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IRMC becoming comprehensive stroke center
week of July 19, 2018

In a bold move, Indian River Medical Center has signed an exclusive contract with three highly specialized neurologists who worked previously at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center to turn the Vero Beach hospital into a comprehensive stroke center. This will be a rare and prestigious designation for a small community hospital, and to the credit of leaders here, the move was put in motion even before the Cleveland Clinic set out to acquire IRMC – a process that should be entering its final phase in a matter of weeks. The upgrade in stroke care at Indian River is bound to impact the stroke program at Lawnwood, even if it finds replacements for the doctors; there are only 800 physicians in the nation specializing in the interventional neurology, a service that must be offered around the clock, along with stroke critical care and advanced imaging, for a hospital to be designated a comprehensive stroke center. As the only such center until now along the Treasure Coast, Lawnwood has since 2016 regularly treated Indian River’s most severe cases of stroke. Before that, patients from Vero were transferred to Orlando’s Florida Hospital or Orlando Regional Medical Center or to St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach. READ FULL STORY

Sidewalk along Bethel Creek road draws few complaints
week of July 19, 2018

Despite some early resistance from homeowners who didn’t want their front yards disturbed, city officials say they have received few complaints about the new sidewalk being installed along Indian River Drive East and Live Oak Road, a continuous roadway with two names that curves from State Road A1A near Jaycee Park to Beachland Boulevard at the base of the Barber Bridge. In fact, Vero Beach City Councilman Val Zudans, who lives on Indian River Drive East, said his neighbors have told him they’re pleased with how the project is turning out. “Everyone I’ve talked to is happy,” Zudans said. “The city, and especially the workers, deserve a lot of credit. They’re doing an outstanding job. They’re paying attention to detail and making it look nice.” City Manager Jim O’Connor said the project, which began last month, should be complete by the end of August, when the newly built sections of sidewalk will connect with existing short stretches at each end of the residential road and provide a safe walkway through the picturesque island neighborhood. READ FULL STORY

Island panhandler takes midday break to ‘grab a cold beer’
week of July 19, 2018

Talking to a reporter last week at the southwest corner of Beachland Boulevard and State Road A1A, a chatty and well-equipped panhandler from Indiana wiped the sweat from his brow and asked, “Is it 1 o’clock yet?” Told that it was, he closed up his red and black umbrella, put away his cardboard “Help” sign, and prepared to depart the intersection on a bicycle loaded with his belongings. He said he was headed down the street – to Mulligan’s Beach House Bar & Grill. “Haven’t had much luck today and it’s really hot outside, so I think I’ll go grab a cold beer,” said the blond-haired man, who refused to give his name. “I’ll be back for the evening rush hour.” Later that afternoon, Vero Beach City Manager Jim O’Connor seemed perturbed when he learned of the exchange. “I’m glad he’s enjoying his stay here,” O’Connor said sarcastically. Then, his tone becoming more stern, he added, “It takes a lot of nerve for him to say what he said.” READ FULL STORY

Residents of The Shores worry about safety of reuse water pipeline
week of July 19, 2018

Residents of The Shores showed up at the July 10 County Commission meeting to ask commissioners for help in delaying construction of the $6 million, five-mile-long reuse water pipeline that is slated to run along the edge of their community. They said installation of the 16-inch diameter pipe, which is intended to carry a million gallons a day of county reuse water to John’s Island to irrigate golf courses and lawns, will endanger the Indian River Lagoon and their homes, and that the planning process for the project has been faulty. Commissioners admitted they had not been aware of cautionary information presented by residents but voted unanimously to move the project forward anyway, granting John’s Island Water Management District a construction easement it needed to proceed with the pipeline. The proposed pipe starts at the county’s reuse water tank at 77th Street and Old Dixie Highway, goes south along Dixie Highway and U.S. 1, and then east to the lagoon. It continues for another mile 80 feet below the lagoon and then runs along Old Winter Beach Road before bending south along A1A to reach John’s Island. READ FULL STORY

Court of appeals allows ‘pill mill’ evidence
week of July 19, 2018

State prosecutors recently strengthened their case against several defendants accused of running a “pill mill” in Vero Beach. The Fourth District Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling and found police work done by a local sheriff’s deputy outside his jurisdiction was admissible. The order usurps Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Cox’s earlier determination that Maj. Eric Flowers, then a narcotics detective with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, was acting out of bounds when he secured search warrants for defendants’ property in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Florida statue has no requirement that someone who applies for a warrant be an officer of the law, therefore jurisdiction is not relevant, opined Judge Spencer Levine. Appeals Court Justices Burton Conner and Alan Forst concurred. “The statutes merely require the affiant be ‘some person’ or ‘some credible person,’” they wrote, comparing the issue to police officers making a citizen’s arrest outside their jurisdiction. “The officer did not violate the ‘under color of office’ doctrine because he relied on evidence lawfully obtained,” they said. READ FULL STORY

