News Analysis – Winger, Kramer have some sharp questions for City Manager and FPL representatives 1

City Manager Jim O'Connor and representatives of Florida Power & Light meet with Councilman Jay Kramer to present the company's formal offer to purchase Vero Electric. Kramer invited members of the public to attend the meeting.

City Manager Jim O’Connor and representatives of Florida Power & Light meet with Councilman Jay Kramer to present the company’s formal offer to purchase Vero Electric. Kramer invited members of the public to attend the meeting.

BY MARK SCHUMANN

VERO BEACH – Representatives of Florida Power & Light meet individually Monday with members of the City Council to present the company’s formal offer to purchase Vero Electric. More…

Guest Column – Claims of “regionalization” are myth 2

BY PAT LAVINS

The recent Indian River County Commission meeting in which opposition to the Seven50 group initiative was voted against is a demonstration of unjustified paranoia.  Thus, it is obvious that the first order of business for the county “leadership” in 2013 must be the allocation of funds so that large billboards can be erected at the county lines with the bold warning: INNOVATION AND PROGRESS STOP HERE.

On December 18, 2012 a few dozen people used coercion to influence a 4-1 majority vote against being a participant in Florida’s future.  The statements made at the meeting  document a lack of awareness of the Seven50 project or its goals.  The false claim was made that being a part of a forward thinking coalition will result in “nameless, faceless bureaucrats”  imposing ideas on Indian River County. Only someone with a vivid imagination would make such an assertion after reading the goals and objectives of the organization that is included on the Seven50 organization web site. (www.seven50.org.) More…

Around Town – Airboat Adventures Reply

Bob Montuoro of Capt. Bob's Airboat Adventures readys his boat before taking quest out into the marshes where quests see a different view of native Florida.

Bob Montuoro of Capt. Bob’s Airboat Adventures readys his boat before taking quest out into the marshes where quests see a different view of native Florida.

Airboat tour guides working from the boat ramps on State Road 512 have been busy this weekend taking people out into the “Stick Marsh,” a preserve owned by the St. John’s Water Management District..  Osprey are back at the marsh and at Blue Cypress Lake, and alligators in large numbers are sunning themselves. Bob Montuoro of Capt. Bob’s Airboat Adventures said the alligators are plentiful to see now.

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Opinion – The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as Vero Beach braces for a modern-day monkey trial 2

BY MARK SCHUMANN

At Mayor Craig Fletcher’s request, representatives from the Seven50 regional planning group will come before the City Council next Tuesday to explain their mission and goals.  In putting the now-controversial Seven50 project on the Council agenda, Fletcher said he wanted to, “learn what Seven50 is and what it isn’t.”

At a recent Republican Men’s breakfast, however, Fletcher was not sounding so impartial.  In fact, he indicated that he will likely push for a vote Monkey TrialTuesday, in hopes that at least two other Council members will support him in ending the city’s participation in a planning effort opponents fear will eventually lead to the abolition of private property rights, the deterioration of the American family and local domination by a global, one-world government. More…

Around Town – Rotarians hosting international guests Reply

Blue Cypress Lake

Blue Cypress Lake

Participating in this year’s Rotary Homestay program, seven incoming Rotary district governors from around the world and their spouses arrived in Vero Beach Friday and will be here through Wednesday morning.  Now in its 38th year, Rotary Homestay is a combined effort of the Vero Beach Rotary Clubs.  Before continuing on to San Diego for a week of training, the incoming district governors will be staying in the homes of local Rotarians.  In addition to experiencing and American-style barbecue Saturday evening, the visiting Rotarians will spend and afternoon on the Indian River Lagoon, attend a City Council meeting and will take an airboat ride on Blue Cypress Lake.

Seven50 opponents prepare for City Council meeting 11

Activist and Seven50 opponent Phyllis Frey speaks to a group of two dozen residents who turned out Thursday to learn more about her concerns over the regional planning effort.  Frey encourage attendees to show up early for next Tuesday's City Council meeting to fill the chambers so that, "the black hats will have to stand outside."

