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Too few teachers for ‘special ed’ yields poor result
week of June 16, 2016

An outside consulting firm hired to evaluate “special ed” services in the Indian River School District found the district has 30 percent fewer teachers for struggling pupils than similar districts and 40 percent fewer teacher assistants. The result: District Management Council of Boston found a “wide” achievement gap between regular students and these students with mild disabilities, non-readers, English-language learners and at-risk students as well as traditional special ed students. The difference was as high as 44 percentage points for 3rd graders and 52 points for 7th graders – both well above the state average. Schools here, however, have nearly 40 percent fewer serious incidents with these so-called “exceptional students” than the state average. But black pupils are “disproportionally” disciplined, according to the consultants, and are almost four times more likely to be suspended than other students in this category. When Mark Rendell was hired as district superintendent last year, the School Board asked him to make an examination of Exceptional Student Education practices a priority. In response, Rendell hired District Management Council to perform an evaluation. READ FULL STORY


Where do recyclables go after you put them in the blue bin?
week of June 16, 2016

By now, Indian River County residents have settled into the mixed-stream recycling program, and are dumping all their approved recyclables each week into one of the big, bright-blue, wheeled bins. But where does all that stuff go? What actually happens to it? How does the mixed stream get unmixed? Who buys it? Who get the proceeds? Tropical Recycling is the West Palm Beach-based company responsible for processing and marketing the 1,500 tons of stuff that is hauled off in those blue bins each month. The material goes first to the Indian River County landfill where it is weighed. After that, the paper, plastic, glass and metal is trucked south to Fort Pierce and processed in a huge building that was a citrus packing house before standing vacant for 20 years. After refurbishing and rewiring the plant, Tropical purchased sorting and compacting equipment, and enlisted expert Michael Miles to make it operational. Seeing the plant in operation for the first time is an eye-opening experience. READ FULL STORY


Trial finally set over historic diesel plant
week of June 16, 2016

Even as the final hurdles were cleared this month for the city of Vero Beach to complete the sale of its historic diesel plant, a long-anticipated civil trial involving the city and the plant’s former tenant is expected to begin Friday. Filed nearly three years ago, the suit and countersuit involve more than $1 million in renovations for which developers claim the city should reimburse them. For its part, the city is asking for $70,000 it says the developers owe in back rent. At issue is a 45-year lease signed in 2001 by B-B Redevelopment Team, originally owned by local builder Phil Barth and attorney Charles Block, and now owned by Barth and builder David Croom. The city claims B-B owes rent from November 2008 through the date the suit was filed, November 2013. The developers dispute that rent should have ever started, saying the lease called for payments to begin only after the city finished cleaning up environmental contamination at the plant. READ FULL STORY


Shores expected to work out compromise over beach access
week of June 16, 2016

Indian River Shores appears to be pushing ahead with plans to market a stretch of Town-owned land on A1A for development, despite objections from neighbors. But residents who for decades have traipsed across the property to the beach likely will be able to retain that convenience. The rezoning of the 5.5-acre parcel between Pebble Beach Villas and Surf Lane in Indian River Shores was approved unanimously by the Town Council, which ultimately hopes to sell the property appraised at $7.7 million for development, despite the wish of some residents that it be turned into a park. At the time Pebble Bay and Pebble Beach Villas were being developed by the Schlitt family, Ed and Marguerite Schlitt sold the parcel to Indian River County for a fraction of market price, with the understanding that homeowners in the Schlitts’ newly developed communities would enjoy passage to and from the beach across the land. The Town purchased the property from the County as part of a land-swap deal, but Town officials never changed the park land designation. Some previous town manager put up a fence with gates and signs declaring “Pedestrian Beach Access” during daylight hours. READ FULL STORY


Cell tower project inching forward in Shores
week of June 16, 2016

Better cell phone service for Indian River Shores is likely at least a year away, but now that a location has been chosen for the stealth tower disguised as a huge pine tree, Town Manager Robbie Stabe said steady progress is being made by the firm hired to permit and build the tower. Stabe reported to the Town Council that site walks of the location on Town property near the Public Safety Department Complex have been completed, and that the “final survey should be completed next week.” He said Datapath Tower is negotiating with the major cellphone carriers, as the carriers’ commitment to place transmitter equipment on the tower is needed to make the project viable. Stabe said the carriers have shown “strong interest” in contracting for space on the tower, which would be the lone tower between the one at Sea Oaks on A1A in the unincorporated county, and the one atop the Village Spires condominium on Ocean Drive in Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY


Future of funding for charters at stake in election
week of June 16, 2016

The future of public funding for Indian River County charter schools may well be decided by the battle for two open School Board seats now underway. At present, the charters have only one reliable ally on the five-member School Board, Sean Frost, and a second sometimes ally in Charles Searcy. But two of the three board members who have consistently voted against the charters on money issues – Claudia Jimenez and Matthew McCain – are not seeking re-election. With these two seats open, a charter school-friendly majority could emerge depending on who is elected. That likely would mean millions more in public funds for the charters, which contend they have long been shortchanged. Differences among the candidates were showcased at a forum last week sponsored by the Taxpayers’ Association of Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Wine & Film Festival a huge success
week of June 16, 2016

If the premise of the short film “Rated” came to life, there would be five stars floating over the heads of Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival founder Jerusha Stewart and her swarm of volunteers. The comedy short, about parents who wake up to find Yelp-style ratings over their heads, took one of the festival’s audience favorite awards Sunday afternoon. After four days of analyzing films and wines, participants in the first-ever Vero film festival were judging the festival itself – and the score seemed unanimously high. The visiting filmmakers who flew in from as far away as Italy and Colombia were apparently utterly enamored with the Vero audiences, who packed nearly every event and most of the screenings. “The filmmakers were over the moon,” said an ebullient Stewart on Monday. “The comments were overwhelmingly, passionately positive. “They spoke so highly of the audiences and their appreciation of their work,” she said. “And oh my god, they wouldn’t stop talking about the beach.” READ FULL STORY


