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Electric hearing delayed a week by Hurricane Michael
week of October 11, 2018

Interested parties were already in Tallahassee, or en route Monday, for a Tuesday hearing on the Vero Electric sale to Florida Power & Light when the Florida Public Service Commission announced it was rescheduling all of its business for the rest of the week due to Hurricane Michael. Tuesday’s hearing had been called because four parties had challenged a June 5 vote of the PSC to approve the terms of the $185 million sale of Vero Electric and its 34,000 customers to FPL. Of the four parties, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group (FIPUG) had dismissed its protest, and local residents Brian Heady and Michael Moran were removed from the case on Oct. 3 after failing to appear for a pre-hearing conference to discuss issues, one of which was the standing of the parties. Only attorney Lynne Larkin and her Civic Association of Indian River County remain of the four objectors. The Florida Office of Public Counsel has also joined in the proceedings to reiterate the OPC’s position presented in June that FPL should not be able to book a $116.2 million acquisition adjustment above and beyond what the Vero system is worth on the books, according to the PSC staff and to the OPC’s hired consultant. READ FULL STORY

‘The stars have aligned’: How two Midwesterners led the way in forging the Cleveland Clinic deal
week of October 11, 2018

It was, after a quarter of a century of bickering, back-biting, and open hostility, an amazing moment of unity – unprecedented unanimous agreement by both the Indian River Medical Center board and the public Hospital District trustees on the future of medical care for our community. By the time the final votes were taken approving the hospital’s takeover by Cleveland Clinic, the chairmen of the two boards involved – the IRMC board and the Hospital District board – were in obvious lockstep. After a nearly two-year process, the two were even talking alike. “This is one of the most important things I think the board will ever do for this community,” Chairman Wayne Hockmeyer told the IRMC board of directors gathered in a hospital conference room. And across the street at Hospital District headquarters: “This is the most important vote we will ever have as a group,” said Chairwoman Marybeth Cunningham. “The outcome will have ramifications far beyond this year, or the following few years, but for decades to come in this community.” READ FULL STORY

More hospital news from Sebastian, Stuart & St. Lucie
week of October 11, 2018

To the south and the north of Vero, other hospitals were also making news last week. The day before the final vote on the acquisition of Indian River Medical Center by Cleveland Clinic, Martin Health announced it had signed its own definitive agreement to become a part of the Cleveland Clinic system. Martin has three hospitals – two in Stuart and a large new hospital in Tradition in St. Lucie County – as well as 10 other clinics, labs and offices. Martin negotiated a deal to get twice the capital expenditure from Cleveland in half the time – $500 million in five years, compared to Vero’s $250 million over ten years – but its Stuart hospital still has some semi-private rooms and desperately needs a bigger emergency department. Meanwhile, up the road from IRMC, Sebastian River Medical Center’s CEO, Kelly Enriquez, last week found herself was out of a job. Then a few days later, SRMC marketing director Donna Jones announced she was also leaving as of this past Wednesday. READ FULL STORY

County to file suit to make section of beach in Summerplace public
week of October 11, 2018

Indian River County is likely to become the first jurisdiction in Florida to file suit to make a section of its beach public as required by a new law that went into effect July 1, according to county officials. The “dry sand” part above the “mean high water mark” is at issue. The “wet part” of the beach is already public under the Florida Constitution. “Customary use” or historical use by the public of the dry sand portion must be proven by the county to win a favorable judgment from the court, according to the new law. The county gave “notice of intent” to file the suit on Oct. 2. The suit will only focus on 2,000 feet of beach in front of Summerplace, just north of Wabasso Beach Park. County Attorney Dylan Reingold said the suit is being filed because for the first time in the county’s known history, there is a dispute over the right to use the beach. READ FULL STORY

Central Beach woman gets nine months for Shores jewelry theft
week of October 11, 2018

A Central Beach woman was sentenced to nine months in jail and more than $15,000 in fines and court costs after pleading ‘no contest’ to stealing more than $21,000 worth of jewelry from Belle Cose last March. “I’m ashamed of my behavior which led to my arrest,” Dawn Jeannine Van Dorne, 55, told the court before her sentencing. Van Dorne, who was credited with 160 days already served in the Indian River County Jail, is also being held without bond on a Felony Fugitive of Justice Warrant from California. After completing her nine-month sentence in Indian River County, she will be extradited to California where she is wanted on unspecified criminal charges, according to Judge Cynthia Cox and court and police records. Van Dorne was convicted of third-degree grand theft charges for stealing two pink tourmaline and diamond rings valued at $15,000 and $6,100 from the top of a display case at the Belle Cose boutique on March 27 during a trunk show. READ FULL STORY

