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Vero mayor opposed to partial sale of electric customers
week of May 14, 2015

Indian River Shores’ officials still hope Florida Power and Light comes up with a cash figure that will tempt Vero Beach to avoid a court fight by selling off the Town’s electric customers and equipment to Florida Power & Light. But unless he backs down, Mayor Dick Winger will lead the fight against any such partial sale. Emphasizing that such an action could only be regarded as taken under duress, Winger said he viewed any effort to carve the Shores’ 3,000 high-end ratepayers out of Vero Electric’s 33,000-customer base as akin to a “short sale.” “I made it very clear that at least I would never vote for any agreement, including a partial sale, which would be unfair to any group, whether it’s Indian River Shores or the people of Vero Beach or the people outside the city,” Winger said. Winger said FPL would need to “add a zero” at the end of any of the dollar amounts tossed about so far, and even if that happened, he still wouldn’t go for it. READ FULL STORY


Vet trying to get pet from Humane Society jailed
week of May 14, 2015

A popular Vero veterinarian was handcuffed by a sheriff’s deputy and hauled off to jail Monday when she accompanied her assistant to the Humane Society to get the assistant’s dog, which had been picked up by Animal Control while running loose Friday. Humane Society director Chalmers Morse and Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Whittington agreed that veterinarian Sara Mathews was “not creating a disturbance” in the lobby of the Humane Society, but she was nevertheless arrested for trespassing when she insisted on staying with assistant Sylvie Johnson, the dog’s owner. “The owner of the dog and the animal control officer needed to talk without Sara in the middle,” said Morse, who described Mathews as “not jumping up and down but, in my opinion, unpleasant.” “Dr. Sara wasn’t unpleasant; she didn’t say one word,” said Johnson. READ FULL STORY


Will limiting cars curb weekend event rentals?
week of May 14, 2015

In response to homeowner complaints about short-term vacation rentals from Ambersand Beach in the north to Round Island Beach in the south, county administrators unveiled a draft ordinance to limit the number of cars at the rental properties at the commission meeting last week. In essence, the proposed ordinance, geared to control crowds at rental properties, said that no more than five cars can be parked outside a garage or carport at a short-term rental in the unincorporated area of the county. After a 48-hour warning, the property owner will be fined $50 for each car over the limit. But as soon as the new parking policy was explained by community development director Stan Boling, questions arose among commissioners and audience members whether limiting cars would actually solve the problem. Commissioners acknowledged that for events – weddings, reunions, parties – renters could use shuttle buses or limos to ferry guests in and out, which would allow dozens and dozens of people to be at the homes and make it even more likely that noise and excess garbage would disturb neighbors. READ FULL STORY


New Hampton Inn off to strong start on Vero’s Miracle Mile
week of May 14, 2015

A big U-Haul truck pulled into the parking lot of the brand-new Hampton Inn & Suites across from Miracle Mile in Vero Beach, and three young men jumped out and began unloading the back. Among the items: Huge leather suitcases – most of them designer. Laptops, earphones and speakers. See-through plastic chests packed with jars of cayenne, coriander, and teabags. Scenes like this are what have Hampton Inn owners Frank Christy and Keith Kite, both long-time Vero Beach residents, predicting that their new hotel, which opened a few weeks ago, will be a huge success. “Every room is taken this weekend,” Kite said a week ago, pointing out that the young men unloading the U-Haul and their friends in rental cars, not far behind, recently booked 20 rooms for the next six months. “We are from Dubai training at Flight Safety to become commercial pilots for Emirates Airlines,” explained one of the young men. Add to that 60 more rooms taken by young women playing in the junior college softball tournament at Dodgertown and their families, and 10 more rooms taken by people in town for business meetings, as well as several rooms occupied by people visiting relatives, and the hotel’s 90 rooms were all occupied over several weekends. READ FULL STORY


President of firefighters union relieved of duty
week of May 14, 2015

As if the county and its firefighters union don’t have enough to fight about, now the union president has filed a grievance over not being allowed to return to work after seeking treatment for exposure to toxic mold. The county is forcing the union president to use up his sick leave instead. Firefighters had been working without a contract and both sides recently increased the pressure on the other to settle ongoing disputes over wages, benefits and other working conditions. More than 50 Indian River County firefighters have submitted workers’ compensation insurance claims for toxic mold exposure allegedly sustained in leaky fire stations and about a quarter of them have already tested positive for mold-related toxins in their blood. READ FULL STORY


