.

Brovont wrote and distributed an email yesterday raising as many as a dozen concerns about where the deal stands and where it may be headed.  The scathing email is written in code, so as not to violate the Council majority’s dictate forbidding discussion of the Orlando Utilities Commission, the Florida Municipal Power Agency or Florida Power & Light. Code or no code, it does not take a counter intelligence expert to read between the lines of Brovont’s message. Clearly he does not believe any meaningful negotiations are taking place between the City and FPL. Rather, it appears Moss, Howle and Sykes, all of whom were heavily supported in their campaigns by FPL, are simply accepting the utility giant’s opening offer.)

In addition to expressing concern about the the lack of due diligence and the apparent absence of any meaningful negotiations, Brovont questioned whether Council members are fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to the City. He also questioned if the negotiations and surrounding communications are taking place in compliance with Florida’s open government laws.  (In late April, Laura Moss received email communication from the City’s special utility council on her private email account. Despite public records requests for the documents having been made on May 2, May 6 and May 8, Moss claimed the information was “proprietary,” and refused to turn the records over to the City Clerk’s Office until May 10 at 3:00 p.m. May 10 just happened to be the date when FPL was prepared to make public the terms of its proposed letter of intent to acquire Vero Electric. Moss’s deliberate delay in releasing what should have been easily accessible public records may well be a violation of the Florida Sunshine Law.)

The full text of Brovont’s email appears below. In deciphering his memo, it is helpful to note that the “Stalking Lion” stands for Florida Power and Light, the “Elephant” for the Orlando Utilities Commission and the “Rhino” for the the Florida Municipal Power Agency. More…

Worth reading: Press Journal columnist calls for careful vetting of power deal 1

“…And while power users likely will see significant cost savings, questions remain over how the city will cope financially without the $5 million to $6 million the electric operation transfers into the city’s general fund annually…This is the people’s business. It is the people’s electric utility and government. Any proposed deal must be fully vetted, with the public given plenty of opportunity to learn more about the proposal and to weigh in.” – Larry Reisman Continue reading…

Not everyone loves FPL service 2

Comments to a recent post on the Indian River County Scanner Radio page suggest not everyone is pleased with the service the receive from Florida Power & Light. The post alerted readers to a down power line and a power outage west of Interstate 95 along State Road 60.
Brady Hagerman – FPL had a week to tighten the lines and they didn’t. Definitely their fault.”
Facebook Comments:
Linda Zeller – FPL does NO maintenance in Western Vero.
Linda Zeller –  I live in SW Vero and we lose power almost every time it rains. I’ve even filed a complaint with the Florida Utilities Commission. You get a lot of lip service from FPL after that. I told them they don’t have to call me, just start replacing some of these 90 degree poles and hanging lines.
Steve Demers – I had a fire on the line and they refused to expedite the call, so I called 911. The fire department got it expedited!
Sarah Mitsakos-Bass – My neighbor has been complaining since before Matthew that theres a dead mango tree tugging on the lines in the yard behind hers. House is vacant so nobody cares.
Faith Carmen Burnell-Thomas – FPL does no maintenance anywhere! The wires in my back yard caught the trees on fire and it took 2 trips from the fire dept 2 days in a row and a phone call from the fire cheif to get fpl to trim them. I called fpl 5 times prior and made complaints and I have the slip they give you that says the trees are not a hazard.
Jen Mueller – FPL doesn’t trim trees
Fa ith Carmen Burnell-Thomas – They do when they have too
Jen Mueller – I’m saying they don’t come out and trim them. Yes, if there is an obstruction at a job they’re completing but that’s about it.
Jen Mueller – Asplundh trims for them
Faith Carmen Burnell-Thomas – Fpl themselves came to my house and trimmed the trees after they caught fire 2 times at 10:00 pm
Douglas Weaver – Those sums a *&%$#@ at FPL… wish I was on City of Vero Beach Electric Utiliities
Judy Wagner – FPL is a joke, many areas in my area the poles are still leaning 4 feet from the hurricanes in 2004.

Trish Velde – They did not hit the pole. The wires were dangling lower than they are supposed to and when the truck came through driving normally the wires got caught on the truck and the pole fell. Not the drivers fault. FPL had been notified about the wires and had not fixed the problem.
Brady Hagerman – FPL had a week to tighten the lines and they didn’t. Definitely their fault.

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…