State will withhold $2.1 million from School District
week of July 19, 2018

Because the School District gave the state incorrect numbers and other faulty information over the past several years, the Florida Department of Education has decided to withhold $2.1 million from the support it provides annually to Indian River County schools. The state auditor found the School District claimed to be transporting 117 more students on school buses in 2015-2016 than actually was the case, resulting in decision to withhold approximately $625,000 in state funds, according to a presentation given by Assistant Superintendent of Finance Carter Morrison during budget workshops. “Noncompliance related to student transportation resulted in 10 [negative audit] findings and a proposed net adjustment of negative 117 students,” the Auditor General’s report states. A second loss of state money was related to career tech education. For two years in a row, in 2015 and 2016, the Auditor General chided the district for not expending its adult career tech or “Workforce Education Programs” funding, and for having no plan for the money provided by the state. READ FULL STORY

PSC: Vero got ‘extraordinary’ price for utility
week of July 12, 2018

The Florida Public Service Commission finally issued its long-awaited Proposed Agency Action order last week. The document’s conclusion codifies the Commission’s 3-2 vote approving the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light, but the dissenting opinion of PSC Chairman Art Graham runs thick through 16 pages of tortured explanations. Typically, when the PSC staff recommends an action and commissioners align with that recommendation, the detailed order formalizing and justifying the vote is relatively streamlined. It says, here’s what we did and why. But this time around, with Graham and Commissioner Donald Polmann staunchly opposed to FPL absorbing $116 million in costs that consultants said were in excess of the nuts-and-bolts value of the Vero electric system and its 34,000 customers, the PAA order clearly reflects both the prevailing and the dissenting points of view. City Manager Jim O’Connor, a 40-year veteran of local government and now a seven-year warrior in the effort to sell Vero electric, calls the vote and the order a win – even if it’s not a pretty one. “I look at the bottom line,” O’Connor said Monday. “We are good to go with the PSC endorsement and no, nothing surprises me in this process.” READ FULL STORY

Controversy erupts at Moorings over beach path closure
week of July 12, 2018

Nearly 100 Moorings year-round residents have signed an online petition “demanding a temporary path to the beach” be provided by the homeowners’ association, which closed off the community access to the sea a month and a half ago while two tiki huts adjacent to the entrance ramp are being renovated. However, the president of the Moorings Property Owners Association said the beach access was closed for safety reasons and will remain closed for at least a couple more weeks – and possibly through the end of summer. “We’re relying on our contractor – licensed professionals – and they’re telling us it’s not safe to keep the beach open while they’re doing the work,” MPOA president Clint Black said. “They understand what we’re going through, and they’re under instruction to let me know when it’s safe. “People are complaining, and I understand why, but I can’t ignore their advice,” he added. “The last thing we want is for some kid to get a nail in his foot or to have someone trip and get hurt.” READ FULL STORY

Windsor Park Residences bring iconic island community closer to build-out
week of July 12, 2018

With the completion of 12 new condo residences this month, Windsor – an internationally known club community toward the northern end of the island with amenities that range from its art gallery to its polo facilities – moves one substantial step closer to being built-out. Founded in 1989, the 425-acre ocean-to-river community is mostly developed. A 47-acre parcel north of the new Windsor Park Residences is the last remaining piece of raw land, and the developer plans to start the entitlement process for that property within the next six to 12 months. “The village is almost entirely built out and the south village is not far from complete,” says Mark Justice, Windsor’s vice president of construction and development. “The north property is the last area left to complete at Windsor. We should be ready to close sales on that property in about 18 months.” Justice did not say what type of homes will be built on the north property, but a carefully designed, world-class product that blends with Windsor’s existing Anglo-Caribbean architecture can be assumed, based on the history of the iconic club community. READ FULL STORY

Prosecutor: Vero surgeon in drug case to ‘die in prison’
week of July 12, 2018

FORT LAUDERDALE – Milling around outside a federal courtroom after Vero Beach surgeon Johnny Benjamin was told he’d serve life in prison for the death of a young woman who took pills he illegally distributed, the woman’s family breathed a sigh of relief. But questions quickly followed. Family members asked Assistant U.S. Attorney John McMillan if it was possible Benjamin’s sentence could be overturned on appeal and, if the sentence stood, whether he would ever see the light of freedom again. McMillan, a confident prosecutor who helped secure the harshest possible sentence for Benjamin – life on two counts with an additional 20 years on remaining charges – told the family that, while Benjamin would most definitely file an appeal, his chances of success were minimal. “This was an extremely solid trial,” McMillan said. Regarding the possibility of the disgraced doctor ever being released, McMillan said, “‘Life’ literally means ‘life’.” He told family members they can expect Benjamin to die in prison unless the case is overturned. READ FULL STORY

