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Will curbing travel from hotspots help keep COVID-19 at bay?
week of April 2, 2020

Florida, faced with a mounting coronavirus crisis in South Florida yet nearly half its counties relatively unscathed by COVID-19, started the week by opting to “thread the needle” – seeking to protect Floridians while keeping the economy as open as possible. Instead of subjecting all of Florida’s 22 million residents to veritable house arrest for weeks, Gov. Ron DeSantis declined to issue the type of lock-down orders imposed by 30 other states, but partitioned off South Florida trouble spots for the restrictions of a “Safer at Home” order. That does not apply to Indian River County, even though Monday brought us the highest number of new COVID-19 cases here yet – five, raising the pandemic total for this area to 25 with three hospitalizations and no deaths. That compared to a Monday total of 5,704 cases and 71 deaths for all of Florida, with Miami and Fort Lauderdale accounting for about half. To deter tourists and part-time residents from bringing more coronavirus to low-exposure areas like Vero from COVID-19 hotspots like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana, DeSantis ordered the National Guard and state troopers to stop those travelers at airports and highway checkpoints. READ FULL STORY


County’s first responders have sufficient personal protective equipment for now
week of April 2, 2020

It was a close call. Indian River County Fire-Rescue was down to its last week of N95 masks, gowns, suits, goggles, face shields and other personal protective equipment (PPE) when a shipment arrived last Thursday. But it was only a temporary fix, as it takes a lot of equipment to protect a force of nearly 250 firefighters, paramedics and EMTs, and to have enough to share with other agencies and healthcare professionals. But every agency in Indian River County that needs the equipment has it right now, Chief Tad Stone said. “Statewide there is a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment, but we have sufficient stocks in house today to take us for about the next week and a half to two weeks,” Stone said last Friday. “We got an order yesterday and those are being distributed primarily through the adult living facilities and to the nursing homes throughout the county because they are at the critical shortage right now. We also sent some out to our first-responder agencies and so they have adequate supply.” READ FULL STORY


Piper Aircraft steps up to manufacture face shields needed by Cleveland Clinic
week of April 2, 2020

Piper Aircraft executives already were discussing ways the Vero Beach-based company might be able to ease the shortage of personal protective equipment needed by local healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic when the call came from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital President Greg Rosencrance. He wanted their help. “Funny you should call,” Piper President and CEO Simon Caldecott told him last week. “We’re working on some- thing right now – a prototype for a face shield.” The prototype, designed by Piper’s engineering team, was built using off-the-shelf production materials, such as sheets of clear plastic, industrial tape, foam and elastic. The face shield then was sent to the hospital for evaluation and approval by medical technicians, who made sure the protective device met federal Centers for Disease Control standards. Before the week was through, Piper had assigned a team of workers to a separate manufacturing line at its local factory and begun mass-producing the shields, the first 2,000 of which were scheduled to be delivered to the hospital earlier this week. READ FULL STORY


Behavioral Health Center facing new tests in pandemic
week of April 2, 2020

With emotions on edge, happy hours on hold, finances imperiled and health on the line, even the sunniest dispositions can turn stormy, or worse. Last week, Sheriff Deryl Loar announced an uptick in domestic violence in the county, and there are fears that reports of increased child abuse can’t be far behind. For those with mental or behavioral disorders, conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic pose even more difficult challenges, potentially setting off or adding to suffering that in the best of times requires professional help to manage. “It might exacerbate a current condition,” said Anne Posey, director of the Behavioral Health Center, an inpatient mental health treatment facility across the street from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital that has just been renovated and upgraded. Built in the 1980s and now run by Cleveland Clinic, the 46-bed center is a critical cog in the county’s mental health system. As part of the hospital, it is the county’s only designated Baker Act receiving facility, able to take those children and adults deemed a danger to themselves or others for brief stays under a law that can mandate inpatient mental health treatment with or without the patient’s consent. READ FULL STORY


Hotel space offered to hospital if extra rooms needed
week of April 2, 2020

Keith Kite was mowing his lawn when an idea came to him: With fears of hospitals reaching capacity in the COVID-19 pandemic, why not offer the use of three hotels he manages to Cleveland Clinic Indian River, should they need space for patients or caregivers? Last week, Kite emailed the hospital president Dr. Greg Rosencrance; Jason Brown, county administrator; and Miranda Hawker, head of the county’s Health Department. “We wish to extend our hotel properties to you in your planning and response to COVID-19 here in Indian River County,” Kite proposed. “We have three properties here in the county with very close proximity to Cleveland Clinic that are all well suited for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, patient friends or relatives, caregivers, and first responders,” he wrote. By Friday morning, according to Kite, hospital officials were supposed to be reviewing the concept. “Dr. Rosencrance replied to me and said they were very, very appreciative and they were going to put it in their logistical capability.” READ FULL STORY


Island real estate market remains active despite coronavirus
week of April 2, 2020

While the island is quieter than normal for this time of year, real estate brokers are still showing homes, writing sales contracts and closing deals – all while taking COVID-19 very seriously and operating in ways that keep agents, staff and clients safe. “We are doing business,” says Marsha Sherry, broker at The Moorings Realty Sales Company. “The phone is still ringing, and we are still getting new listings. People know this is temporary.” “Buyers want to buy, and sellers want to sell,” says Buzz MacWilliam, broker at Alex MacWilliam real estate. “We aren’t seeing any panic among our clients.” As of March 26, MacWilliam’s long-established Island firm had written 30 new sales contracts during the month of March. That was down from a company record of 60 contracts in February, but still a substantial amount of business. “The market hasn’t dried up,” MacWilliam says. “It is still there.” “Our business has been holding up relatively well considering the circumstances,” says Dale Sorensen Jr., managing partner at Dale Sorensen Real Estate, noting that his family’s company closed more than $65 million in sales in Indian River County between March 1 and March 28. READ FULL STORY


United Way leads response of nonprofits to COVID-19
week of April 2, 2020

The nonprofit community of Indian River County is taking the disorder created by the COVID-19 pandemic in stride. The message of the men and women who work each day to provide basic necessities to those who need them most is to keep calm and carry on. Business is being conducted in a slightly different fashion, but Indian River County is fortunate to already have the structure in place to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. “We’ve got good networks of funding sources and distribution channels established based on our regular work together with other funders in the community,” says Jeffery Pickering, Indian River Community Foundation President and CEO. “We go through this exercise every year. We’ve got a funding network that’s already primed for doing this kind of activity during hurricane season.” As recent events unfolded and some businesses were forced to shut down, it soon became apparent that Indian River County would feel the impact of this worldwide crisis. The United Way of Indian River County, the Indian River Community Foundation and other funders sprang into action to handle unmet needs related to COVID-19. READ FULL STORY


Vero comes late to the pandemic
week of March 26, 2020

When Dr. Gerald Pierone’s office spoke by phone with a patient in his concierge practice complaining of respiratory symptoms, staff booked a follow-up for her this past Monday morning. Florida had uncovered its first two COVID-19 patients two weeks earlier. But the visit caught Pierone off guard. As he stepped into the exam room, he quickly realized she could be contagious and left to grab protective gear. Turns out she was. Last Thursday, the swab he took showed positive for COVID-19. Pierone, an infectious disease specialist who has worked with thousands of HIV/AIDS patients for more than three decades, is now self-isolating with his family. Until that moment, Indian River County appeared blissfully coronavirus-free – enough that just as the patient was getting sicker and sicker, the Vero Beach Art Club was going forward with its huge Under the Oaks art festival, planning for 50,000 people – until the city’s police chief shut it down after the first day. The drumbeat of cases across Florida signaled a march of the virus from the north, the west and most alarmingly from the south, where the novel coronavirus had a fierce grip on Broward County. With that hotspot 100 plus miles away, Indian River seemed safely insulated by covid-free counties; only the following day would Brevard County to the north declare its first positive. READ FULL STORY