Activist and Seven50 opponent Phyllis Frey speaks to a group of two dozen residents who turned out Thursday to learn more about her concerns over the regional planning effort. Frey encouraged attendees to show up early for next Tuesday’s City Council meeting to fill the chambers so that, “the black hats will have to stand outside.”

BY MARK SCHUMANN

VERO BEACH – Wanting to hear more about the much maligned regional planning effort known as Seven50, and concerned to learn if and how the federally funded project might present a “clear and present danger” to Vero Beach and Indian River County, a group of nearly two dozen residents turned out Thursday for a public information meeting conducted by local activist Phyllis Frey. More…

FPL asks to meet individually with Council members 1

Vero Beach City Councilman Jay Kramer

Vero Beach City Councilman Jay Kramer

Representatives of Florida Power and Light’s working to negotiate the company’s planned purchase of Vero Electric will be meeting individually with each of the city’s five Council members next Monday to review the current status of the talks.   The speculation is that FPL will be presenting a revised sales agreement.

Councilman Jay Kramer requested his meeting with FPL representatives, set for 4 p.m. Monday at City Hall, not be held behind closed doors. He said he wants to avoid any possibility of committing a Sunshine Law violation.  “I want anyone who is interested to be able to hear what is said,” Kramer explained.  “My question to FPL will be, “What did the other Council members ask of you, and what was your response?”

Kramer said he is concerned that though the city’s transactional attorney and FPL representatives have continued to draft a sales agreement, there has been little if any progress on issues with the Florida Municipal Power Agency.

If the city is unable to resolve the concerns of the FMPA and its bond counsel regarding tax issues and contingent liabilities, there are questions about whether the deal can be closed.  Even if these hurdles can be cleared, the city will still need an exemption from the FMPA board and all 15 members of the FMPA All Requirements Project in order to complete the transaction before Oct. 2016.

Heady questions power deal Reply

Former Vero Beach City Councilman Brian Heady, sometimes controversial, always outspoken and never one to mince words, is writing a book about the sale of Vero Electric.  He said he hopes to publish “Liars, Cheats and Thieves” by April.

Former Vero Beach City Councilmen Brian Heady

Former Vero Beach City Councilmen Brian Heady

In a recent interview, Heady catalogued his concerns about the sale of the city’s electric system to Florida Power & Light.  As the deal is currently structured, he thinks it costs the city too much, with the net proceeds expected to be just $7 million out of an offer valued at nearly $200 million.

Heady directs some of his harshest criticism at the plan to relocate the substation at a cost to the city of an estimated $8 million.  “Just for the sake of discussion, let’s assume we’re talking about your money and my money, and not the public’s money.  Why would we do something that would cut in half our proceeds without giving us any corresponding benefit?” More…

Crowd gathers in Old Riomar to celebrate New Year’s, trade tales, hear storyteller Reply

Monday afternoon’s clear skies and mild temperatures made for the perfect weather for a gathering of friends at J.J. Wilson’s home on Riomar Drive.  After enjoying a barbeque lunch catered by Saussie Pig, washed down with Florida craft beers offered by Kitty Wagner of Blue Star Wine Bar, and Florida wines served by David Rodriquez of Cork and Tapas, the New Year’s celebrants moved inside.  There they gathered round master storyteller Cahryn Fairlee, who spun old tales for a new year.

Fairlee, and internationally acclaimed actress and storyteller, will be impersonating Queen Kateryn Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, at a special performance to be held at the Emerson Center Friday, January 4 at 5:00 p.m.  For information call 772-778-5249.

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J.J. Wilson, DorothyBuckley, Ellen Kealy, Beverly Tyson

J.J. Wilson, Dorothy
Buckley, Ellen Kealy, Beverly Tyson

Richard Winger and Eileen Liedholm.  Eileen and her husband, Bill, are new residents of Vero Beach.