Shores’ residents urge state regulators to free town from grasp of Vero electric
week of June 16, 2016

The Town of Indian River Shores’ petition to review and redraw Vero electric’s service territory is set to be heard by the Florida Public Service Commission on July 7, and Shores residents have lodged some very strong opinions with the five members of the Commission, seeking to sway the outcome of the hearing. Sixty-five Shores residents have filed written comments with the PSC urging the state regulators to allow Shores residents in the southern part of the Town who are served by Vero electric to join residents at the north end of the Town who are served by Florida Power & Light. The Town, filing on March 6 as a customer of Vero electric and not as a municipality, alleges that Vero’s territory should be reviewed due to “changed circumstances” based upon the Town’s franchise agreement with Vero expiring on Nov. 6, and the Town’s and ratepayers’ desire to have the whole of the Shores incorporated into FPL’s service territory to take advantage of its lower electric rates. READ FULL STORY


Island luxury home market nothing short of astonishing
week of June 16, 2016

The 32963 real estate market continues to be nothing short of astonishing. The population in the island ZIP code area is tiny, somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000 in season, and yet top agents here rack up the kind of massive annual sales totals celebrity agents in New York City and Los Angeles brag about. During the last week in May, 10 homes on the island sold for more than $1 million, with closing prices ranging from $1 million to $8.6 million. Even more amazing, the top sale was the third on the island in the first six months of this year that topped $8.5 million. All the top island brokerages were involved in the million-dollar-home sales spree, but the three biggest sales all were listed by one agent: Matilde Sorensen, of Dale Sorensen Real Estate, Inc. She also brought one of the buyers, for a total of four transaction sides out of six in the three top sales, which had a combined value of nearly $26 million. Sorensen says the $8.5-million-plus sales all were to buyers with a presence in Vero, people moving up within the market. READ FULL STORY


Long-overdue ambulances arrive after scary season
week of June 16, 2016

Two of five much-needed new ambulances have finally arrived, eight months after massive vehicle breakdowns revealed that Indian River County officials’ tight-fisted postponement of buying new ambulances could be putting lives at risk. In October, Assistant Chief of Emergency Medical Services Brian Burkeen was called to account after repeated ambulance reliability issues were reported in Vero Beach 32963. He told the Board of County Commissioners at that time, “Three new ambulances are expected to be received in January 2016 and two additional estimated March 2016.” Despite that statement, January, February and March passed with no new ambulances, as did April and May. Earlier this month, the old ambulance assigned to Station 11 near the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club broke down with a patient in the back. Another ambulance had to be dispatched from elsewhere in the county to pick the patient up for transport to the emergency room. “On June 1, 2016, while en route to the hospital with a patient with non-life-threatening issues, the ambulance did suffer mechanical issues that left it disabled. READ FULL STORY


Scientists report some rare good news for lagoon
week of June 16, 2016

There is some good news about the lagoon, for a change, according to the latest pollution mapping done by Ocean Research and Conservation Association, commonly known as ORCA. When ORCA researcher Chloe Lloyd took sediment samples from 60 sites in the lagoon near the Oslo Road Boat ramp and The Moorings last fall, they turned out to have far less nitrogen than ORCA Chief Scientist Edie Widder expected. Prior sampling to the north had found dangerous levels of the ecologically toxic nutrient, which feeds algae blooms that lead to fish kills and seagrass die-offs, but the color-coded map that shows the most recent test results is mainly bright blue, which indicates low levels of nitrogen in most of the square-mile test area. “We thought the levels would be higher,” says Widder. She believes the natural shoreline along the mainland side of the lagoon is largely responsible for the good condition of the waterway. Natural wetlands and mangroves filter water and consume nutrients. READ FULL STORY


Change in prosecutor delays bridge DUI fatality case
week of June 16, 2016

Nearly two years after a young Vero Beach bicyclist was struck by a car and killed on the 17th Street Bridge, a trial date is expected to be set in September for the DUI manslaughter case against the woman charged with hitting him. However, both a state prosecutor and the attorney for driver Jamie Williams, who turned 23 this week, say a plea deal remains a possibility. In fact, the two sides were engaged in "significant negotiations," as defense attorney Alan Landman described them, when Assistant State Attorney Daryl Isenhower, the lead prosecutor initially handling the case, was appointed a St. Lucie County judge in December. "We'd had a number of productive discussions," Landman said, "but right when we were coming to a reasonable point, they changed prosecutors." Assistant State Attorney Steve Gosnell, who took over the case in February, acknowledged the previous discussions between Isenhower and Landman, saying a plea deal is "always a possibility." He said the State Attorney's Office has kept the parents of the victim, Nicholas "Cole" Coppola, updated on the progress of the case, including the possibility of a plea bargain. READ FULL STORY


Cooling towers at Big Blue power plant will be first to go
week of June 9, 2016

The cooling towers at Vero’s Big Blue power plant are slated for demolition in the next two weeks, the first phase of clearing the riverfront gateway to the island for redevelopment that could change the look and feel of the city at some point in the future. At the same time, partially due to the plant closing, electric bills of smaller users will be $2 less each month. Vero Beach-based South Bay Construction will dismantle the towers at a cost of $58,000. As part of its contract, the company will gain ownership of plant components, which it can sell for reuse or scrap. If the city had retained ownership of the dismantled tower parts and marketed the materials itself, the demolition job would have been billed at nearly $200,000. In addition to the cooling tower removal, the City Council on Tuesday was asked to approve a $396,000 contract for cleanup of asbestos and mercury from the aging power plant buildings to prepare for further demolition. It’s expected to take two to three months for the cooling towers to be completely removed from the southeast quadrant of the power plant property on the shore of the lagoon to “create green space for future use,” as stated in a memo to the City Council. READ FULL STORY