Moorings members back purchase of Hawk’s Nest
week of May 14, 2015

As Hawk's Nest Golf Club members decide this week which of three offers to accept for the purchase of the 300-acre property, residents of The Moorings, which has put in one of the three bids, already have expressed rousing support for the acquisition. "We have been informed by the balloting committee that we now have a quorum and an overwhelming positive response in all four membership categories – full, golf, tennis and social," Moorings president Joe Vargas wrote in an email to the club's members last week. "To date, 90 percent have responded favorably." Members at The Moorings began voting two weeks ago and will continue to do so this week. If its bid is chosen as the winning one, the club will embark on its due diligence in June, Vargas wrote. Hawk's Nest members, meanwhile, began voting on the bids Monday and are expected to conclude balloting by the week's end. Competing with The Moorings in the bidding are the Heritage Golf Group and a three-man team of Hawk's Nest members who want to take over the club's operations just long enough to rebuild its withering membership and bolster its financial health, then sell it back to the members. READ FULL STORY


Mediation fails; litigation’s next for Shores, Vero
week of May 7, 2015

The Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach are headed to court later this month over disputes centering around Vero’s electric utility, but Shores officials still hope Vero will accept an offer from Florida Power and Light to purchase the roughly 3,000 customers in the town now on the Vero system. During a mediation session on Friday, Shores’ rate consultant Terry Deason laid out what the Shores is offering up as the benefits of a partial sale to Vero’s ratepayers and taxpayers. FPL officials have not yet put forth the price they’d be willing to pay, but Vice President of External Affairs Amy Brunjes said she expects to have a firm number in the coming weeks. Vero’s attorney Robert Scheffel “Schef” Wright said the city would certainly consider FPL’s forthcoming offer, but that all the ramifications of a partial sale of the Shores customers and assets would need to be vetted through Vero’s Finance Commission, Utilities Commission, its consultants and its Finance Director. To accomplish this, Shores officials agreed to give Vero an extra 30 days to file a response to the Circuit Court lawsuit, pushing that date to roughly July 4. READ FULL STORY


Beachside retailers press city over parking spaces
week of May 7, 2015

In some ways, it seemed like an unusual take-charge rebellion of 20 Central Beach retail store owners last Thursday evening at Stringer Gallery. The scene was more reminiscent of an opening exhibition at a gallery than of a spontaneous coming-together of angry merchants – which it was. Gallery owners John Stringer and Caesar Mistretta greeted everyone at the door with large crystal goblets of chilled chardonnay and ushered participants to cushy sofas and chairs, where they sat in designer finery under mellow lighting. But despite the tone of laid-back civility among these owners of high-end beach stores – ranging from Cooper and Co. to Gaston Private Jeweler and Mays and Hoffman – they were anything but mellow. They were there, they said, because they are fed up with losing customers because of the lack of available parking in Central Beach. First off, they formed a new retail association to meet their needs. READ FULL STORY


2 a.m. closing for Vero bars will be made permanent
week of May 7, 2015

Vero Beach bars will be able to stay open until 2 a.m. for the foreseeable future, after the City Council on Tuesday directed staff to draft an ordinance that will make the late closing time part of the permanent city code. The 2 a.m. cutoff for bar hours was instituted on a one-year trial basis last May and would have expired on June 15 if the Council had not acted. The prior closing time was 1 a.m. When the Vero Beach City Council instituted the 2 a.m. closing time last May, the city did so with the caveat that the council members would review the fallout of the decision in a year. Now it’s time to take the matter back up. Police Chief David Currey and his staff reviewed a year’s worth of statistics for calls for service, DUIs and incidents related directly to 13 drinking establishments in the city that have enough late-night traffic to warrant staying open until 2 a.m. READ FULL STORY


Friday’s electric showdown a waste of time
week of April 30, 2015

The showdown between the City of Vero Beach and Indian River Shores officials Friday was the culmination of a total waste of the two months since the Shores gave Vero more time to reduce electric rates, or conjure up a magic cure to resuscitate the dead utility sale to Florida Power and Light. Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot said on Feb. 26, when the two-month truce was agreed upon, that – though he didn’t expect to avoid proceeding with the lawsuit that the Shores filed against Vero last July – he genuinely hoped the city would reduce rates in an effort to appease the Shores. In a display bordering on naiveté, Shores officials even suggested that Vero might, as a show of good faith, reduce its annual $5.6 million skim from the bills of all Vero electric customers, even those outside the city limits, into the general fund of the city of Vero Beach. Nothing like that happened. READ FULL STORY