Richard Winger and Eileen Liedholm. Eileen and her husband, Bill, are new residents of Vero Beach.

Ken, Deborah and Annora Daige help host what felt something like a "Cracker New Year."

Ken, Deborah and Annora Daige help host what felt something like a “Cracker New Year.”

Kitty Wagner of Blue Starfish served Florida craft beers.

Kitty Wagner of Blue Star Wine Bar serves Florida craft beers.

A resident of Old Riomar contributes  books to the "Little Library" in front of J.J. Wilson's home on Riomar Drive.

A resident of Old Riomar contributes books to the “Little Library” in front of J.J. Wilson’s home on Riomar Drive.

News Analysis – Are changes in FPL’s offer in the offing? Reply

From the beginning of their negotiations with the City of Vero Beach, Florida Power and Light spokespersons have said the company will need to operate the power plant for no more than five years.  Will the site then be returned to the city as has been widely expected?

According to City Hall sources, a number of changes being considered to the purchase and sales agreement suggest the land might be marked for commercial development, with or without voter approval.

Early drafts of the agreement between the city and FPL call for the company to lease the power plant site, while assuming ownership of the buildings and equipment.  FPL spokespersons have said the company plans to eventually decommission and dismantle the plant, turning 17.1 acres of vacant land back to the city.

Any environmental cleanup would be the responsibility of the city, and the degree of remediation required will depend on how the land is to be used.  For example, the public might eventually agree to lease or sell the land for commercial development, perhaps as a marina and resort, or as a hotel and casino.  Those uses of the land would involve more extensive and costly environmental cleanup than would be necessary if the site were converted into a riverfront park, or simply set aside for open space.

More…

Power rates up, but why? 1

The power plant is operating at a loss of approximately $5 million a year.  Councilman Jay Kramer sees decommissioning the plant as just one of a number of ways to lower rates.

The power plant is operating at a loss of approximately $5 million a year. Councilman Jay Kramer sees decommissioning the plant as just one of a number of ways to lower rates.

Vero Electric customers will soon see in their bills a 5.8 rate increase that went into effect Dec. 12.

What’s behind the rate hike?  For starters, legal fees from the city’s transactional attorneys are mounting.  Now totaling $650,000 with no immediate end in sight, the $500 per hour charges from the city’s Palm Beach law firm are more than $150,000 above the original estimate.

A little more than a year ago, when the Council hired the law firm of Edwards Wildman to represent the city in the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light, it was told the total legal cost would be close to $500,000. More…

C.J. Cannon’s decked out for Christmas Reply

Pat Cannon, of C.J. Cannon's, helps patrons who stopped by for breakfast Sunday morning.  Now in their 29th year, the popular restaurant and lounge is a favorite of locals.

Pat Cannon, of C.J. Cannon’s, helps patrons who stopped by for breakfast Sunday morning. Now in its 29th year, the popular restaurant and lounge is a favorite of locals.

A model Piper Cub is displayed about some of C.J. Cannon's festive holiday decorations. Located in the Vero Beach Airport terminal building, C.J. Cannon's advertises that "the only thing we overlook is the runway."

A model Piper Cub is displayed above some of C.J. Cannon’s festive holiday decorations. Located in the Vero Beach Airport terminal building, C.J. Cannon’s advertises “the only thing we overlook is the runway.”

Opinion – Moving the substation – do the numbers add up? 1

If the substation were to remain at the west side of the power plant site, the remaining 13.5 acres would be available for public use or for commercial development, pending voter approval

If the substation were not moved from the power plant site, the remaining 13.5 acres would be available for public use or for commercial development, pending voter approval.

Of the $197 million value Florida Power & Light has put on its offer to purchase Vero Electric, $7 million has been earmarked, at the city’s request, to relocate the substation, either to the old postal annex site on the southwest corner of Indian River Boulevard and 17th Street, or to a comparable site no more than one and a half blocks of the power plant.