Charter schools file new lawsuit against District
week of June 9, 2016

Simmering for three years in the background, a dispute between Indian River County’s charter schools and the School District is now boiling over as the charters light a legal fire under the school board in an attempt to get tax money they feel is rightfully theirs. The charters – Indian River Charter High School, Imagine School at South Indian River County, Imagine Schools at South Vero, North County Charter School, Sebastian Charter Junior High and St. Peter’s Academy – filed a lawsuit in circuit court on May 27, the first in Florida to challenge a school board’s tax-distribution authority. Even though the charters are public schools entitled to tax dollars, they say they have been shortchanged by the Indian River County School Board for the past three years. Gene Waddell, president of the Indian River Charter High School board, said the school board came to the charter school leaders in 2012 and asked them to help get a referendum passed to replace and increase a school tax levy soon to expire. READ FULL STORY


Revolutionary math teaching method to make Florida debut here this fall
week of June 9, 2016

In the 1980s, the country of Singapore introduced a new kind of math teaching that relies on visualization and relates numbers to real life. Within a decade, students in that dynamic Asian city-state went from mediocre to having the best math scores in the world. Now, island education leader Mary Lou Hammond and Osceola Magnet Elementary School Principal Scott Simpson are working to bring the benefits of “Singapore Math” to Indian River County’s public schools – where lagging math scores cry out for help. When school reopens in the fall, Osceola Magnet will be the first public school in Florida to fully implement the revolutionary program. Mary Lou Hammond’s passion for education goes back a long way. When her children were young, she was a major force behind the 1965 founding of Saint Edward’s School; about 10 years ago, she made the case for the island school to institute Singapore Math. “At St. Edward’s, it's even improved the thinking of the students; improved their SAT scores. The parents are happy with it and the kids love it,” says Hammond. “There's just something about [it] . . . that the kids love. They understand it.” READ FULL STORY


Rail crossing plans disregard our local input
week of June 2, 2016

Long-awaited construction plans for the railroad tracks that will carry All Aboard Florida appear to have been crafted in a void, according to Indian River County officials, who say engineers failed to take into account a vast amount of important data provided to them about the thoroughfares, buildings and the community surrounding the planned fast-train corridor. County Public Works Director Chris Mora and his staff last week printed out large-scale copies of the 98 pages of blueprints, known as the 100 percent design plan, provided to local governments by All Aboard Florida. About 30 people, including anti-train activists and county and Vero public officials, showed up to discuss the plans. All Aboard Florida also sent a handful of people from out of town to mix it up with the locals and advocate for the project. Plans only depict the anticipated construction needed for crossings – not for general corridor safety along the miles of track in between the crossings. The county as a whole has 32 crossings – eight within the City of Vero Beach, 16 in the unincorporated county and eight in the City of Sebastian. READ FULL STORY


Hospital hires a replacement for ousted No. 2
week of June 2, 2016

In the news-you-hope-will-slip-by-unnoticed category, Indian River Medical Center last week sent out an email at 4:25 on the Friday afternoon preceding a holiday weekend announcing it had hired a person to replace former hospital chief operating officer Steven Salyer, whose short tenure ended in mystery last December. In the email, the hospital said that Camie Patterson – a healthcare executive with more than 20 years of experience – was selected after a search process that lasted several months, and would join Indian River Medical Center in late July. Patterson in 2014 became the chief operating officer of two hospitals that are part of the Indiana University Health system, but held that position for less than a year before leaving. For the past year, she has had the position of “coach” with a healthcare consulting firm, Studer Group. During her time with Studer Group, the Indian River Medical Center announcement said Patterson coached hospitals “in enhancing employee engagement, patient satisfaction, and leader development.” Patterson, who has degrees in both healthcare administration and accounting, earlier served as COO of a hospital in Greenwood, South Carolina. READ FULL STORY


Vero hopes to finally unload onetime golf course at Dodgertown
week of June 2, 2016

The old Dodgertown Golf Course has languished for more than a decade now, 35 acres of vacant land eating a hole in the Vero Beach city budget to the tune of about $600,000 annually. But the grassy white elephant – which Vero paid nearly $10 million for in 2005 – might be scratched off the city’s land inventory list in a distress sale later this year. The city’s new high-powered real estate broker, Colliers International South Florida, is spreading the word among developers that Vero Beach wants to unload the former golf course that conjures up romantic memories of Dodgers spring training baseball. Built in the 1960s by then-Dodger owner Walter O’Malley because his black players weren’t allowed on other golf courses in Vero at that time, it is located on the southeast corner of 43rd Avenue and 26th Street adjacent to the Historic Dodgertown sports complex and across the street from Vero Beach Airport. “The nine-hole course, named Dodgertown Golf Club, opened in 1965 and was available to the Dodger players, as well as the public,” according to Walteromalley.com. “As an avid golfer himself, O’Malley could be found with Dodger players and executives on the links in his free time. To best aid his game, he personally oversaw the design of the course and the placement of its sand traps!” READ FULL STORY