John’s Island bridge player tests positive for novel coronavirus
week of March 26, 2020

Barbara “Pinky” Regan is known for her prowess at the bridge table, her love of gardening and art, and her generous spirit. As of March 19, the 84-year-old John’s Island resident can add to her resume. She was one of the earliest 32963 residents to test positive for COVID-19. While she’s still weak, Regan is recovering at home and has a positive outlook; and her main concern is for anyone she may have unwittingly exposed to the novel coronavirus. As soon as she found out she had tested positive, she notified folks that she’d been in recent contact with. At risk were her fellow bridge players. Regan played in bridge tournaments on March 9 at the Vero Beach Bridge Club, and March 7 and 10 at the Quail Valley River Club. It was the evening of March 10 that she began to feel ill. “Bridge was probably the worst place for me to be. Fortunately, I hadn’t been playing as much as I usually play because I was busy with guests,” says Regan, who has not traveled abroad recently and does not know where she contracted the virus. READ FULL STORY

Grand Harbor couple does right thing in self-isolating
week of March 26, 2020

Now that the global coronavirus pandemic has reached our seaside community, we can take pride and solace in the inspiring examples set by a couple of our first local victims, both of whom responded the way all others should. Promptly. Responsibly. Selflessly. One, John’s Island resident Pinky Regan, 84, spread the word, hoping the immediate notice might prevent the spread of the virus to others in her social network and beyond (see accompanying story). Likewise, Grand Harbor residents Ray and Peg Dutcher quickly figured out what they needed to do after returning from a trip to the Middle East two weeks ago, even though neither was experiencing any coronavirus symptoms when their flight landed in Orlando. “We certainly didn’t get any guidance at the airport,” Peg said. “We traveled to Egypt and Jordan, flew back through Germany, and when we arrived in Orlando, we didn’t see or hear anything from Customs. No signs, no warnings, no nothing.” READ FULL STORY

10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Indian River County
week of March 26, 2020

As of press time, Indian River County had 10 positive cases of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) placing our area somewhere in the middle of Florida counties. While we are not quite as blessed as the 21 Florida counties that still had zero cases as of Monday night, watching the nightly television news made it seem like Vero Beach is in a different world than Fort Lauderdale and Miami – the seats of two Florida counties where as of Monday there were more than 500 cases. Of the confirmed cases in Indian River county, four were men and six were women – with the patients ranging in age from 25 to 84. Six of the 10 were reported to have acquired COVID-19 in the course of travels, where four cases were said to be not travel related. At press time, only one of the 10 was reported to be hospitalized. While several of those suffering from COVID-19 live on the barrier island, the state provided no information about the residences of those on the mainland, and it was not known whether either Sebastian or Fellsmere had any cases. READ FULL STORY

No coronavirus cases at the county jail so far, despite extra inmates
week of March 26, 2020

As of Monday, none of the 533 inmates at the Indian River County Jail had been tested for the coronavirus – because, according to Sheriff Deryl Loar, none had displayed any symptoms. “We pre-screen any new inmate in a sterile environment,” Loar said, “before they enter the jail.” As a result of the virus threat, however, the jail is holding eight inmates who normally wouldn’t be there. That’s because the Florida Department of Corrections two weeks ago temporarily stopped accepting new, already-sentenced inmates in an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 into the state prison system. Prisoner transfers from county jails to state correctional facilities are scheduled to resume Monday, but DOC officials said in a statement released last week the timeline could change after they consult with public health officials. While Florida sheriffs in some larger counties are concerned the DOC’s suspension of prisoner transfers will cause overcrowded conditions in their jails, Loar said the jail here isn’t at such risk. READ FULL STORY


What caused rift between the Humane Society and county?
week of March 26, 2020

What’s behind the turmoil between the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County that has sparked angry words, threatened the ability of the county to handle stray animals and left both parties feeling blindsided over the past few months? The dustup started when, after a cordial 25-year relationship, the nonprofit organization surprised the county two months ago by announcing it wasn’t renewing its current 3-year agreement with the county to provide “animal sheltering services,” an agreement due to expire April 30. According to a Jan. 16 letter sent to county Director of Emergency Services Tad Stone by Humane Society Executive Director Kate Meghji and Board President Susan Smith, the decision was made because “a lack of shared vision for the animals of Indian River County with County staff is too much of a barrier to overcome.” The letter added that, with a new executive director at the helm, “improved shelter standards and operations to meet best practices,” and a new leadership team of “animal welfare and nonprofit experts,” the Human Society is moving in a different direction. READ FULL STORY


Father Richard Murphy dead at 80
week of March 26, 2020

Father Richard Murphy, longtime pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church, died Sunday at Hospice House. He was 80. Murphy was the pastor of Holy Cross for nearly 23 years, the church's parish administrator Debbie True said. “I will miss everything about him. He was such a fantastic leader,” said True, who worked with Murphy. “He cared about the parishioners and they cared about him. He believed we needed to reach out to people in the community whenever there was a need.” True, who later became Murphy’s caregiver, said Murphy was battling a chronic illness. His death was not related to the coronavirus, True confirmed. “He really cared about Vero Beach,” True said. “He was a private person who didn't like accolades or awards. He did stuff from the heart.” Murphy, born in Ireland, was ordained as a priest in 1965 at St. Peter’s Seminary in Wexford. He then relocated to south Florida, where he served in parishes in Miami, Pompano Beach, Lake Worth, Boca Raton, Stuart and Vero Beach. Church officials said a funeral service for Murphy will be held at Holy Cross when coronavirus concerns and restrictions ease. Those who want to make donations in Murphy’s memory can contact the Arc of Indian River County at 772-562-6854. READ FULL STORY


Set up telehealth account now! You may need it later
week of March 19, 2020

With experts urging people to use telemedicine to be evaluated if they have early symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, one productive way to pass some time while staying home is to set up a telehealth account while you’re feeling well. Virtual visits are available through the websites of many insurance providers, including Aetna, United Healthcare and Florida Blue. Telehealth is also available through the CVS website, available 24/7 for $59. There was only a 20-minute wait on the site Monday, but patients need to set up an account, which takes some time and might be best done when people are clear-headed and symptom-free. Cleveland Clinic also has a 24/7 telehealth initiative, Express Care Online. “They’ve really ramped up the staffing for that service,” said spokeswoman Angela Dickens. Setting up an account for any telehealth service can involve downloading an app on a smartphone or other mobile device. Information about insurance and medical history may be required. Typically, sign-up takes about 10 to 20 minutes. The patient can then make an appointment for a visit or wait on the spot for one to open up – a sampling earlier this week showed online waits between 10 and 20 minutes. READ FULL STORY


Island’s private clubs cutting back as precaution
week of March 19, 2020

Even though the Vero barrier island started the week as one of the increasingly few places in Florida not yet hit by the coronavirus, most of the island’s private clubs took the precautionary step of shutting down their dine-in facilities, closing clubhouses and fitness centers, and severely cutting back on the golf, tennis and beach-club operations. And in a blow to the island economy, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort – one of the three major resort hotels in 32963 – announced that it would be closing its doors to guests at 5 p.m. Friday in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “This is happening at a really bad time,” Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club General Manager Rob Tench said, referring to the pandemic hitting during the heart of the busy season. “We’re doing what needs to be done to keep our members and employees safe, but the clubs are losing a lot of bookings, a lot of revenue. “When you look at the financial impact of this thing, it’s going to cost clubs hundreds of thousands of dollars.” READ FULL STORY