Vero plowing ahead with contested Council election
week of October 11, 2018

Faced with a confusing set of circumstances, and a proposed solution in the form of a Dec. 18 special election, the Vero Beach City Council voted 4-1 to go forward with the Nov. 6 municipal election with the ballot as is – without Linda Hillman and Brian Heady on the ballot. This move, unless reversed, likely leaves the validity of the upcoming vote for three seats on the Vero City Council up to the courts. Only Councilman Tony Young, who is seeking re-election, voted to place the question of whether to hold a special election on the Oct. 16 City Council agenda for a public hearing. Young is a qualified candidate on the ballot, along with incumbent Council member Laura Moss, Vero Chamber of Commerce CEO Robert McCabe and Vero businessman and philanthropist Robbie Brackett. Councilman Lange Sykes is not seeking re-election. Hillman and Heady had been placed on the ballot that Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan sent to the printer on Sept. 17. But the next day the city’s legal team issued a statement declaring Heady and Hillman disqualified due to one missing signature in each of their election packets. Their names were then removed from the ballot. READ FULL STORY

Old guard makes late bid to thwart Vero electric sale
week of October 4, 2018

The sale of Vero Beach electric to Florida Power & Light might represent the city’s future, but next week’s hearing before the Florida Public Service Commission is starting to look like Throwback Tuesday, with former mayors Tom White and Jay Kramer filing testimony opposing the PSC’s approval of the sale. White and Kramer are probably the highest profile anti-sale voices from the past testifying to bolster the case of the Civic Association of Indian River County, which is objecting to the deal – though former councilman Ken Daige and longtime utilities committee member Herb Whittall are both set for cameo roles. The attorney representing the long moribund Civic Association is one-term councilwoman Lynne Larkin, so it will be like a big ol’ reunion in Tallahassee of all the people who fought selling their beloved electric utility for more than a decade. In his statement summary, Kramer says: “A higher public interest exists than merely the vague promise of lower rates, that of making an informed opinion based on facts.” READ FULL STORY

Cleveland takeover of hospital moves ahead
week of October 4, 2018

Even before this week’s final votes on a Cleveland Clinic takeover of Indian River Medical Center, the mood among leaders of the hospital and the Hospital District bordered on giddy. After multiple meetings about hundreds of pages of documents costing millions to arrive at over the past year and a half, a deal had been revealed a week ago that could define healthcare in Vero Beach for the next three-quarters of a century. The taxpayer-owned community hospital that has limped along financially for years at break-even or below appeared to have secured its future under the auspices of an internationally vaunted brand. Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital – the new name that has been selected – could be a reality by early 2019. “Just in time for the Vero Beach Centennial!” said Ann Marie McCrystal, a trustee who with her husband Dr. Hugh McCrystal has decades of history with the hospital. “Maybe we should put the agreement in the time capsule.” READ FULL STORY

Trial of accused killer of Diana Duve seen finally starting early in new year
week of October 4, 2018

More than four years after the gruesome murder of 26-year-old nurse Diana Duve, her one-time boyfriend Michael David Jones is expected to finally stand trial in early 2019. Jones, 35, is accused of strangling Duve, a resident of The Moorings, at his Vero townhouse, then putting her body in the trunk of her black Nissan Altima and driving to Melbourne where he abandoned the car in a Publix parking lot. Jones could face the death penalty if convicted. Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman and Assistant Public Defender Stanley Glenn, who is representing Jones, informed Judge Cynthia Cox during a Sept. 26 hearing that they are wrapping up the last witness interviews and are almost ready to start the trial. A Dec. 6 status hearing has been scheduled to determine if a trial date can be set. “The defense has deposed all witnesses and is waiting for the prosecution,” Glenn told Cox. “We’re ready.” READ FULL STORY

One local golfer to tee off in Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at Orchid Island Club
week of October 4, 2018

Bermuda Bay resident Laura Carson will be the lone local golfer in the 132-player field when she tees off in the 57th U.S Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, which starts Saturday at the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club. “It’s always harder to be the one – out there with everyone’s expectations and people rooting for you,” Carson said. “I experienced some of that a couple of weeks ago, during the qualifier at the Vero Beach Country Club. “You hear it, you feel it, and there’s pressure because you want to do well,” she added. “But I’m excited about it. This tournament is a big deal, and getting to play it in front of people you know can only add to the experience.” The same goes for her familiarity with Orchid Island’s Arnold Palmer-designed course, a picturesque layout that challenges golfers with water on 17 of 18 holes. Though she is a member at Bent Pine, Carson said she has played at Orchid Island four times in the past four months. Also, her husband, Bruce, was the club’s first head golf pro when the course opened in 1991. READ FULL STORY