School District plans to expand vocational classes
week of June 2, 2016

Indian River County School District Superintendent Mark Rendell wants to expand the number of vocational classes offered at Vero Beach and Sebastian River high schools, adding HVAC, electrical and plumbing to the existing career tech curriculum. That makes sense, since district data show career tech classes are wildly popular. In fact, a majority of high school students, including many college prep kids, take a career tech class. At Sebastian River High School, 1,147 out of 1,779 students – or 64 percent – take a career tech class. At Vero Beach High School, 1,473 – or 52 percent of the 2,806 students – do likewise. And a large percentage will graduate with career technology degrees – nearly 40 percent this year at both high schools. Those students went through a three-year program and will graduate not only with a high school degree, but also with an industrial or professional certification that gives them a jump- start into the workforce or college. Each high school offers 10 three-year career tech programs, with some overlap. Both offer biotechnology, digital design, nursing/home health aide, culinary arts and automotive. In addition, Vero offers carpentry, digital video, accounting, business management and drafting, while Sebastian River has programs in GIS (geographic information systems), network support, entrepreneurship, criminal justice and welding. READ FULL STORY


Shores rezoning controversy has long history behind it
week of June 2, 2016

A move to rezone a five-acre ocean-side parcel plodded forward last week, but the Indian River Shores Town Council must weigh some complex history when it makes the final decision about whether to allow townhomes or condos on land that has historically been traipsed over for beach access by Town residents. Ordinance 528 to rezone the A1A property to allow for up to six units per acre passed the Town Council by a 5-0 vote on first reading despite the protestations of about a dozen long-time residents, some of whom shared fond memories of sunny beach days trekking across the parcel in question long ago with toddlers in tow – toddlers that are now grown with children of their own. Around the time the Pebble Bay community and Pebble Beach Villas were developed, the Schlitt family sold the parcel to Indian River County, with the caveat that it be used as a park. Steven Schlitt, who runs the regional family real estate business now with sister Linda, appeared before the Town Council to explain the arrangement his parents Ed and Marguerite Schlitt made, selling land now appraised at more than $7 million to the county for a mere $200,000, at a time when residential lots in Pebble Bay were fetching $110,000 each. READ FULL STORY


Shores settles discrimination, harassment case
week of June 2, 2016

After nearly two years of litigation, the Town of Indian River Shores has settled a federal discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit with a former female public safety officer, just four days before the Town’s current and former employees were set to account for accusations spanning 15 years. Samantha Haynes filed a complaint with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after being fired in April 2013 from her job as a triple-trained firefighter, paramedic and law enforcement officer with the Shores. That complaint process, in which the Town denied allegations and staunchly defended its policies and its officers’ conduct, led to Haynes’ lawsuit against the Town in 2014. Town Manager Robbie Stabe confirmed Friday evening that the suit had been settled, as attorneys had been working to come up with a resolution throughout last week prior to a scheduled trial this past Tuesday. “The Town entered into the settlement at the advice of and in cooperation with its insurance carrier, in the interest of its residents and to avoid further disruption to its operation, and expressly denies any liability,” Stabe said over the weekend. READ FULL STORY


Charter schools set to carry fight to a higher court
week of May 26, 2016

The end-game just got farther away for cash-starved public charter schools in Indian River County that say they are entitled to a larger share of tax revenue from the school board. But that certainly doesn’t mean they are giving up. Division of Administrative Hearings Judge Cathy Sellers has decided she does not have jurisdiction to rule on a case filed by the charter schools in mid-April seeking millions of dollars in back payments. So the charter schools are now preparing to up their legal-fee ante by filing in a higher court. “We’re, frankly, pretty excited about this,” said Gene Waddell, president of the Indian River Charter High School board. He said he spoke with the leadership of the county’s charter schools shortly after the case was dismissed, and found a consensus to take the court case further. “We see this issue as being too big and too important for a lower court,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the challenge was being heard in the wrong forum,” said school board member Shawn Frost, whose children attend a charter school, and who supports the charters’ effort to get more funding. READ FULL STORY


Vero helps Florida Institute of Technology raise $123 million
week of May 26, 2016

Vero Beach is only a 45-minute car ride from the Florida Tech campus in Melbourne, so Florida Institute of Technology President Tony Catanese knows all about the affluent investors, retired corporate executives and arts lovers to the south in Indian River County. For that reason, during the past few years, while undertaking a fundraising campaign with a $100 million goal, he charged his trusted special assistant, Frank “Fritz” Spitzmiller, to set up meet-and-greet forums where Florida Tech professors could share their latest research and chat with Vero area residents at island clubs including The Moorings, John’s Island and Windsor. Spitzmiller also arranged for retired island execs such as Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot to go north to talk about the finer points of entrepreneurship at FIT’s business school. At the same time, Catanese realized Vero’s strong arts community could be tapped to bring more attention to the university and more visitors to the university’s Foosaner Art Museum in Eau Gallie and the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts on the FIT campus. READ FULL STORY


Island man accused of computer hacking
week of May 26, 2016

A nasty soap opera involving the owner of a Miracle Mile consignment shop and three former workers has resulted in the store owner’s husband being charged by the Indian River Sheriff’s Office with illegally hacking into an online account belonging to one of the ex-employees last September. James Timothy “Tim” Wakeland, 52, who lives in the River Ridge neighborhood in the south barrier island, is married to Jordan Wakeland, owner of Labels at 2050 6th Avenue. Wakeland was charged with an offense against computer users, a third-degree felony, and was booked at the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office at 5:40 p.m. May 17 on a warrant that had been issued four days earlier by Indian River County. There was no explanation of why Wakeland turned himself in at the Sheriff’s Office in Sumter County, but Sumter is 150 miles and two and a half hours from Vero Beach – well outside the circulation and coverage area of Indian River County newspapers. Wakeland, who is listed on state documents as a manager with Labels, is also a Bank of America loan officer, according to his attorney John Unruh and public records. READ FULL STORY


Change in focus: A reimagination of the Environmental Learning Center
week of May 26, 2016