For a magic moment, Vero still sits in coronavirus-free ‘bubble’
week of March 19, 2020

Vero Beach often seems isolated from a lot of bad things that plague other parts of Florida, and for now at least, our community appears to sit in a relatively disease-free “bubble” away from active outbreaks of the Novel Coronavirus. As of Monday night, Indian River County had zero confirmed cases, and neither did the county’s neighbor to the south, St. Lucie County. Brevard County to the north this week reported one. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged all Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people, stay out of restaurants and bars, and cancel all unnecessary travel anywhere, Vero locals were still dining out, going to the gym, to the library, shopping and getting their cars detailed. All city and county offices were open for business early this week including walk-up utility payments, and license tag renewals, as was the courthouse except for jury trials. Stores, restaurants, post offices and banks were open, though banking customers were being steered toward drive-up services. READ FULL STORY


School of choice initiative is moving full STEAM ahead
week of March 19, 2020

Beachland Elementary is branding itself as a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics School of Enrichment, principal Rachel Finnegan told the County School Board last week. At Beachland, students “will develop their skills through robotics, arts, engineering and hands-on learning experiences using the hydroponic garden, outdoor classroom experiences, and partnerships with Vero Beach Museum of Art and Riverside Theatre,” she said. The move comes as part of Superintendent David Moore’s ambitious school of choice initiative, which was set to debut at a large public event last weekend. That event, intended to promote schools of choice in the district and showcase new and innovative curriculum, was canceled due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. But Moore is encouraging residents to visit the district’s website to learn about application procedures and deadlines for the 2020-21 school year. Parents can also fill out online applications to send their children to the school of their choice. READ FULL STORY


Drive underway to create mental health ‘center of excellence’
week of March 19, 2020

Dream big, then make things happen. In the same Vero tradition that produced centers of excellence for treating cancer, heart disease and stroke at a hospital that – thanks to another big dream – is now run by the Cleveland Clinic, a drive is underway to create a center of excellence for mental health. Though discussions, led by the Hospital District, are only at the conceptual stage, the hope is that such a campus would be located near the hospital. It would include a wide range of services, including 24/7 outpatient mental healthcare and inpatient detox, and an education component involving community outreach, as well as research and training opportunities for mental health practitioners. Drawing inspiration from a table-top model of a recovery center that was never built, more than a dozen leaders of mental health-related organizations gathered around a conference table at Hospital District offices last week to start putting pen to paper on just what an ideal center would look like. READ FULL STORY


Island’s two busiest intersections to get extended turn lanes
week of March 19, 2020

Bottlenecks at the two busiest intersections on the island could become a just a bad memory for motorists after the Florida Department of Transportation completes planned work at the frequently jammed junctions. Heavy in-season congestion that requires sitting through several traffic light cycles at A1A and Beachland Boulevard, and A1A and 17th Street, won’t end until at least 2022, when FDOT is slated to start a $4.7 million project to extend turn lanes and make other improvements at the intersections. Right now, surveys are being conducted by the state to determine how far to extend westbound turn lanes from A1A onto Beachland Boulevard and 17th Street, and northbound turn lanes from Beachland Boulevard and 17th Street onto A1A , FDOT project managers said. Project designs for the intersections are slated for completion by November 2021 with construction to start the following year. The existing four turn lanes – which are inadequate to handle the current traffic – range in length from 122 feet to 262 feet, FDOT officials said. As part of the project, A1A between Beachland Boulevard and 17th Street will be resurfaced, and existing 4-foot-wide bicycle lanes will be expanded to 7 feet. READ FULL STORY


Construction of ELC centerpiece pavilion set for fall
week of March 19, 2020

Construction of the education and event pavilion that will be the centerpiece of the Environmental Learning Center’s multimillion-dollar master plan expansion is scheduled to get under way by fall and be completed in the first quarter of 2021, according to ELC leaders. Conceived over several years, the ambitious project is intended to bring the county’s flagship environmental organization “to the next level, as a major, regional environmental education resource,” Executive Director Barbara Schlitt Ford said. Located on a 64-acre property on an island in the Indian River Lagoon, the nonprofit ELC was founded in 1988 by members of the Pelican Island Audubon Society, with strong community support, which continues to this day. The pavilion project was funded by a $1 million donation from local resident Tom Schidel and will be named the Thomas R. Schidel Education and Event Pavilion. A members-only BBQ is scheduled to take place April 4 on the pavilion construction site, with Schidel as guest of honor, though plans could change due to the COVID-19 precautions. READ FULL STORY


Norovirus gives eldercare facilities not-so-dry run
week of March 12, 2020

It was a dry run nobody wanted to have. Even as a nursing home has emerged as the epicenter of a COVID-19 outbreak in Washington state, a different virus – norovirus, the highly contagious stomach bug that comes on quickly and dramatically – has been tearing through multiple facilities in Vero Beach. The virus, perhaps best known for its outbreaks on cruise ships, has sent a stream of seniors to the hospital, put others in quarantine, and has cleaning staffs scouring surfaces from elevator buttons to saltshakers. More than 200 residents of the Isles of Vero in both independent and assisted living were still confined to their apartments as of late Monday after 32 people came down with gastrointestinal illness last week. Over the weekend, residents were notified by letter that Isles management hoped to be able to get back to normal by mid-week. A couple of miles west at The Brennity, residents were over their earlier “flu shut-down,” according to the family of one couple living there. READ FULL STORY


Seminoles weigh suits to shut down illegal slots here
week of March 12, 2020

It will be game over for gambling arcades blatantly breaking state law in Indian River County if the Seminole Tribe of Florida gets its way, a lawyer for the tribe said after learning about the illegal businesses from a Vero Beach 32963 investigation. The tribe’s outside legal counsel Barry Richard was surprised to find out that several of the county’s roughly 18 adult arcades are violating state laws prohibiting cash payouts and slot-style machines – which the tribe has exclusive rights to operate. At least five adult arcades in the county are mini Sin Cities with glitzy slots, ATMs on site and hefty cash payouts, sometimes as high as $6,000, Vero Beach 32963 found. The tribe, which operates seven casinos in the southern part of Florida including the huge Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, is considering taking legal action against the illicit arcades in Indian River County, the tribe’s Tallahassee-based lawyer said. “The tribe hasn’t made a decision yet as to what to do or where, but it’s an issue that we’re going to take up,” Richard said, adding “these people are just blatantly violating Florida law and nobody should be able to violate the law with impunity.” READ FULL STORY


Upgrades in progress at five private clubs
week of March 12, 2020

Private clubs on the mainland and up and down the island from Windsor to The Moorings are sprucing up their properties, building new facilities and expanding their programs to stay relevant in a highly competitive environment. Work on Vero Beach Country Club’s $3.8 million expansion and revitalization project is ahead of schedule, General Manager Tim Straley said last week, and the new amenities should be open and operating in October. “Barring any interruptions by Mother Nature,” Straley added, referring to possible hurricane-related delays this summer. Construction on a new 4,500-square-foot fitness center, 1,500-square-foot Key West-style tiki bar and 450-square-foot snack bar began in January. The walls are up, and the buildings are taking shape. Excavation for a 3,100-square-foot, resort-style pool is scheduled for late April. “Historically, we’ve been a Florida golf club, which served us well for nearly 100 years, but we don’t believe it will take us through the next 100,” Straley said. “We need to become more family-friendly to attract younger members, and these new facilities will enable us to do that. READ FULL STORY


Health officials urge seniors to avoid large gatherings and close contact
week of March 12, 2020