Publix moving slowly ahead on north island supermarket
week of October 4, 2018

As of Monday, Publix still hadn’t submitted an application to build a much discussed shopping center in the southeast corner of Orchid, Town Manager Noah Powers said. However, a developer and engineering consultant hired by Publix has been communicating with Indian River County and Florida Department of Transportation officials regarding the traffic improvements needed to accommodate the proposed supermarket-anchored center on State Road 510. A Sept. 10 email sent to county officials by Jim Vitter of the Vero Beach office of Kimley-Horn & Associates – a planning, engineering and design firm – expressed concerns about the proposed installation of a westbound right-turn lane approaching the project’s eastern driveway, near the Jungle Trail. His concerns apparently stemmed from a Sept. 7 meeting with county and FDOT officials, as well as Craig Buchanan and Tom Murray of Orlando-based WindCrest Development Group, the firm hired by Publix to develop the property in preparation for construction. READ FULL STORY

Mardy Fish tennis tournament returning to Boulevard
week of October 4, 2018

Vero Beach’s annual pro tennis tournament is moving down the street – again. With a larger purse and stronger field of players, the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships are returning to The Boulevard Tennis Club after a two-year stay at Grand Harbor, where the wildly popular spring event was founded in 1995. “Up until a few weeks ago, we were planning on going back to Grand Harbor, but they’ve had a management change there, and they’ve changed their philosophy on what types of events they’re going to host,” said Windsor tennis director Tom Fish, who is chairman of the foundation created by his son, a former top-10 tennis player who grew up in Vero Beach. “The Boulevard has invited us back, and we’re excited to take the tournament back there,” he added. “The new ownership has really turned things around. Everything there, from the facilities to the programs, has improved so much in the past couple of years. READ FULL STORY

Vero man arrested for trying to sell homemade bomb
week of October 4, 2018

“Vietnam meets ISIS.” That’s how a 35-year-old Vero man described a homemade bomb he offered to sell to a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms undercover agent, according to federal court records. The bomb was “comparable” to the two pressure-cooker devices detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013, which killed three people and injured hundreds of others. Three weeks ago, a federal grand jury in Fort Pierce handed down an indictment charging Derek Matthew Condon with possession of unregistered firearms – two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and a silencer for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle – and the illegal transfer of a firearm, referring to the sale of the silencer. ATF Special Agent Seth Christy alleged in his report that Condon sold the silencer to the undercover agent for $300 on Aug. 30; during the same meeting Condon offered to sell the bomb for $1,200. The purchase was arranged by a confidential source who accompanied the agent to the garage at Condon’s home on 1600 block of 20th Avenue SW in Indian River County. READ FULL STORY

AT&T takes the lead in shores cellphone service
week of October 4, 2018

Indian River Shores cellphone customers with AT&T wireless service, including Mayor Tom Slater, now have four bars of signal indoors, an achievement more than 12 years in the making. “I can talk on my phone inside my house,” said Slater, a John’s Island resident who added that he also gets four bars of service inside the Town Council chambers now. “The dead spots up and down A1A where calls used to get dropped are gone.” Making sure calls got passed to and from the new tower from towers to the north, south and west is what engineers did in September, said Curt Jones, CEO of Datapath Tower, the firm that planned, permitted, marketed and built the tower. “It took a while to make sure all those handoffs were taking place,” Jones said. Verizon signed on first to lease the primo spot on the tower, but once the tower was finished AT&T jumped at extending fiberoptic cable already run to the Indian River Shores Public Safety Complex up to the tower and installing AT&T transmitters. READ FULL STORY

Hospital District to fund school violence prevention
week of October 4, 2018

The Hospital District last week performed a last-minute resuscitation of a program the board itself had asked to see developed: a school violence prevention and intervention program to be run in public high schools through the Mental Health Association. The program includes training for all ninth-graders as well as counseling for students deemed at-risk of harming themselves or others. It also provides for emotional support campus-wide after a traumatic event occurs. The $76,000 program had been in limbo for months, as District trustees debated whether the School Board should provide at least part of the funding. But in a last-minute appeal last week, the Mental Health Association’s clinical director, Jeanne Shepherd, pointed out schools are already providing support by making available their classrooms and teachers for the effort. “The school violence prevention intervention program addresses a growing problem that has been identified as critical throughout our nation,” said Trustee Ann Marie McCrystal who initially proposed to the MHA that they develop a program that the Hospital District could support. READ FULL STORY