The environmental Learning Center is reinventing itself. Without letting go of the children’s nature education curriculum that has made it a treasured part of growing up in Vero Beach, the 28-year-old nonprofit organization is expanding its ecological portfolio to include more “nature therapy,” reaching out to young and old alike to reconnect people with the natural world in ways that enhance both human and environmental health. “There is so much research that is growing and growing that there is a significant human/nature disconnect that is associated with increased screen time and reduced access to green spaces,” says ELC Executive Director Molly Steinwald. “That disconnect is leading to a rise in depression, obesity, ADHD and other health problems.” With the strong backing of her board, Steinwald is seeking to make the Environmental Learning Center into a portal through which people can enter back into a more healthy and meaningful way of relating to themselves and the world around them, leaving behind some of their stress and “disease” as they explore the ELC’s 64-acre campus and engage in projects that help protect and restore the lagoon that laps against the institution’s green shores. READ FULL STORY


Motive in bizarre South Beach murder apparently not money
week of May 26, 2016

South barrier island resident Asbury Lee Perkins is charged with the premeditated shooting death of his estranged wife Cynthia Betts back in November, telling police on the scene he did it because she constantly nagged him and took money from their account. But court papers show Perkins was not set to inherit a windfall had he managed elude prosecution. The Last Will and Testament of Cynthia Betts, drawn up in 1991 when Betts and Perkins were still just newlyweds, states that she would bequeath nearly all her worldly possessions to her brother in New Jersey, or as a backup, to her father. Should Betts perish, the will states, Perkins would only receive $5,000, some “household goods” and his wife’s Volvo station wagon. By the time he was arrested for murder after being found at 2120 Seagrape Drive with Betts’ body rolled up in an area rug, Perkins had been declared indigent while facing DUI and domestic violence charges. The couple’s half-million dollar home in Vero’s south beach had been quit-claim deeded over to Betts and Perkins had signed his Power of Attorney over to Betts for personal and business matters. READ FULL STORY


School District putting schools, property in hock
week of May 19, 2016

Eleven year ago, the Indian River County School District owned Vero Beach High School and the land it sits on along with all the other district schools and land. But that was before it plunged into a building finance scheme designed to prevent voters from having a say in school bond issues as required by state law. Since that time, the District has put about 30 percent of school property, including the high school, in hock, and encumbered $133 million in property taxes, all while using a legal loophole to bypass the state’s constitutional requirement that “long-term” debt be approved by voters. Certificates of participation, a fancy form of financing using double-speak, legal fictions and pass-through leasing entities, are wildly popular with Florida school districts and the Indian River County School District is no exception. It is the go-to form of financing for multimillion-dollar capital projects because it gets around holding a referendum meant to ensure the current and next generation aren’t saddled with paying off debt through their property taxes without first giving permission. READ FULL STORY


Neighbors of Shores A1A parcel want it turned into park
week of May 19, 2016

Residents who live near a 5.5-acre parcel near the ocean that the Town of Indian River Shores is considering rezoning for development want the land turned into a park instead. Shores Planning Zoning and Variance Board alternate Judy Orcutt presented a proposal last week to preserve what she called the Town’s “hidden gem” for public enjoyment instead of selling the property, which has an appraised value of $7.7 million, for condominiums or townhouses. Orcutt, an environmental activist and major supporter of efforts to deal with lagoon issues and set aside conservation lands, told the PZV Board members that the Shores has no parks, and that she thinks the Town needs the green space more than it needs the tax dollars that would flow in from selling the land for development. “There may never be another opportunity like this one to preserve open space for future generations,” Orcutt said in her proposal. “The Town doesn’t own any other land that is suitable for a park. A park’s natural features and open environment would help define the Town’s image and distinctive character.” READ FULL STORY


PSC sets hearing on Shores’ bid to escape grasp of Vero electric
week of May 19, 2016

The Florida Public Service Commission has scheduled a hearing June 9 to decide whether it will consider or dismiss the Town of Indian River Shores’ request that it look into the status of Vero Beach’s electric territory. Eighty percent of Shores residents are served by Vero’s electric utility, while 20 percent get power from Florida Power & Light, paying substantially lower rates. The Town wants all residents to be served by FPL, but Vero says the Town lacks standing to ask the Public Service Commission to consider changing the bounds of Vero’s electric territory. The Town alleges the PSC should open up the territory due to changed circumstances – the termination of Vero’s franchise agreement with the Shores when the agreement expires in November and the Town’s wish to bring all of its residents into FPL’s system. Vero says its PSC-awarded service territory is virtually permanent and immune to whether or not it has a valid franchise agreement with the Shores; it has asked the PSC to dismiss the Shores’ complaint. READ FULL STORY


Orchid rejects plan for assisted living facility
week of May 19, 2016

The fate of Ken Puttick’s assisted living project, planned for a 7-acre commercial parcel on CR-510 in the town of Orchid, was plain to see even before last Wednesday’s town council meeting got underway. Call it a classic case of NIMBYism or the legitimate expression of a community’s lifestyle concerns; either way, the plan was never going to fly and the meeting was more of a formality than a decision-making endeavor. Even though Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club is largely empty this time of year, with most residents gone back to northern homes, the second-floor dining room in the oceanfront clubhouse was packed with more than a 100 residents by the time the 9 a.m. meeting got underway. Most looked grim and all who were asked said they opposed the upscale 120-unit senior living and memory care project Puttick’s team was there to pitch. “What is being proposed violates every restriction there is on the property,” said former town council member Bill Troxell. “I am dead set against it.” READ FULL STORY