Presumably, if FPL was not committing to spend $7 million to relocate the substation, the city could double its expected cash proceeds from the proposed sale of its electric system.  Current projections are that the city will pocket just over $7 million in cash on the $197 million deal, with much of the remaining proceeds going to pay off debt and other contractual obligations.

For some, it is simply a given that the entire 17.1 acre power plant site should be cleared, either for public use or for commercial development.  They contend that it makes perfect sense to spend $7 million to move the substation. More…

Clear skies, mild temps for Saturday Oceanside Farmers Market Reply

Sponsored by the Oceanside Business Associations, the Saturday Farmers Market is drawing crowds to the central beach commercial district, where the OBA hopes market shoppers will also visit the boutiques and restaurants along Cardinal Drive and Ocean Drive .  Vendors at the market offer fresh food, including citrus, seafood, fresh breads, pastries, botanicals, locally grown landscape plants, honey, spices, drinks, and more.

Pets as well as people are welcome at the market.  This week the Robert and Marcia Loewinger dogs, now famous for having counted the parking spaces in downtown Vero Beach, were bundled up in their sweaters.

Mohsie and Bella Mia Loewinger

Mohsie and Bella Mia Loewinger

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Opinion – O’Bryan offers a profile in political courage 2

Indian River County Commissioner Peter O'Bryan

Indian River County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan

Last week a crowd of impassioned citizens opposed to Indian River County’s participation in a seven-county regional planning effort filled the Commission chambers, spoke their minds, applauded each other, and had their way.

As one person after another derided a regional approach to forward thinking, one could not help but wonder if the crowd packed into the Commission chamber was representative of the community, or was just an engaged and impassioned vocal minority.

Either because they are not given to tracking the emergence and progression of conspiracy theories about the coming of one-world government, or because they have jobs and pressing daily responsibilities, Indian River County’s silent majority went unrepresented, with the exception of one voice, that of Commissioner Peter O’Bryan.

What kind of representative democracy do we have when elected officials cave to the will of a vocal minority that has the time to incubate and foster conspiracy theories about how blue-helmeted United Nations troops will someday descend upon Indian River County, rounding up all the residents living on the barrier island, seizing the keys to their cars, marching them across the bridges, and then forcing them to move into tenement housing to be built in the downtown area near what will some day be a giant Amtrak station.

There was a day when on either side of the political spectrum extremist fringe groups flanked centrists, who made up the majority.  Not any more.

Seismic shifts in the political landscape have altered the fault lines.  Today moderates have become marginalized.

Locally, these changes in political alignments can be seen in the increasing influence of the Indian River Tea Party and the Indian River Taxpayers Association, two groups that appear to be so cross-pollinated as to be indistinguishable in their mission and objectives.

Basically, they fervently seek to reduce the level of government services to the irreducible.  Passion and conviction don’t necessarily translate into sound reasoning any more than might makes right.  In fact, zeal without wisdom and fervor without moderation are like lighting without lightning rods.  They can blow fuses and burn the house down.

After being encouraged for more than a year by the one County Commissioner who, from the beginning has opposed the county’s participation in Seven50, a group of zealots managed to convince themselves Seven50 equates to Agenda 21, which they fear is a sinister plan by the United Nations that will eventually lead to one-world government and the surrender of all the rights and privileges Americans hold dear.

“Get the U.N. out of the U.S. and the U.S. out of the U.N.,” said one opponent to Seven50 during public comment time at last week’s Commission meeting.

Such isolationist thinking proved persuasive, as the Commission voted 4-1 to abandon its seat at the table.  In leaving the Seven50 initiative, the County Commission has abrogated its right to participate in and help shape the direction of regional plan that will surely some day have an impact on Indian River County.

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re the meal,” someone said, questioning the wisdom of the Commission’s refusal to participate in regional planning efforts.