Sea trout spawning sounds offer hope for lagoon
week of October 4, 2018

Vero Beach marine scientist Dr. Grant Gilmore was out on the lagoon last Tuesday night, wrapping up several months of research funded by a $25,000 grant from the Coastal Conservation Association. When he lowered an underwater microphone to the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon between Fort Pierce Inlet and the 17th Street bridge, he was happy with what he heard: The spotted sea trout were making some serious whoopee. Grant’s hydrophone picked up loud clickety-clacking, freight train-type noises some 10 feet below – signs that males and females were still enthusiastically propagating their species. "The sound is directly proportional to eggs in the water column – the more sounds, the more eggs," Gilmore, founder of Estuarine Coastal and Ocean Science (ECOS), told a small group of recreational anglers aboard Captain Paul Fafeita's pontoon boat. "It's a barometer of water quality – not just spawning." READ FULL STORY

Police: Boyfriend attacks woman in Golden Sands Park
week of September 27, 2018

It was a simple text message from a friend, but it allegedly drove a Vero Beach woman’s 25-year-old boyfriend into a fit of rage. He punched the woman repeatedly in the face, leaving her unconscious in a remote part of Golden Sands Beach Park the night of Sept. 17, according to the Sheriff’s Office. “I told you before I don’t want you receiving texts from anybody,” the man screamed as his girlfriend begged for mercy. “I don’t want you talking to anybody.” If it hadn’t been for a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer who was investigating an empty vehicle parked at the beach after hours, the victim, who was left partially buried in the sand, may have suffered a worse fate. The boyfriend, Michael Anthony Trampus, 25, returned to the parking lot alone as the FWC officer was running a license plate check on the vehicle, which was owned by the injured woman, according to Indian River County Sheriff’s Office reports. READ FULL STORY

Who’s going to fund school anti-violence program?
week of September 27, 2018

Last February, one day after the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Indian River County Hospital District trustees asked the director of the Mental Health Association, a service they fund, what they could do together to help prevent similar events. The MHA came back to the Hospital District in August with a three-tiered proposal: a violence prevention program for the county’s ninth graders, an intervention component if a student shows warning signs of violent intentions, and a protocol to deal with the aftermath of so-called critical events. But after hearing the MHA proposal, five of the seven Hospital District trustees chose to punt the program to the School Board. “I just think the funding should come from the School Board,” said Trustee Tracey Zudans. Four others on the seven-member Hospital Board appeared to agree. “The School Board’s a mess,” countered District Board chairwoman Marybeth Cunningham, shaking her head in frustration. It was she and fellow trustee Ann Marie McCrystal who had given the directive to the MHA earlier this year to develop a program. READ FULL STORY

Central lagoon in fair condition, but better than north or south
week of September 27, 2018

The first-ever health report card issued for the entire 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon shows that the stretch that runs through Indian River County is in fair-to-poor condition – better than the northern and southern portions, but with quite a way to go to achieve good health. “Things here aren’t as bad as everywhere else,” Dr. Leesa Souto, executive director of the Marine Resources Council, told a public meeting at the Environmental Learning Center in Vero Beach last week. “You have a ‘D.’ You can still pass. Don’t let it get any worse.” The report card, which was issued by the Marine Resources Council, took three years to produce and involved input from more than 60 lagoon scientists. It examines water quality and habitat data assembled from state and federal regulatory agencies’ monitoring stations from 1996 through 2016 in 10 regions from New Smyrna Beach south to Jupiter. Water quality scores for each region were calculated using four indicators: the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water; the amount of algae present; and the clarity of the water. Habitat scores of zero to 100 were based on seagrass cover. READ FULL STORY

Seagrass making slow recovery near Sebastian Inlet
week of September 27, 2018

Seagrass meadows that were devastated by cold weather and severe algae blooms between 2010 and 2012 are making a slow recovery in the vicinity of Sebastian Inlet. But propeller scars caused by careless boaters could compromise their progress. That's the preliminary finding of recent aerial photography and a fins-in-the-water survey commissioned by the Sebastian Inlet District. A comprehensive report will be released later this fall on the status of more than 100 acres of shallow lagoon bottom surveyed by marine ecologist Don Deis and his team from Atkins North America, an engineering and project management company. Meanwhile, “we’re at about 75 percent recovery since the die-off of 2012,” said Marty Smithson, Sebastian Inlet District Administrator. "It's gonna take a few more years to get back to where it was in 2009." Seagrass recovery is important because the underwater meadows are the foundation of the lagoon’s ecosystem, serving as a nursery for juvenile fish, habitat for shrimp and other marine creatures, and a food staple for manatees. READ FULL STORY