County to Miami-Dade: Keep your hands off our sand
week of May 19, 2016

Keep your shovels out of our sand! That's the message Indian River County, along with Martin and St. Lucie, will send to the Army Corps of Engineers, protesting a plan to gobble up and relocate an unspecified amount of “bulk ocean sand” from the Treasure Coast to Miami-Dade County, via an agreement between Miami-Dade and the Corps. Of the 100-plus million cubic yards of beach-compatible sand along the shores of St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach and Miami Dade counties, approximately 5.2 million cubic yards is available for removal in federal waters off St. Lucie and Martin Counties, according to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection-Army Corps of Engineers study. It is these counties the Miami-Dade project specifically names as a source of sand to replenish South Florida’s world famous beaches. When the project first appeared on Indian River County radar back in January, the County Commission, along with the other Treasure Coast counties, voiced opposition, and listed several concerns. Although Indian River County was not included in the study, officials believe removal of beach sand from the neighboring counties could negatively affect Indian River County as the growing demand for beach quality sand continues. READ FULL STORY


Police account of chilling murder on South Beach
week of May 12, 2016

Newly-released police records provide a riveting, real-time account of events leading to the arrest and eventual indictment for first-degree murder of 58-year-old Asbury Lee Perkins, who is accused of killing his wife at their South Beach home in November. The “Detail Call for Service Report” – 18 pages of back and forth communication between deputies and the Sheriff’s Office dispatch – was among the discovery documents demanded by Perkins’ public defender. When combined with the arrest warrant narrative, the computer-generated log presents a moment-by-moment description of what started as a routine welfare check and ended with the discovery of Realtor Cynthia Betts’ dead body. The call report shows that Betts’ father, William Betts, called police after 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, to ask them to check on his 63-year-old daughter because he’d been unable to reach her. The report indicates the father told the call-taker that Perkins was an alcoholic with a history of domestic violence. The father told police he had spoken with his daughter on Saturday, which was Halloween night, but that when he called back on Sunday and Monday, he got no answer on either her cellphone or her landline phone. READ FULL STORY


Bridges could yet pose obstacle for high speed train
week of May 12, 2016

The spans across the canals and rivers of northern Indian River County could be like a scene from the Bridges at Toko-Ri for the massively powerful All Aboard Florida operation, as local officials band together to use bureaucratic push-back to block environmental permits needed to run train tracks over and through sensitive waters and wetlands. Bad publicity, open rebellion and throngs of attorneys seem to have succeeded, albeit temporarily, in killing the market for All Aboard Florida’s revenue bonds, but county and city officials want to stop the train itself from rolling – ironically, using as their weapon the same big-government regulations and processes these small-government conservatives moan about on a regular basis. Even if the money eventually materializes to fund the 32-train-a-day project designed to whisk tourists from Miami to Orlando and back, agencies tasked with protecting our natural resources must sign off on plans to demolish and rebuild the train tracks over the St. Sebastian River from Roseland to Micco. READ FULL STORY


‘Project manager’ in fraud case to be sentenced for unrelated grand theft
week of May 12, 2016

Among the cast of characters in a criminal case involving a contractor accused of bilking three sets of Vero Beach homeowners out of more than $150,000 is a “project manager” who is scheduled to be sentenced for grand theft next week in a case unrelated to the contractor’s alleged crimes. William “Charlie” Jones’ name appears again and again in the arrest warrant narrative that landed Vero Lake Estates resident Mark Murphy in jail last month. Jones seemed to have had the most contact with the homeowners, including two on the island, all of whom hired Murphy’s company, Absolute Building and Restoration. Jones was arrested here in September 2014 on two felony charges. The state ended up not prosecuting him on a charge of “uttering a forged bill, check or draft,” but Jones was found guilty in a jury trial in March of second-degree grand theft (at least $20,000 but less than $100,000). It is not clear if Jones was already working for Murphy at that time of the events that resulted in the felony charges, or if he went to work for the contractor after being arrested, because both Jones and Murphy have declined to be interviewed by law enforcement, according to sheriff’s Lt. Milo Thornton, who investigated the Murphy case for more than a year with State Attorney Bruce Colton’s office. READ FULL STORY


Failed subdivision is an odd intruder on Pelican Island preserve
week of May 12, 2016

A site on the north barrier island where an architect dreamed of building luxury homes with rooftop swimming pools overlooking a pristine wildlife preserve remains in limbo eight years after the project faltered, an eyesore with a future fate unknown. The Great Recession left Florida littered with foreclosed subdivisions and never-realized housing projects where vacant lots and desolate streets overgrown with weeds serve as a sad legacy of the corruption, greed and speculative mania that fueled the biggest housing bust in history. There was far less of this on the barrier island than elsewhere in Florida – with housing and lot prices here now back above their pre-2007 levels – but this particular 3.71-acre failed subdivision is no ordinary empty property. Subdivided into 10 lots a stone’s throw off of A1A, the site abuts the famed Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first wildlife refuge founded in 1903. President Theodore Roosevelt created the sanctuary because plume hunters were wiping out birds such as egrets. Nowadays, 15,000 birders and other nature aficionados enjoy the serene haven annually. READ FULL STORY


Water hog: Okeechobee power plant to use 9M gallons daily
week of May 12, 2016

Florida Power & Light is planning to pump a staggering 9 million gallons of water per day out of the same aquifer that supplies most of the drinking water for Indian River County to cool and generate steam at its huge proposed power plant in Okeechobee County. Indian River County gets most of its water from the upper Floridan Aquifer, using about the same amount as the power plant, 9 to 11 million gallons a day. Concerned about possible impacts on the water supply, the county enlisted the aid of St. Johns River Water Management District to ensure its water source is safe. The water district added provisions to the power company’s water-use permit at the county’s request. “You will see that we place conditions on the applicant [such as using the lowest quality source of water and ensuring withdrawals do not negatively impact others in the area]. If the request were a threat to the county’s potable water supply, the permit would not be issued,” St. Johns River Water Management District spokesman Ed Garland wrote in an email. READ FULL STORY