As the number of cases of coronavirus continued to swell, Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday declared a state of emergency for Florida. And the target audience of the most pointed advice from health officials was the state’s seniors – the 20 percent of the population likely to suffer the most from COVID-19. People who are older or have underlying health conditions – heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and immune disorders – disproportionately need hospitalization to battle the virus. “Early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness,” the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said. Young, healthy adults and kids can get infected and spread the virus, but they rarely have a bad case that requires a hospital stay. Those people should stay home from school or work when ill, and be very careful to avoid infecting an older or medically vulnerable person. But Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, had different advice for seniors. READ FULL STORY

Local drinking water supply not threatened by coronavirus
week of March 12, 2020

Water is one of those items Floridians instinctively grab at the store whenever there is the whiff of a crisis, but city and county utility directors say there’s no need to stock up on bottled stuff due to COVID-19. Rob Bolton, director of Vero Beach Utilities which serves most of the barrier island with drinking water, said he sees no supply-chain issues related to Chinese-made goods that might be needed to keep Vero’s water treatment program running normally. “The City is not aware of any chemical shortages,” Bolton said. If workers become ill or need to stay home for observation because they’ve had close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, there is a plan to keep the water plants running. “As far as operators, the City has enough licensed operators to cover shifts even if some get isolated,” Bolton said. “As we do for any emergency situation, the City and County can share resources such as operators, equipment and chemicals if needed (In case there is some type of large outbreak).” READ FULL STORY

If coronavirus closes schools, Internet may not be alternative here
week of March 12, 2020

Officials at Indian River County School District and St. Edward’s School say if their schools are forced to shut down due to coronavirus, the school year will likely expand into the summer. Public and private school officials say they are trying to craft plans that would allow students to study and submit schoolwork to teachers via the Internet, but acknowledge those plans are unlikely to work. “Unfortunately, some of our students don’t have Internet access or computers at home,” said Monica Jennings, director of marketing at St. Edward’s. “It’s one of the hurdles we’re faced with.” Indian River School District already has a portal in place that allows students to submit homework, said Christen Maddox, the district’s public information officer. But the district faces the same challenge as St. Ed’s on a greater scale – many students don’t have Internet access at home. “Superintendent Moore has talked about renting building space where students could go to do their work and have Internet access,” Maddox said. “But we realize that’s kind of unrealistic – if the coronavirus virus did happen here, it wouldn’t be just schools that are affected, it would be a community-wide shut down.” READ FULL STORY


Scientist: Water to flush Bethel Creek would only flow one way
week of March 12, 2020

The scientist in charge of an $800,000 state-funded research project looking at the feasibility of flushing Bethel Creek with ocean water provided an overview of the project last week, and said water would flow only one way at the site – from the ocean into the creek, and not back and forth. Some have objected to the flushing proposal out of fear that lagoon pollution could contaminate Vero’s beaches, but that would not be the case, according to Dr. Gary Zarillo, professor of oceanography at Florida Institute of Technology, who spoke in county commission chambers March 4. "What I envision is a series of controlled structures connecting the ocean with the Indian River Lagoon that can be operated on a schedule or when needed," Zarillo said. "A one-way exchange from the ocean side to the estuary side." He assured a large audience of government officials, environmentalists and others in the county commission chambers on March 4 that beach restoration projects would not be impacted. READ FULL STORY


Barrier island Democrats bet on Joe Biden ahead of primary
week of March 12, 2020

As early voting in Florida’s presidential primary got underway Saturday, Democrats on Indian River County’s barrier island had already indicated their preferred candidate, overwhelmingly backing establishment standard-bearer Joe Biden over democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Biden’s campaign had received $29,595 in donations from 25 island residents as of Saturday, Federal Elections Commission records show. Sanders’ campaign, by contrast, had collected donations totaling $1,293 from four island residents. Meanwhile, President Donald J. Trump’s campaign received $107,550 in contributions from 124 residents in the 32963 ZIP code, more than the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates combined. Among the Democratic candidates, only self-funded billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer – who both got nothing – and Andrew Yang, who got $312, received less support from barrier island contributors than Sanders. READ FULL STORY


School superintendent apologizes after losing temper at meeting
week of March 12, 2020

Superintendent David Moore has moved quickly to put a controversy behind him, publicly apologizing for a heated exchange with black leaders when they pressed him for details about the district’s African American Achievement Plan during a recent meeting. Moore lost his temper and argued with residents for about 20 minutes at the Indian River County School District meeting at Gifford Youth Achievement Center on March 2. “I’m ready to get to work, let’s get to work,” an agitated Moore said, as he loudly talked over residents trying to ask questions about the plan. “I’m tired of talking. We’ve talked about the issues enough. The time for talking is over. The time for implementation is now.” Instead of ending the discussion, his curt response fanned the flames of discontent among the two-dozen people in attendance. Before Moore’s outburst, some at the meeting were already grumbling out loud about the meeting. The presentation was initially conducted by Brian McManus, a data analyst for the district. But Moore took over about midway through the 75-minute presentation as the audience’s discontent became apparent. READ FULL STORY


Failing grades for Vero’s large nursing homes
week of March 5, 2020

As coronavirus spreads among vulnerable groups of Americans, as many as 450 of Vero’s most frail residents are living in nursing homes with failing grades. The three largest nursing homes of the six in Indian River County have earned the worst possible rating on the federal Nursing Home Compare star rating system, compiled by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That translates to two-thirds of the county’s nursing home beds with a quality score in the bottom 20 percent nationwide. All three of the one-star nursing homes – Consulate, Palm Garden and Sea Breeze – are in sight of Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, which regularly discharges patients to the facilities with guidance that does not warn patients or families of the abysmal ratings on CMS’s Nursing Home Compare website. The CMS ratings giving the three facilities one star out of a possible five rely on the most recent three years of inspections done by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. All three nursing homes have been inspected in the past 10 weeks. READ FULL STORY


Youth Sailing boathouse vital part of Centennial Place
week of March 5, 2020

Things got tense last week when the committee charged with overseeing Vero’s Centennial Place project initially decided a new $2.5-million headquarters and boathouse for the Youth Sailing Foundation should be pushed out of the main development area and built south of the 17th Street bridge on the site of the wastewater plant. That consensus provoked an emotional response from architect Andre Duany, whose firm DPZ CoDesign was hired by the city to come up with a redevelopment design for the project on Indian River Boulevard, which includes the site of the shuttered “Big Blue” power plant and the city sewer plant. Duany, whose widely-praised mixed-use plan was presented to the city last month, had placed the Youth Sailing headquarters on the existing harbor behind the power plant, in the midst of restaurants, shops, a marina and other features. He told the committee the Youth Sailing facility is a vital part of the plan because it would bring people to the site continuously. READ FULL STORY


Black achievement plan approved by the School Board
week of March 5, 2020

Aiming to reduce the achievement gap between black and white students, the School District will eliminate out-of-school suspensions, begin preparing black students for advanced classes and rigorously hold principals and teachers accountable for student success. The initiatives are part of an updated African American Achievement Plan unanimously approved by the School Board on Feb. 25. “I’m excited,” Superintendent David Moore told the board. This is the first opportunity to move from planning to implementing. This is a united plan to move us forward as a district. A plan that speaks to equity. A plan to ensure that every student has the same opportunities.” Moore and his top administrators created the updated plan, which is now aligned with goals adopted by the district’s equity committee. It also puts school officials on a clearer path to meet the requirements set forth in a 52-year-old federal desegregation order that the district has labored under since the 1960s. Board member Jacqueline Rosario applauded Moore and his administrators on the updated plan, after efforts to improve and implement the plan floundered for several years under the leadership of former Superintendent Mark Rendell. READ FULL STORY