Whole Family Health rescinds job offer to proposed CEO
week of July 12, 2018

The search for a new CEO is back on at Whole Family Health Center. The clinic’s first choice for the post, which had been announced to board members and staff, was nixed after he was found to be the target of an active investigation by the West Virginia State Police for possible embezzlement. Brian Crist, who in March resigned his post as CEO with Lincoln Primary Care Center, a 16,000-patient low-cost health system in southeast West Virginia, told Whole Family officials about the investigation during the interview process, minimizing its significance. But he did not make clear the investigation was still open, according to Whole Family board chairman Stephan Trooboff. That news, reported last week by Vero Beach 32963, caused the board to rescind its job offer to Crist, who had been scheduled to start July 30. In resuming its search, Whole Family Health is hoping to find a leader with experience in managing a federally qualified health center. FQHCs receive sizeable federal grants. Here in Indian River County, Treasure Coast Community Health is an FQHC. READ FULL STORY

Vero summer getaway: Field trip to the Bahamas
week of July 12, 2018

The Vero Marine Center’s “Grady Bunch” – a growing group of customers who purchased their Grady White boats from the Royal Palm Pointe dealer – is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its first trip to the Bahamas in a big way. “It’s a record-breaker,” said Vero Marine co-owner Brian Cunningham, who led the nautical conga line of 17 Grady Whites that departed Friday morning from Vero Beach’s Memorial Island for a two-week island excursion with stops at five Bahamian ports of call. “We’ve been averaging 10 or 12 boats on these trips, but it’s been a big year for boating,” he added. “So not only do we have more boats going, but we also will have a record number of people.” Cunningham, who has missed only one of the club’s annual Bahamas cruises, said 64 of the boating club’s more than 200 members signed up for this year’s trip, “if you include those who fly in and fly out” because they can’t commit to the entire 14 days. READ FULL STORY

Whole Family Health’s hunt for CEO stalls
week of July 5, 2018

What was to have been another leap forward in the high-growth trajectory of Whole Family Health Center – the hiring of both a new CEO and a new CFO – will be a smaller step for the moment after West Virginia State Police told Vero Beach 32963 last week that the man selected to be CEO, Brian Crist, remains the subject of a multi-month investigation. The hiring of Crist, which had been announced to staff and board members and was slated to become effective July 30, was subsequently placed “on hold,” according to Whole Family Health’s board chairman, Stephan Trooboff. Capt. Reginald Patterson told Vero Beach 32963 that as the result of its investigation, apparently triggered by the Board of Directors of the rural West Virginia healthcare system he led, a search warrant had been served in March on Crist’s home and office. Patterson declined to provide any details of what they were looking for, but said the investigation was continuing and “a press release will follow at the appropriate time.” READ FULL STORY

Owner sought of second ‘derelict’ sailboat in lagoon
week of July 5, 2018

A second partially sunken boat in the Indian River Lagoon in Vero Beach – this one, between the city’s two bridges – has been declared a “derelict vessel” by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, which was still trying to locate the owner last weekend. Another larger boat that caught fire and foundered south of the 17th Street Bridge under somewhat mysterious circumstances was declared derelict in May. Lt. Dustin Lightsey, who oversees FWC patrols of the waters in Indian River and southern Brevard counties, said the second sailboat has been placed in the agency’s database and that a “diligent investigation” was ongoing. Lightsey said the owner, once located, will be issued a citation for abandoning a derelict vessel – under Florida law, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. “After that’s accomplished,” Lightsey said, “the vessel will be posted with a sticker and the 45-day count to removal will begin.” READ FULL STORY

County voters get to choose new judges
week of July 5, 2018

Indian River County voters will have the opportunity to choose new judicial officials in August as they consider candidates to replace retiring county and circuit court judges. Six candidates are vying for two spots – the Hon. Robert Pegg’s seat on the circuit court bench, where serious felony cases are decided, and the Hon. Joe Wild’s seat in county court, which rules on traffic tickets, landlord/tenant disputes and other less serious matters. Among the contenders for the two positions are an openly gay former prosecutor, a corporate lawyer turned public defender and a Haitian woman who was the first African-American judge ever to preside in the 19th Judicial Circuit. This year’s county judge race has seen three times more funds raised than for any other county office, according to the Division of Elections’ online database. The primary election is Aug. 28 and already some $176,000 has been raised by the candidates competing for the judicial vacancy. In contrast, the second-most-funded contest, the fight for the District 4 spot on the Indian River County School Board, has seen only $57,000 in contributions. READ FULL STORY