South Beach Property Owners group ends legal battles
week of May 12, 2016

With his term as South Beach Property Owners Association president concluded and a newly elected board of directors in place, George Lamborn has dropped the lawsuit he filed in March to prevent what he claimed was an "illegal takeover" of the organization by a dissident faction of the board. In a May 2 letter to Association members, Lamborn wrote that we was "happy to report all legal matters have ended" and he expressed hope that his successors "never have to resort to" similar measures to protect the association's integrity. The suit, which was filed in Indian River County Circuit Court, never reached the courtroom. Lamborn could not be reached for comment, but Association Treasurer Carter Taylor said the suit was dropped two weeks ago, shortly after the association held its Annual General Meeting, when it elected a new, seven-member board that is expected to grow in the coming months. None of the eight defendants named in the suit – John Burns, George Bryant, Frank Spitzmiller, Thomas Browne, Steve Merselis, David De Wahl, Victor Cooper and Robert DeWaters – sought re-election to the board. READ FULL STORY


Groups organize to clean up litter on spoil islands
week of May 12, 2016

Several local volunteers have begun organizing groups to help clean up the spoil islands in the Indian River Lagoon in response to a Vero Beach 32963 story and photographs calling attention to a litter problem. The volunteers range from a retired teacher/coach to a college freshman, and the groups include the Vero Beach Yacht Club, which already has contacted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Spoil Island Project to inquire about adopting an island. A group of yacht club members plans to meet soon to discuss ways to contribute to the clean-up, and the club also has invited a representative from the Friends of the Spoil Islands to speak to its membership. "We saw the article in the newspaper and several of our members have brought up the possibility of helping," club spokesperson Michele Hollingworth said. "We're a small club, so we might need to join with some other group. We're exploring our options. "But the spoil islands are a natural treasure," she added, "and we're very concerned." READ FULL STORY


Two oceanfront homes sell, one doesn’t, in luxury auctions
week of May 5, 2016

Lemon Tree owner George Shinn managed to extricate himself from two oceanfront homes he no longer wanted with comparatively modest losses at a luxury auction last weekend, but the owner of the so-called “barcode lady’s house” didn’t even come close to getting the $12.9 million minimum she was seeking in a separate auction. The most high-profile property was the lavish south island estate Palazzo Di Mare, commonly known on the island as “the barcode lady’s house.” Offered at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 30 by Naples-based DeCaro Luxury Auctions, the house reportedly attracted few bidders and did not sell. But two homes offered by Concierge Auctions and represented locally by Clark French and Cindy O’Dare drew a combined 25 bidders and sold for prices much closer to asking than most other homes auctioned in Vero in the past few years. The 4-bedroom, 5-bath, 4,200- square-feet home at 980 Crescent Beach Road in Castaway Cove was listed most recently for $3,795,000. It sold for $3.3 million, including the buyer’s premium, according to French. READ FULL STORY


Hospital looks to improvements at emergency room
week of May 5, 2016

While wait times at the Emergency Room of Indian River Medical Center still are longer than both the Florida and national averages, the hospital is hoping a new approach to managing the department will soon reduce ER delays and improve performance. Hospital president and CEO Jeff Susi, chief medical officer Charles Mackett and director of emergency services Dr. Paul Giasi outlined their plans for reducing patient frustration in an interview coinciding with the hospital’s assumption of full direct responsibility for the staffing and management of the ER. Less than two years ago, the physician staffing company ApolloMD was brought in to take over from another ER contractor, Emergency Physicians of Central Florida, in a bid to address complaints about long wait times. Now, the hospital is dumping ApolloMD and taking over direct hiring of ER physicians. Figures just obtained for 2015 show there were slight improvements in average ER wait times on ApolloMD’s watch, but consultants recommended the hospital move to a directly employed physician model to increase patient satisfaction. READ FULL STORY


Back to the future for Piper: Refocus on trainers is paying off
week of May 5, 2016

It’s back to the future for Piper Aircraft, which is re-emphasizing its trainer aircraft production roots to drive increased sales of trainer airplanes to flight schools. From Vero Beach to North Dakota. flight programs are buying more and more Piper trainers to teach the next generation of aspiring pilots, especially with the commercial airline industry needing more aviators. Each year since 2011, the percentage of trainer sales out of Piper’s total aircraft sales has increased. Five years ago, trainer sales accounted for 13 percent of total sales before it increased to 16 percent in 2012, 27 percent in 2013, 33 percent in 2014 and 38 percent in 2015. That trend reflects the marketing strategy of Piper Chief Executive Simon Caldecott, who began as CEO in 2011 and made trainer sales a priority. The company’s 1937 Cub is an iconic trainer in the aviation industry.“Piper is one of the original names in pilot training. Their brand is and always has been tied heavily to training,” said Ian Twombly, editor of Pilot and Flight Training, an aviation industry trade publication. “The Piper Cub has trained thousands of pilots, and many people in aviation today look at it fondly as one of the great airplanes of all time,” Twombly said. READ FULL STORY