What you need to know as COVID-19 approaches Vero
week of March 5, 2020

In the past week, confirmed cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) – which started only a couple of months ago in China – made their first appearance on the U.S. West Coast, and then just days later made it to the West Coast of Florida. Health officials at all levels of government expect the number of U.S. cases to increase rapidly now that testing is more widely available, and it seems highly likely that at some point COVID-19 will be found to have reached the Treasure Coast. How worried should Vero Beach residents be about this virus? How should you prepare for its possible arrival here? How can you and your family members avoid COVID-19? What should you do if you think you have it? What will its impact be on life in our community? The answer to these questions will change from week to week. As this situation evolves, we will try in this column to provide the latest best information from health officials on COVID-19 and Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY


Piper Aircraft: No business interruptions thus far because of coronavirus in China
week of March 5, 2020

Piper Aircraft withdrew from the Singapore Airshow 2020 last month because of the health threat posed by the COVID-19 coronavirus, but the pandemic spawned in China has not yet impacted operations at the company’s Vero Beach manufacturing complex. “We sell our products to a worldwide market, so there’s no doubt we’re watching this thing, especially as it expands beyond China’s borders, because we need to be ready to respond accordingly,” said Jackie Carlon, Piper’s marketing and communications director. “But as of right now, it’s not having any effect on our operations here. “We haven’t had any business interruptions because of the virus.” While Piper has existing contracts with Chinese buyers – most of those agreements are to supply trainer airplanes to flight schools – no new deliveries are scheduled until late August and early September, so there’s no need for company employees to travel there. In fact, Carlon said most of Piper’s China-bound products are disassembled, placed in containers and transported to their destination, where the planes are then reassembled. Also, the company has a China-based dealer that handles much of its business there. READ FULL STORY


Brian Burkeen sentencing for tire thefts set for April 30
week of March 5, 2020

Judge Dan Vaughn is set to sentence former County Fire-Rescue Assistant Chief Brian Burkeen to prison on April 30 after Burkeen pleaded no contest Monday to stealing more than a quarter million dollars’ worth of tires paid for by local taxpayers. Burkeen, a Fellsmere resident, was scheduled to go to trial on March 9 and Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans said after the plea hearing, “We were locked and loaded, ready to try this case.” Vaughn instructed Burkeen about all the rights he was giving up by pleading no contest – the right to a trial by jury, the right to remain silent, the right to face his accusers and cross-examine witnesses, and most of all his presumption of innocence. The lightest sentence Vaughn can impose for the charge of first-degree felony theft by a scheme to defraud is 48 months in prison. Since this is a first offense for Burkeen, it’s not expected that he will get the full 30-year maximum sentence. READ FULL STORY


Beachside businesses may have to chip in to expand parking
week of March 5, 2020

Beachside business owners might have to chip in to help cover the cost of adding parking spaces they say they desperately need to avoid losing business. City officials are considering several financing options – including implementing a special assessment for business owners – to pay for the addition of 79 parking spaces in front of multi-family housing or commercial buildings on east-west streets near the problem area of Ocean and Cardinal drives. The spaces would cost around $400,000 for curbing, gutters and pavement, along with an estimated $125,000 for engineering services, but the city has no dedicated funding for the project, so it might ask shop owners to pitch in. “We should be paying 50 percent of it ... and I would encourage staff to come up with a way they think is reasonable and bring it back to us to for the other 50 percent,” Councilman Robert Brackett said. City staff also are considering a special taxing district. Details about the potential district, which would entail a geographical boundary and require funds collected annually to be spent solely on parking – will likely be presented to the City Council for consideration at its March 17 meeting, city officials said. READ FULL STORY


County: State must make sure railroad crossings are safe for Virgin’s high-speed trains
week of March 5, 2020

Florida transportation chiefs are downplaying their duty to oversee railroad crossing safety as Virgin Trains USA prepares to run 34 high-speed trains per day through Indian River County’s 32 crossings, said county Public Works Director Rich Szpyrka. Virgin Trains is upgrading the Florida East Coast Railway tracks from West Palm Beach to Cocoa and constructing new tracks from Cocoa to Orlando to complete a Miami-to-Orlando route. But Florida Department of Transportation has not used its authority to ensure the railroad crossings are safe enough for trains travelling 110 mph, Szpyrka told the Florida Transportation Commission. “It seems that FDOT doesn’t believe they are responsible for overseeing those [railroad crossings],” Spyrka told the commission on Feb. 24. “We had a problem with FDOT coming up, staying up and doing what we believe is in the Florida Statutes for them to do. “I know DOT doesn’t like to go up against FEC,” Szpryka said during a meeting on rail safety. “[But] they’ve got to stand up and they’ve got to help the locals and they’ve got to help their own railroad crossings and make sure that they’re safe for all of the residents of the state of Florida.” READ FULL STORY


Sheriff gives pass to local arcades on illegal slots
week of February 27, 2020

In Indian River County, arcades conducting illegal gambling operate in plain sight in strip malls and gas station plazas without interference from law enforcement, a Vero Beach 32963 investigation has found. As part of an agreement with the Seminole tribe in 2013, the Florida Legislature passed a law clearly prohibiting adult arcades from operating slot machines or other games of chance and paying winners in cash or expensive prizes. Under the law, adult arcades – there are 18 in Indian River County – are only allowed to operate games of skill, and can only give out non-cash prizes valued at no more than $6. But 32963 found numerous arcades operating illegal games of chance, including penny slot machines similar to those found in casinos, and openly offering and paying out large cash prizes, which multiple sources said sometimes amount to thousands of dollars. At five arcades visited by two reporters, multiple players reported winning cash prizes on slot machines, employees admitted paying out cash prizes and, in some cases, signs were posted inside and even outside in front of arcades promising cash prizes up to $5,000. READ FULL STORY


Island sees boom in new home construction
week of February 27, 2020

Homebuilding has ramped up dramatically on the island and buyers have more new home choices today than at any time since the real estate downturn in the mid-2000s. Ten active subdivisions on the island will deliver approximately 220 new homes over the next few years, and three more major residential projects in the planning and permitting stages are expected to bring another 100 or so homes to market. Prices range from about $600,000 up to $8.5 million, but most of the homes – which include townhouses and ultra-luxury condos – are priced between $800,000 and $2 million, with another sizable number in the $2 million to $4 million range. “This is the largest number of new homes we’ve seen at once in a long time,” says Premier Estate Properties broker-associate Cindy O’Dare, “but I think our market can handle it. More and more buyers are coming to Vero because of our wonderful lifestyle.” “This is the most we have seen in at least 10 years,” says Sally Daley of Daley & Company Real Estate. “The delta between the cost of new construction and what it costs to buy an older home and fix it up has narrowed and that makes new homes more attractive to buyers.” READ FULL STORY


Lawnwood’s new Emergency Room battles Cleveland Clinic for patients
week of February 27, 2020

Indian River County’s first freestanding emergency room opened on South U.S. 1 last December under the banner Vero Beach Emergency Room – signage that didn’t clearly indicate the facility is owned and operated by Lawnwood Regional Medical Center, located 12 miles south in St. Lucie County. For weeks after the Lawnwood ER opened, residents south of 8th Street with lower-level emergencies were automatically taken to that new facility when they dialed 911 for an ambulance. Only if they requested to go to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital were they taken there. That policy was enacted by county emergency management officials after meeting Lawnwood’s CEO, Eric Goldman, and touring the freestanding ER just before it opened. Now that policy has changed, following protests by the Indian River Hospital District. When EMTs pick up South County patients, they will explain ER options and let patients choose where they want to go whenever feasible, with Cleveland Clinic – not the new ER – being the default. Residents will also get an explanation from ambulance drivers of just who owns the freestanding ER: Lawnwood. As it is, patients must squint to see the very fine print that explains that Vero Beach Emergency Room is a “campus” of Lawnwood. READ FULL STORY