The facial expressing and body language of four of the five Commissioners made it clear they were absorbed in the negative energy swirling through the Commission chambers last week.  Despite the inevitability of the outcome, Commissioner Peter O’Bryan calmly set out point by point the reasons why he believes it would be best for the county to remain involved in regional planning discussions, at least until there is a plan to critique.

After all, O’Bryan noted, none of the seven counties, 121 municipalities and other organizations such as Indian River State College and Florida Power & Light are committed to sign on to any part of the plan.  The county’s only pledge was to remain a participant in a conversation about the future of South Florida.

Opponents of Seven50 say it is an amorphous group made up of nameless, faceless bureaucrats.  O’Bryan, though, identified such well-known and respected area leaders as Dr. Edwin Massey, President of Indian River State College.  Among Seven50’s other participants is the regional director of Florida Power & Light.  In fact, as it turns out, every participant in Seven50 has both a name and a face, and none of them are federal bureaucrats.

Though the County Commission has set a course for Indian River County to circumnavigate the future solo, O’Bryan bravely defended his view and spoke the truth as he sees it.  O’Bryan deserves to be commended, for last week he offered a profile in political courage.

In Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy wrote, “The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people – faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but will also elect men who will exercise their conscious judgment – faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor, and ultimately recognize right.”

Observers of local politics suspect the Indian River Taxpayers Association and others will be gunning for O’Bryan if he runs for re-election.  In an email addressed to each Commissioner, Paul Tanner, a founder of the local Tea Party wrote, “I do not believe I have ever maintained any specific litmus test regarding my personal support of or opposition to a candidate… this may well be the first.”

Clearly political courage is exercised at a price.

Opinion – Asking the Legislature to decide a local issue isn’t exactly true conservatism Reply

Rep. Debbie Mayfield

Rep. Debbie Mayfield

State Rep. Debbie Mayfield vowed this week to introduce a measure in the next legislative session that, if passed, would prevent the City of Vero Beach from continuing to provide water and sewer service to residents in the unincorporated area of the south barrier island.

Mayfield’s willingness to ask the Florida Legislature to take sides in a dispute between the city and the Indian River County Commission seems ironic, given her espoused conservative political philosophy that derides big government intrusion in local affairs. More…

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Working in her display booth at the Friday Market, Lori Burris weaves backing into a refurbished chair.  Burris, who’s business is “I Fix Woven Seats,” is a regular vendor in the weekly outdoor market sponsored by Downtown Main Street.  Friday Market’s vendors, all promoting organic and sustainable living, set up in Pocahontas Park along 14th avenue each Friday morning and are open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

County wants changes in utility laws Reply

IRT.Utilities On the RiverIndian River County and the City of Vero Beach are at odds over who will provide water and sewer service to residents in the unincorporated area of the south barrier island after the current franchise agreement expires in 2017.

Unable at the time to provide utility services, the county in 1987 signed a 30-year franchise agreement with the city.  Two years later the city and county approved a territorial agreement clarifying and established service boundaries. More…

Opinion – County should participate in Seven50 Reply

“Just because you’re not afraid doesn’t mean no one is out to get you,” the paranoid schizophrenic told his psychiatrist.

Similarly, a group of local “Agenda 21” conspiracy theorists have recently been ringing alarm bells over the county’s participation in Seven50, a regional planning effort involving seven Southeast Florida counties and more than 100 municipalities and other organizations, including Indian River State College.

Listen to Seven50’s most strident critics, and you just might get the idea blue-helmeted United National troops will some day descend upon unsuspecting Indian River County residents, seizing property and herding people into high-density tenements to be constructed near a new, enormous Amtrak station built to accommodate “millions” of tourists who will come here to enjoy our now eroded beaches. More…

Opinion – “Twin Pairs” may no longer serve a useful purpose 5

Traveling westbound the "Twin Pairs" in downtown Vero Beach a vehicle brakes for pedestrians caught in the crosswalk when the traffic light turned green.