Vero lifeguards seek greater police presence on beaches
week of April 30, 2015

The Vero Beach Lifeguard Association has managed in recent years to get the basic tools lifeguards need to protect the city’s beachgoers, but they say there are a few things they still need – priority one being more police protection. South Beach lifeguard Erik Toomsoo told the City Council last week that lifeguards are increasingly burdened with tasks that might better be handled by police officers. He said the city’s beaches are very popular with locals and tourists alike, and with the additional volume of beach patrons is coming a “party atmosphere” where drinking alcohol and bringing dogs to the beach is causing problems. Tending to unruly drunks and untethered dogs distracts lifeguards from scanning the waters for hazards and for swimmers in distress. Though the Vero Beach Police Department has a significant presence in the beach zone and up and down Ocean Drive, especially during busy times, lifeguards want them actually on the beach on ATVs. READ FULL STORY


Moorings presses Hawk’s Nest bid
week of April 30, 2015

The Moorings Yacht & County Club’s Board of Governors, in an effort to show “we are serious bidders,” has moved up a vote on the proposal to acquire the Hawk’s Nest Golf Club from November to a month from now. In a letter emailed to Moorings members last week, club president Joe Vargas explained that the previously scheduled November vote would not fit the timetable set by Hawk’s Nest, which has received three offers to purchase the 300-acre property. Rescheduling the vote to June 1, Vargas wrote, would “validate our desire to acquire Hawk’s Nest” and “put us in a competitive position” with the other bidders. But will it? Or will June be too late? Hawk’s Nest members are expected to vote in May – perhaps as soon as the next couple of weeks – on which offer to accept. READ FULL STORY


FMPA brass scolded by members for meeting no-show
week of April 30, 2015

Members of the Florida Joint Legislative Audit Committee are not the only ones incensed that the two top officials of the Florida Municipal Power Agency failed to appear in Tallahassee last month for a hearing on the agency’s much-publicized audit findings. At the latest board meeting in Orlando, key FMPA board members railed at CEO Nick Guarriello and General Counsel Fred Bryant not only for bailing on the Tallahassee meeting, but also for not telling them that legislators had specifically summoned them to testify. Kissimmee Utility Authority Vice President of Power Supply Larry Mattern had asked to speak on the FMPA’s epic failure in Tallahassee. “That we chose not to have Nick and Fred there, I personally take that as a very difficult pill to swallow,” Mattern said near the end of the recent meeting. “We were not told that Nick and Fred were requested to be there.” READ FULL STORY


Exclusive Interview: Tulsa deputy who shot man dreams of returning to Vero
week of April 23, 2015

As soon as Tulsa, Oklahoma, volunteer reserve deputy Bob Bates shot his Taser at a suspect, the Vero Beach snowbird said he knew something was terribly wrong. There was so much recoil that the weapon bounced out of his hand to the ground. He knew instantly, he said, that he had fired his revolver by mistake.Bates, a 73-year-old wealthy white man serving as a pro bono reserve deputy, had shot fleeing African-American suspect Eric Harris, 43, in the back, killing him. Bates’ action on the morning of April 2 – coming on the heels of a spate of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers – immediately made national news. Within days, the part-time Grand Harbor resident, who calls Vero Beach his “favorite place in the world,” was charged with second degree manslaughter. READ FULL STORY


Will police visits, bigger fines curb short-term rentals?
week of April 23, 2015

In a beefed-up effort to curb short-term rentals, uniformed police are now accompanying code enforcement officers who visit residences to see if they are being rented in violation of a Vero Beach ordinance that says the rentals cannot be for fewer than 30 days. When barrier island residents met recently to learn about the involvement of Vero Beach police, city police chief David Currey and public information officer Anna Carden told them that a $500 a day fine is now in effect for those who have already been given a warning. Rental owners who show code enforcement officers that they have contracts already in place for the next three months will be given a 90-day grace period before being fined, as long as they sign an agreement saying they will stay in compliance after the 90 days, explained city attorney Wayne Coment. If they sign the agreement and stay compliant, they won’t be fined. READ FULL STORY


Vero could face power crisis in 2020
week of April 23, 2015

New regulations severely limiting coal-fired electric generation in Florida could leave the City of Vero Beach out scrambling to buy power in a very unfavorable market as early as 2020. In an effort to get electric rates down and secure peaking power to enable Big Blue to be mothballed, Vero officials and their lead utilities attorney Robert Scheffel “Schef” Wright have been working to renegotiate the 2008 power supply contract with the Orlando Utilities Commission that runs through 2029. The proposed new deal would let OUC exit the contract without penalty as early as 2020 – the same year the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to clamp down on coal, requiring a reduction in coal utilization by 90 percent to cut carbon emissions by 35 percent. READ FULL STORY


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