Retired asst. fire chief headed for trial by tire | NEWS ANALYSIS
week of February 27, 2020

Last week, Indian River County Fire Rescue’s former second in command, Brian Burkeen, was rumored to have signed a plea deal. Then the plea deal was mysteriously called off, and the March 9 trial was back on. Burkeen could make an awful lot of people happy by entering a guilty plea on charges of stealing a quarter million dollars in tires purchased using taxpayer money. If the trial goes forward, it will make the county government, not to mention Burkeen’s old boss, retired Fire Chief John King, look either incredibly corrupt or incredibly stupid – or maybe both. Investigators say Burkeen presented Goodyear with $288,000 in county purchase orders for more than 1,400 tires that the county did not need, carried the tires off by hand, transported them in his county-owned work truck and in a county-owned trailer to his personal barn in Fellsmere, and sold them to people he knew though Facebook. He allegedly got away with doing this for nearly four years. The allegations, if true, make the leadership of the Indian River County Emergency Services District appear clueless. READ FULL STORY


HUD report: Unsheltered homeless here highest in the country
week of February 27, 2020

“This is something we desperately need to look at,” said Vero Beach Vice Mayor Tony Young when he learned that the Treasure Coast, including Indian River County, has the highest percentage of unsheltered homeless people of any suburban area in the United States. The dismal distinction was included in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, which found that 93 percent of homeless people in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties are unsheltered, sleeping in the woods, in cars or on the streets. The Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council, which is the lead organization here to report homeless statistics to HUD, conducts an annual survey to determine the area’s homeless population. The agency’s 2019 Point in Time Count taken on Jan. 29, 2019, revealed a total of 1,499 individuals – 1042 adults and 457 children – are homeless on the Treasure Coast, a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. Homelessness in Indian River County, however, climbed from 447 individuals to 486 last year. READ FULL STORY


Could teachers find a home at the Indian River Mall?
week of February 27, 2020

Does it make any sense to attempt to convert vacant retail space at the languishing Indian River Mall into apartments for teachers? That’s one possibility being considered by the Indian River County School Board, which believes creating more affordable housing in Vero Beach would help the district recruit new teachers and retain current instructors. The board recently agreed to form a committee, which will include board members, teachers and community representatives, to explore different affordable housing options – including building apartments in the former department store buildings vacated, or soon to be vacated, by Sears and Macy’s. “Finding affordable housing in Vero Beach can be very difficult, especially for someone on a teacher’s salary,” said board member Teri Barenborg, who proposed the idea during the board’s Feb. 11 work session. “Many teachers can’t afford to live and work here.” Liz Cannon, president of the districts’ teachers union, could not be reached for comment. Superintendent David Moore, who expressed support for the idea, said the issue of affordable housing for teachers is one many districts are facing. Moore said his previous employer, Miami-Dade School District, created housing for teachers that has been very successful. READ FULL STORY


Accused island fraudster said to have violated long-standing trust
week of February 27, 2020

The son of one of accused fraudster Christopher Delaney’s alleged victims says Delaney violated a trusted relationship built up with his family over three decades. Michael Hawxhurst said he and his mother Rita Hawxhurst met Delaney through a cousin who had been a client of his in New York. Before branching out to Vero Beach via a series of investment seminars held for high-net-worth clients, Delaney worked as a financial advisor out of White Plains, N.Y., offices. “We have known him for at least 30 years,” said Hawxhurst, who recalled meeting numerous times at his mother’s home with Delaney to discuss her investments, plus corresponding with him by email over the years. Hawxhurst said Delaney had always been very professional and personable, and said he even invested some of his own money with Delaney at one point. Today, Delaney, 64, sits in the Indian River County Jail awaiting trial in two different theft cases. In the first case, he’s charged with bilking clients out of nearly a half million dollars invested in a reality television show called “Jet Set” that was never produced. In the second, he is charged with defrauding Hawxhurst’s mother, an 85-year-old New York woman, of $188,000 she invested in Delaney’s company, Treasure Coast Capital and Trust, which operated out of a Vero beachside office. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic set to increase minimum wage
week of February 20, 2020

Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital last week announced a hike in its minimum wage to $13 an hour effective March 29, with a goal of stepping up to $15 “over time.” The move will be a big help to the lowest-paid tier of the Vero hospital’s 2,000 employees but could cause a ripple effect throughout the county and the region that might be problematic for some businesses. The increase, which includes employees at Cleveland Clinic hospitals in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties, could cause the nursing pool other healthcare enterprises draw from to shrink as Cleveland lures workers away from nursing homes and assisted living facilities, not to mention competing hospitals. The move comes more than a year after an announcement from Cleveland Clinic headquarters in Ohio that promised a $15 minimum wage by 2020 for the “overwhelming majority” of employees systemwide. Workers in Cleveland Clinic’s Ohio hospitals and clinics got raises to $14 an hour in January 2019, within weeks of the announcement. Cleveland Clinic’s hospital in Westin, Florida, also began phasing in a higher minimum wage and already is at $15 per hour. READ FULL STORY


Marine Bank sees growth in assets, loans and profits
week of February 20, 2020

Marine Bank & Trust – the only community bank headquartered on the Vero Beach barrier island – had another successful year in 2019, with growth across the board in banking operations and record profits for its shareholders. Between Dec. 31, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2019, the bank’s assets grew by 6 percent, up from $270 million to $286 million, and total deposits increased by 5 percent, from $245 million to $257 million. Loans outstanding grew 11 percent, from $218 million to $242 million. A healthy economy was a factor in the growth, as were the consolidation and name changes other banks in the Vero Beach community have undergone in the past year. But as Marine Bank & Trust President and CEO Bill Penney put it: “You’ve still got to perform, still have to go earn people’s business.” Penney said that is exactly what his team did throughout 2019, as the bank closed 298 loans totaling $113.6 million, including $50 million in commercial loans that allowed 132 small businesses grow and create new jobs, $62.5 million in mortgage loans that helped 166 customers purchase or refinance their homes, and more than $1 million in consumer loans. READ FULL STORY


AT&T gets stronger signal than Verizon off Shores cell tower
week of February 20, 2020

The Indian River Shores cell tower – which took more than a contentious decade to put in place – has not been a silver-bullet solution to spotty Verizon reception in the town. Town officials, residents and the public safety department have noticed the difference between AT&T service and Verizon since Verizon joined AT&T on the tower last summer, with AT&T’s signal coming in stronger. Verizon was the first provider to execute a lease, incurring payments for nearly a year while technical and equipment delays dragged out the timeline. Verizon occupies the coveted top spot on the 115-foot “monopine” stealth tower, a position that is supposed to be the best in terms of signal strength and coverage distance. AT&T signed its contract second and occupies the next-highest spot on the tower but moved much faster getting transmission equipment installed to begin testing its live signal in September 2018. Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell, like many Shores residents, did not wait around for Verizon to play catch-up. When he had the chance, Rosell switched his department to AT&T’s service. READ FULL STORY


Changes coming to bridge intersection
week of February 20, 2020

The new speed sign that flashes at southbound motorists on Indian River Boulevard is just the first sign of changes coming to the intersection at the western end of the Barber Bridge where a college rower was killed in a crash in January. A new traffic signal with a flashing yellow light to caution southbound drivers to be aware of northbound traffic before turning left onto the bridge will be installed within the next two weeks, state officials say. Along with the new traffic signal, permanent flashing signs alerting motorists of their speed will be installed by May near the intersection, which is under Florida Department of Transportation jurisdiction. Vegetation at the intersection will be trimmed so it won’t obscure motorists’ view of the road and other vehicles, and Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said traffic enforcement at the intersection will intensify in coming weeks. Depending on the impact of those changes, the southbound left turn lane could be lengthened, and other additional traffic signals installed, to reduce collisions at the accident-prone intersection. READ FULL STORY