Traveling on the westbound leg of “Twin Pairs” in downtown Vero Beach, a vehicle brakes for pedestrians caught in a crosswalk when the traffic light at 14th Avenue turned green.

That Vero Beach clings to its “Twin Pairs” long after the downtown superhighway has outlived its usefulness is reminiscent of the story of a young husband who wondered why his wife would first trim off the ends of a roast before putting it in the oven.   Finally, he asked her why she whittled down perfectly good meat before cooking it.  “I’m not really sure why I do that,” she said.  “I guess because I learned it from my mother.” More…

Partial sale might bring rates down for everyone Reply

Selling its county customers to Florida Power & Light would enable Vero Electric to decommission the power plant, saving more than $5 million a year in operating costs.

Selling its county customers to Florida Power & Light would enable Vero Electric to decommission the power plant, saving more than $5 million a year.

During the darkest days of the Civil War, President Lincoln often characterized his own predicament by telling the story of a farmer who sought to catch a pesky fox that had long been harassing his chickens.

One morning, upon spotting the fox breaking into his chicken coop, the farmer snuck up being the persistent predator and snagged him by the ears.  With the flailing, snapping, angry fox firmly in his grasp, the farmer began yelling, “Somebody come help me let go of this thing!”

City leaders must feel similarly about Vero Electric, for they are faced with the challenge of placating 22,000 county customers who would prefer to buy lower priced electricity from Florida Power & Light.  Their challenge, though, is to let go of county customers in a way that will not precipitate the financial collapse of the city. More…

Utilities Commission passes on partial sale option Reply

Councilman Jay Kramer Tuesday shared with the members of the Utility Commission his thoughts on how the city could more quickly lower rates for all 34,000 customers of Vero Electric.

In addition to explaining in detail the prospects of a partial sale, Kramer laid out several additional options, all of which he believes could lead to rate reductions.  Some, including Kramer and Councilman Richard Winger, believe the sale could be delayed until late 2016.  They argue that in order to lower rates now, other options should be considered.

Following Kramer’s presentation, the Utility Commission opted to stay the course already set by the City Council.  Apparently it was the assessment of the Commission that the proposals Kramer presented did not merit further consideration.

And perhaps it is with good reason the Utility Commission declined to more thoroughly explore the potential of a partial sale.  After all, determining how best to lower rates for all of Vero Electric’s 34,000 customers, while also preserving the financial viability of the city, is not within the purview of the Utility Commission. More…

A mid-March referendum could leave voters with limited information Reply

Mayor Craig Fletcher, Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll and Councilwoman Pilar Turner surprised many Council watchers this week when they voted in favor of holding a referendum on the sale of Vero Electric.  Ironically, twice in the past six weeks all three council members voted against putting the final decision in the hands of city voters.

Did Carroll and Turner reverse themselves, abandoning firmly staked out positions in opposition to a referendum?  Fletcher is given to shifts in his thinking.  For example, has been alternately for and against a referendum, and alternately for and against looking into a partial sale.  Such course corrections, however, are out of character for Carroll and Turner.

Why their apparent change of heart?  Peal back a layer or two of doublespeak, and the one-word answer is clear.  Obfuscation! More…

Comparing electric rates and fees Reply

Advocates for the proposed sale Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light give as one compelling reason their claim that the state’s largest investor-owned utility is more efficient and thus less expensive than any other utility in Florida.  Municipally owned utilities, they say, are hopelessly uncompetitive.

Monthly statewide rate comparisons compiled by the Florida Municipal Electric Association confirm that FPL is among the state’s lowest cost providers.  But FPL’s rates are not always the lowest at every level.  For example, according to FMEA’s October’s rate comparison, Lakeland and Winter Park, both municipally owned utilities, had rates lower than FPL at a number of levels of commercial use.

More important than a direct month-to-month comparison of rates, though, is the larger question of whether smaller, municipally owned utilities are able to compete with investor-owned utilities like FPL. More…