New push to finally solve Central Beach parking problem
week of September 27, 2018

Vero City Councilman Lange Sykes is frustrated with too much talk and too little action on the parking problem that plagues Ocean Drive businesses. He wants it solved this season. “I’ve only got three meetings left,” said Sykes, who is not running for another term on the City Council. “We need to get something done.” City officials over the past decade have discussed parking meters, kiosks, valet parking, bike sharing and even a municipal parking garage. Sykes urged City Manager Jim O’Connor to bring the best options together for the City Council on Oct. 4. “We need proposals – get the vendors in here next meeting,” Sykes said. O’Connor on Monday said he and Public Works Director Monte Falls – who will be filling in as city manager on the meeting day while O’Connor is out of state – quickly figured out that it would take too long for the vendors themselves to make presentations. “We hope to have four proposals to present to the council,” O’Connor said, adding that options include smartphone apps that set up a structure, collect fees and enforce parking. This can be done invisibly, without a kiosk, using the driver’s cellphone GPS, or with a kiosk that allows people to pay onsite without using the app. READ FULL STORY

Acupuncturist Jill Jaynes pleads not guilty to felony charges
week of September 27, 2018

Jill Jaynes, who ran the once-booming acupuncture clinic Absolute Integrated Medicine, has pled not guilty to multiple charges of fraud and racketeering in connection with the clinic’s operation. She is seeking a jury trial. Jaynes had been scheduled for arraignment on Wednesday, Sept. 26, but her attorney, Brooke Leigh Butler, filed a written not guilty plea with the court on Sept. 20. A trial date has not yet been set. Jaynes is facing charges that she conspired with others to defraud an insurance company by submitting false or incomplete information, illegally waived patient copayments and deductibles, and unlawfully paid others who referred patients for treatment. Butler has called the charges “inflated and exaggerated.” Neither Butler nor Jaynes could be reached for comment. County officials said Jaynes was attracting so many customers because she was waiving patient co-pays – essentially offering them free services, while billing the county and Florida Blue Cross Blue Shield, which insures county employees, for $1.5 million. She was arrested on Aug. 22 and charged with fraud and racketeering. READ FULL STORY

Sheriff’s Office says helicopters not flying more than usual
week of September 27, 2018

Local residents on Facebook – specifically, followers of the increasingly popular “Vero Beach Eyes and Ears Neighborhood Cyber Watch” page – might’ve noticed a growing buzz about more frequent sightings of Sheriff’s Office helicopters patrolling the county. But is there really more of a chopper buzz in the air? “It’s probably more perception than anything else,” said Lt. Lonnie Rich, head of the Sheriff’s Special Operations Section, which includes the Aviation Unit. “I monitor the hours, and we’re at 10 to 14 hours of flight time per week, unless we’re called out to assist road patrols. “That hasn’t changed in the six months that I’ve been in charge here.” Rich said any increase in reported sightings by residents likely can be attributed to the times of day the sheriff’s helicopters patrol the county, usually during the evening rush hour, when more people are outdoors or on the road. The helicopters also can be seen and heard throughout the day when they’re called out to assist road patrols during traffic stops gone wrong, high-speed chases, pursuit of fleeing suspects and other situations when an eye in the sky is needed. READ FULL STORY

Stay tuned for yet another bizarre Vero Beach election
week of September 27, 2018

If something kooky can happen in a local election, you can bet it will occur in Vero Beach, as illustrated by the on-again, off-again, on-again candidacies of Linda Hillman and Brian Heady. Over the past decade, Vero has had one sitting councilman removed via a court proceeding that considered evidence that included absence of a shower curtain at his supposed residence, his refrigerator contents and the observations of a neighbor’s barking Chihuahua. Then there was an effort to recall the mayor and vice mayor over issues related to religion, the invocation, and vacation rental violations. There was also an internal election for a replacement councilman in which the votes were tabulated incorrectly and the poor guy who was really the chosen candidate wasn’t the one seated. You can’t make this stuff up. If you’re keeping a scorecard, Hillman and Heady are back “on,” as of last Thursday, but their names were not on approximately 60 absentee ballots for the Nov. 6 election that had already been mailed overseas. READ FULL STORY