Retired CIA leader writes about 32 years with agency
week of February 20, 2020

The headline-grabbing chapters of American history that occurred during Riomar resident Richard Kerr’s 32 years with the Central Intelligence Agency include the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War, the taking of American hostages by Iran, U.S. bombing raids in Libya, the breakup of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, and Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. Kerr, who served as the CIA's deputy director for three years under President George H.W. Bush and as the Agency's acting director for three months in 1991, recounts all of these events in his newly published book, “Unclassified: My Life Before, During and After the CIA,” which was published by Rand-Smith and is available on Amazon. Some of his most compelling work, though, was done after he left the CIA, when he headed a small team that assessed and critiqued the intelligence produced before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. That’s covered in Kerr’s memoir, too. “We actually wrote three reports, but only the first one was unclassified,” Kerr, now 84, said of his team’s four-month review, which was authorized by then-CIA Director George Tenet and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. READ FULL STORY


Accused reality TV show fraudster will likely battle cancer in jail
week of February 20, 2020

The criminal case against accused reality television show fraudster Christopher Delaney has been fraught with plot twists. Just as it appeared Delaney might get his bail reduced so he could get out of jail for cancer treatments, prosecutors filed additional theft and fraud charges, adding $255,000 to the required bond. Delaney, 64, was arrested on July 3 after a lengthy FBI investigation into alleged crimes dating back several years. A long-time financial advisor in New York, Delaney injected himself into Vero’s wealthy social circles by giving wealth management seminars. He was initially charged with taking a half million dollars from investors under the guise of producing a reality television show called “JetSet” through his barrier-island-based company. According to prosecutors and FBI agents, Delaney diverted the money to his personal use. The funds invested with Delaney represented much of the life savings of two out-of-state clients and Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans wanted prosecution of the case moved up on the docket because Delaney’s alleged victims are both elderly. READ FULL STORY


Fourth judge may finally rule in Harbor Branch lawsuit
week of February 20, 2020

The fate of Harbor Branch Foundation’s $72 million endowment is now in the hands of Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Metzger, the fourth judge assigned to the high-stakes case that pits the Foundation against Florida Atlantic University. According to court records, FAU and the Foundation have filed a flurry of motions and countermotions during the past several months, arguing over whether the Foundation’s lawsuit against FAU should be dismissed. The lawsuit was filed in 2017 to stop FAU from taking control of the multimillion endowment, which is used to support marine research. FAU’s central argument seeking dismissal is that according to state statutes, the University, as the Foundation’s “direct support organization,” legally has the right to oversee the Foundation’s operations and use of its endowment funds. FAU attorney Richard Mitchell argues that state statue supersedes a “Memo of Understanding” previously signed by both parties that stated the Foundation would continue to operate financially independent from FAU. Metzger ruled on Sept. 25 that she would consider FAU’s argument after providing Foundation attorney Joseph Galardi, an opportunity to argue against the dismissal. READ FULL STORY


Vero city attorney seeks to unmask anonymous plaintiff filing lawsuits
week of February 20, 2020

Vero Beach City Attorney John Turner doesn’t want to wait until he goes to court to learn the identity of the mysterious plaintiff who has been filing public-records lawsuits that call out local government officials and agencies for allegedly refusing to comply with Florida’s Sunshine Law. Turner responded to a lawsuit the plaintiff filed last month against the city and City Clerk Tammy Bursick with a court filing of his own – a motion asking Circuit Court Judge Janet Croom to dismiss the case – and he’s using the plaintiff’s anonymity against him. In the motion filed in Indian River County, Turner argues that the lawsuit should be tossed because, under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and prior court rulings in the state, the plaintiff may hide behind a pseudonym only in extremely limited circumstances. Those circumstances, according to Turner’s motion, include the “presence of some social stigma or the threat of physical harm” – neither of which appears to exist in this case. READ FULL STORY


Barrier island boundary shift appears to be sailing through state legislature
week of February 20, 2020

A pair of bills intended to shift the county border on the barrier island to place a beachfront mansion entirely in Indian River County and an unbuilt subdivision entirely in St. Lucie County have enjoyed widespread support from Florida lawmakers, so far. The state Senate Rules Committee voted 15-0 last Wednesday in favor of the boundary change bill sponsored by state Sen Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero). Meanwhile, the House Local, Federal and Veteran Affairs Subcommittee voted 12-0 on Feb. 3 for the companion boundary bill sponsored by state Rep. Delores Hogan-Johnson (R-Fort Pierce). It is now before the House Ways and Means Committee. So far, 37 lawmakers in the house and senate have voted for the bill, and none has opposed it. The boundary change will become effective if legislation passes both chambers and is signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Indian River and St. Lucie county commissioners last year adopted resolutions supporting the boundary change at the request of Dr. Oskar Szentirmai, whose home at 2498 S. Highway A1A sits on the borderline. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic gains a star in federal ratings
week of February 13, 2020

The latest hospital ratings from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services are out and local hospitals did not shine in the one-to-five-star ratings. The hospital with the noisiest rooms at night? Lawnwood Regional Medical Center. Slowest response to call buttons? Sebastian River Medical Center. Best odds of getting a second CT scan you didn’t need? Indian River Cleveland Clinic Hospital. Consistently clean bathrooms? None of the above. So goes the info now up on the Hospital Compare Star Rating website – but the data the ratings are based on is not particularly current. It comes from at best a year ago, and at worst, five years ago. That means the effects of Cleveland Clinic management on the former Indian River Medical Center weren’t factored into most of its scores. At Sebastian River, on the other hand, much of the data its scores were based on was accumulated on the watch of its latest owner, Steward Health, which took over in May 2017. In the overall star rating, Indian River gained one star and now has three out of a possible five. Steward’s Sebastian River stayed the same with two stars; Lawnwood earned only one star out of five, the same rating as last year. READ FULL STORY


Court cases from last year’s sex trafficking sting drag on slowly
week of February 13, 2020

One year after more than 160 men were arrested in Indian River County during a highly publicized but legally troubling sex trafficking sting, the fate of most of those cases rests with Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, which will determine whether law enforcement videos recorded at two local massage spas may be used as evidence. The slow-moving appeals process also has placed on hold a federal class-action lawsuit filed against the city of Vero Beach by a Fort Pierce-based attorney who claims the way police conducted video surveillance violated spa customers’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy. “The federal court has stayed the proceeding, pending the Fourth District’s ruling on the videos,” said island resident Brad Jefferson, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Until the stay is lifted, I’m not allowed to move forward. As soon as that happens, though, we’ll file our request for certification as a class with the judge.” Jefferson had only one plaintiff when he filed the lawsuit in May – nine days after County Judges David Morgan and Nicole Menz both ruled the videos were inadmissible in court – but he said Monday he now has as many as 12. READ FULL STORY


Centennial Place: No word yet on cost, or where the money would come from
week of February 13, 2020

As plans to transform Vero’s defunct power plant and aging sewage treatment plant at the base of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge into a vibrant Centennial Place wow local residents, two key questions remain unanswered. How much is a riverfront entertainment hub likely to cost? And where will the money come from to implement the vision? Miami-based designer Andres Duany has no cost estimate for the build-out of the spectacular concept he presented to the city a couple of weeks ago that would bring shops, restaurants, docks, a boathouse and a hotel to the 35-acre site along with other features. Estimates for how much revenue leasing or selling parts of the property to developers would bring have not yet been calculated, either, Duany added. “It’s much too early,” he said. Duany’s concept includes three restaurants; a waterfront boardwalk and walking paths throughout the property, which would contain a small lake; Youth Sailing Foundation headquarters; boat docks; wedding chapel; beach volleyball courts, skateboard park and playground area; and small retail buildings. READ FULL STORY