School Board goes to court in bid to block two charters
week of May 5, 2016

The School Board has decided to waste another $35,000 in an attempt to block Somerset Academy, an A-grade charter school organization, from opening an elementary and middle school in Indian River County. Rebuffed by the Florida Board of Education, which unanimously approved Somerset’s application, the School Board voted 3-to-2 to carry its battle to keep Somerset out of Indian River County to the Fourth District Court. No hearing date or judge has been assigned yet. Remarkably, the local School District – one of only a handful in Florida that still remains under a half-century-old court desegregation order – cited desegregation concerns in opposing Somerset before the state Board of Education. “Somerset is completely ignorant of the federal desegregation obligations in Indian River County and cannot comply with these obligations,” the School Board’s attorney Suzanne D’Agresta said in a brief sent to the State School Board of Education. But most of the 14,000 students Somerset serves in the 37 charter schools it operates in Florida are minorities, a Somerset spokesman said. READ FULL STORY


Senior living facility in Orchid saddled with many caveats
week of May 5, 2016

When the Orchid Town Council considers plans for a proposed 120-unit, upscale senior living and memory care facility next week, it comes with the very conditional blessing of the Town’s Local Planning agency, laden with nearly 50 different, and in some cases expensive, stipulations. The Orchid Local Planning Agency after a more than six-hour hearing last week voted 4-1 to recommend approval of what would be the barrier island’s first assisted-living facility, located on the Wabasso Causeway near the county fire-rescue station, just outside the gates of the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club. According to Orchid Town Clerk Cherry Stowe, Chairman Ron Borque was the lone vote against the project, but even those who voted yea proceeded to pile on dozens and dozens of conditions that the developer must meet. According to Stowe, who was preparing the draft minutes of the April 26 meeting for the Town Council to review, “The waivers that were discussed included that the height be no taller than 30 feet with no exposed heating/air-conditioning units on top; that the setback to the Northside be a minimum of 40 feet without a walkway; that the setback along Caribe Way from the turnaround North be a minimum of 25 feet; that setback on that same side along the tennis courts from the turnaround South be a minimum of 10 feet, that the gross floor area not exceed 142,000 square feet; that opening hours be allowed to be 24/7. READ FULL STORY


State files formal felony charges against Ken Kennedy
week of May 5, 2016

State Attorney Phil Archer of the 18th Circuit in Brevard County has filed four serious felony charges against former Kennedy Groves and United Indian River Packers owner Ken Kennedy for stealing potentially more than $1 million that was intended for the care of an aging relative and, ultimately after her passing, to be divided among his dozen cousins. Kennedy, 64, was arrested on March 14 at his home in the Vero Beach Country Club neighborhood on a probable cause warrant based upon a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the depletion of the bank accounts of Kennedy’s aunt while the funds were under Kennedy’s control, court records state. The charges say Ken Kennedy “did stand in a position of trust and confidence” with regard to his aunt’s estate, and used that position to siphon off funds. Kennedy’s defense attorney Andy Metcalf at the time said the case was a matter for civil court, not criminal, and that he was confident that prosecutors would see that way, too. In late March, Kennedy entered a not guilty plea to the criminal charges and requested a jury trial. READ FULL STORY


Vero’s $22 million ‘price drop’ for Shores electric customers
week of May 5, 2016

In an almost surreal display of technical jargon and numbers in five-point type, Vero’s team of experts attempted to explain to a joint session of the city’s Finance Commission and Utilities Commission this week how the asking price for 3,000 customers in the Town of Indian River Shores dropped from $64 million to $42 million. The new “price drop” is still a far cry from the $13 million Florida Power & Light says it’s willing to pay to pick up some customers and unite the Shores’ citizens north and south of Old Winter Beach Road under one electric provider. But realistically, are any of these numbers remotely meaningful? The price Vero wants in exchange for releasing the Shores customers from the city’s electric system is based upon the notion that the Shores should provide ongoing financial support to Vero for decades to replace the revenue that Shores customers would be contributing to the system – even though they’re not being served by the utility anymore. READ FULL STORY


County gets few jobs for our economic development millions
week of April 28, 2016

The Indian River Board of County Commissioners has poured more than $7 million into its economic development program in the past decade, yet there are fewer jobs in the county now than when the program started – even though the county’s population has increased by more than 10 percent over that time. The taxpayer dollars went for inducement payments, job grants and tax abatements intended to generate job growth by luring new companies and retaining current ones, but a Vero Beach 32963 look at these economic development subsidies show the overwhelming majority of the tax money went to two deals that were controversial at best, with most of the grants raising questions about why the commission continues to throw good money after bad. Here are some of the findings from the 32963 investigation. READ FULL STORY


Contractor arrested, accused of bilking remodeling clients
week of April 28, 2016

Vero Lake Estates resident and contractor Mark Frederick Murphy is facing felony charges for allegedly bilking his remodeling clients out of big deposits, and never furnishing the materials or finishing the work paid for by two barrier island homeowners and one in southwest Vero. Murphy, 47, who state records show had been a licensed building contractor in Florida since February 2007 until his license was suspended last month, was arrested on April 12 and charged with stealing about $150,000 from three local clients, including the owners of one North Beach home just off Jungle Trail, and one South Beach home on Pelican Lane. A third victim lives in Legend Lakes in southwest Vero. Investigators suspect more victims may come forward after they learn Murphy is being held accountable. READ FULL STORY


Charter schools sue School District on divvying up funds
week of April 28, 2016

All five charter schools in Indian River County are suing the school district, alleging the district is flaunting state funding guidelines that require it to treat charter schools the same as district schools. Charter school leaders blame overcrowded conditions, class cuts and the loss of valued teachers on the district’s refusal to provide more funding for campus repairs and new buildings needed for an expanding student population. The five charters – the Charter High School, North County Charter School, St. Peter’s Academy, Sebastian Charter Junior High and Imagine School – educate 13 percent of county students but the schools receive only $295 per student in capital funding while other schools in the district get $1,546 per student, according to Gene Waddell, Charter High School board chairman. If the money was divided equally, all schools would get $1,365 per student. READ FULL STORY


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