Vero moves to get old sewer plant off lagoon
week of July 5, 2018

After 60 years of having a wastewater treatment plant on the shore of the Indian River Lagoon at 17th Street, the City of Vero Beach has taken the first steps to construct a new plant at the airport and dismantle the aging waterside facility, freeing up valuable riverfront land and eradicating a smelly eyesore that has been a notable flaw in Vero’s cityscape. The council authorized Water and Sewer Utility Director Rob Bolton to commission initial engineering work, which will take about 90 days. In November, the project should be in the financial planning stage, Bolton said, with a proposal coming back to the council for a vote in December. Mayor Harry Howle has been working on the issue with Bolton for almost four years. “It’s time, obviously,” Howle said, “to get an industrial eyesore off the river.” Howle said he spoke to Indian River County officials about the idea of the county taking Vero’s waste into its own system and, in his opinion, that’s not a mutually beneficial solution. “In my mind, that ask is over,” Howle said, adding that it’s neither the county’s fault nor the city’s fault that a workable deal could not be reached. READ FULL STORY

Suspense mounts as Vero and the Shores wait on electric ruling
week of July 5, 2018

A formal ruling of the Florida Public Service Commission approving the $185 million sale of Vero electric to Florida Power & Light that first was supposed to be published by mid-June, and then by June 25, has yet to materialize and those closely following the matter don’t seem to know why. The PSC in Tallahassee voted 3-2 on June 5 to permit the sale and allow FPL to charge Vero customers low FPL rates, despite expert testimony that Vero customers should pay a surcharge up to $116 million, because FPL is paying above the book value of the Vero system. Like a court, the Public Service Commission articulates its rationale for an action in a written ruling, which typically is issued about 10 days after a vote. Once that ruling or order is published, parties with standing who wish to challenge the decision have 21 days to do so, or the order becomes final. Vero Mayor Harry Howle, upon hearing nothing four days past the PSC’s published “due date” for the order on June 25, called FPL executives in search of an answer. He said FPL Director of External Affairs Amy Brunjes told him, “Not yet. Will call you the minute I know.” READ FULL STORY

School Board member resents advice on reducing legal fees
week of July 5, 2018

After School Board Member Dale Simchick publicly chided Audit Committee Chairman Bob Auwaerter at a recent meeting for offering advice on how to reduce the district’s legal fees, Auwaerter, who serves without compensation, said he is now unlikely to serve on the committee again. Auwaerter, who chaired the audit committee for a year, brought valuable expertise to the volunteer position. He grew investment company Vanguard’s fixed-income fund from $1.3 billion to $750 billion during his 32-year career with the company, which is just shy of the Netherlands’ yearly gross domestic product. Prior to his chairmanship, the audit committee had been inactive since 2012. It was revived by the School Board in response to a $7 million deficit in the health insurance fund. Each School Board member appointed a committee member. Currently, the School Board pays its outside general counsel Suzanne D’Agresta $264,000 a year in retainer fees and about $20,000 a year for travel, online research, photocopies and postage. The last time the board sought competitive bids for its legal work was in 2012. Three law firms bid at the time, but D’Agresta, who did not submit a bid, was retained at the same rate. READ FULL STORY

County seeks to ban bio-sludge polluting Blue Cypress Lake
week of July 5, 2018

With scientists increasingly alarmed that bio-sludge is polluting Blue Cypress Lake while the Florida Department of Environmental Protection sits on its hands, Indian River County is crafting an ordinance to ban its use in farming. Several environmental groups and state agencies believe bio-sludge – treated human waste loaded with nitrogen and other chemicals – that’s being spread on fields in Indian River County is feeding toxic algae blooms in Blue Cypress Lake, a water body remote from urban areas that has been environmentally pristine until very recently. Dr. Eddie Widder of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, Dr. Richard Baker, head of Pelican Island Audubon Society, and St. Johns River Water Management District believe the human waste, which other counties are legally dumping here, is contributing to algae blooms in the lake. But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which issues permits that allow bio-sludge to be spread on agricultural land as fertilizer, maintains the sludge is not harming the lake. “As I am sure you know, the sources of excess nutrients in a waterbody can include many sources, such as water treatment plant discharges, stormwater runoff, septic tanks, and fertilizer runoff from both urban and agricultural lands,” said FDEP spokesperson Dee Ann Miller. READ FULL STORY