Home-health nurses accused of theft from elderly remain free
week of February 13, 2020

No real progress has been made since prosecutors plead- ed in court two months ago to speed up the trial of two home-health nurses accused of stealing more than a half-million dollars from an elderly John’s Island couple, so a jury can hear the case while the 88-year-old victim in the alleged crime is still alive. Sophia Monae Shepherd (aka Sophia Brown) and Chiquita Lashae McGee have been charged with serious felonies – exploitation of the elderly for $50,000 or more, and scheme to defraud a financial institution. But McGee and Shepherd, both arrested in early 2018, remain free on bond with lax release conditions as they await trial on charges that could carry up to 60 years in prison. The nurses are accused of stealing $543,000 from John’s Island residents Alfred and Michelina “Aline” Martinelli, using the couple’s money and credit to pay for gambling junkets, stays at the Plaza in Manhattan and other hotels, cruises, luxury items, jewelry and clothing from Neiman Marcus and the Ralph Lauren store, plastic surgery procedures and even the rental of a Rolls Royce Ghost. READ FULL STORY


High-stakes battle for 2 School Board seats
week of February 13, 2020

The battle over two School Board seats up for grabs this year is shaping up as a high-stakes fight between two rival political factions that could determine control of the board and the very soul of the Indian River County School District. The board is currently ruled by a 3-2 voting block consisting of Board Chairman Laura Zorc, Vice-Chairman Mara Schiff and board member Jacqueline Rosario. The three women have frequently thwarted the political efforts of board members Tiffany Justice and Teri Barenborg during the past year, as when the pair supported former school superintendent Mark Rendell before he was ousted. The balance of power could change because Zorc is being challenged for her District 3 seat by longtime educator Peggy Jones, who is politically aligned with Justice and Barenborg. The primary election will be held Aug. 18. If there are only two candidates vying for the same seat, whoever wins the primary wins the seat, according to the Indian River County Elections Office. READ FULL STORY


Virgin Trains operating losses top $200 million
week of February 13, 2020

Virgin Trains USA racked up operating losses of more than $200 million in its first two years running passenger service in South Florida, with 2019 ticket revenue falling far short of projections. Virgin Trains lost $80.9 million on existing operations from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2019, at the same time as the company undertook construction of new high-speed railroad tracks linking South Florida and Orlando International Airport. If the bleeding continued at the same pace through Dec. 31, 2019, VTUSA’s operating loss for the year would amount to $107.8 million, reports show. The company lost $109 million on operations in 2018. VTUSA plans to run 34 passenger trains per day through Indian River County at speeds up to 110 mph when service begins between Orlando and South Florida. The start date for that service has been moved back repeatedly by the company and is now projected for late 2022. READ FULL STORY


D’Agresta billed school district over $2.4 million
week of February 6, 2020

School District Attorney Suzanne D’Agresta may have priced herself out of a job. The Orlando-based lawyer, who has held the school district job for more than a decade, is already on thin ice with the School Board after submitting a rogue desegregation report to a federal judge that aroused the ire of the judge, School Board members and the district’s new superintendent. But it may be her billable hours that end her career in Indian River County, where the School Board is considering options for replacing her. A review of records shows D’Agresta charged the school district more than $2.4 million in legal fees and travel expenses over the past seven years, at the same time she raked in cash working for other districts around the state. In addition, the local school district had to cough up another $2 million during the same period to pay outside law firms D’Agresta hired to help her fight lawsuits and perform other legal work, according to school district financial records. D’Agresta receives a $264,000 annual retainer fee, paid in monthly installments, that covers 30 hours of legal work per week. Along with that income, she’s also received money each year for “additional work performed,” beyond 30 hours a week. READ FULL STORY


Increased access to treatment needed for teen depression
week of February 6, 2020

In Vero Beach, one set of parents wants to tell the world about their son if it helps prevent another suicide. Two weeks ago, the 17-year-old senior at Vero High took his own life. Now his mother, who has been hospitalized six times with bipolar disorder, is struggling again. Helping others look for signs of depression may help her make sense of what has happened, she says. “If my baby can save one other child, then I’m going to talk about it,” said Carolyn Pierre, the mom of the boy. Holding up a photo of her son smiling broadly, she said, “This is what depression looks like.” In Sebastian, another set of parents has told virtually no one outside their family what they went through on New Year’s Day when their child attempted suicide. But a month later, their 14-year-old daughter, pursuing what she sees as a fresh start, is ready to share her experience to try to help others, passing on the encouragement she got in a mental health hospital and the hope she is finding in continued therapy. READ FULL STORY


Brian Barefoot plans to run for seat on the School Board
week of February 6, 2020

Former Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot said he’s running for the county School Board to support Superintendent David Moore’s reform efforts and to bring transparency and greater accountability back to the local school system. “The kids are getting shortchanged, and the taxpayers are not getting a good return on their investment,” Barefoot said over the weekend. Barefoot said he’s met with Moore and said he’s convinced the new top man at the school district is “clearly the best candidate if you want someone who is going to shake things up.” But Moore needs School Board members with the knowledge, the skills and the fortitude to back him up, Barefoot said. If Moore’s ambitious reform agenda meets with an obstructionist School Board that is ill-equipped to steer the district through a needed process of change, that attitude will trickle down to administrators and teachers. Moore’s plans could get bogged down in bureaucracy. “That would be a huge missed opportunity,” Barefoot said. “School districts have a lot of different constituents – you have the students and the parents, and the taxpayers are also constituents,” Barefoot said. “You need total transparency. Your constituents need to have complete confidence in what you’re doing.” READ FULL STORY


Harry Howle ponders entering race for County Commission
week of February 6, 2020

Just three months since stepping down from the Vero Beach City Council following the successful conclusion of the Vero electric sale, Harry Howle is feeling the urge to run for office again – this time for the District 5 County Commission seat being vacated by Bob Solari. His motivation: Solari, Howle said, is leaving enormous shoes to fill and right now, he doesn’t like the way the Republican primary race is shaping up. “I’ve been in discussions with trusted advisors and supporters for a few weeks. Looking at the current field, I’m not convinced anyone gets close enough to Commissioner Solari’s level of dedication to limited government for my liking,” Howle said. By the end of the week, Howle said he will decide whether to file papers to run. Howle ran for Vero Beach City Council in 2015 to beat back what he saw as the city running amok under Dick Winger and his cohorts in the “Keep Vero Vero” crowd. Now Howle thinks he sees that same element, with the same group of supporters, creeping into the race for Solari’s seat. READ FULL STORY


Rail construction not starting here this year
week of February 6, 2020

Virgin Trains USA will not close any railroad crossings in Vero Beach for construction until late 2021 or early 2022 as part of its $2.5 billion expansion of passenger service between West Palm Beach and Orlando. Construction had previously been expected to start in Vero Beach this summer, but Virgin Trains again pushed back the timetable for the oft-delayed passenger rail project. VTUSA construction teams will start work on “Heading 2” in Jensen Beach this year and proceed north through Martin and St. Lucie counties before reaching Indian River County. “So that puts Vero Beach and Sebastian closer to the end of the construction phase,” VTUSA Vice President Rusty Roberts told Vero Beach officials in an email. “Our team tells me that we should expect the Vero Beach design plans to be ready sometime in second quarter this year . . . well in advance of the actual construction,” Roberts said. Roberts also agreed to take up the Vero Beach City Council’s offer to make a presentation about the passenger rail project and the idea of developing a multimodal terminal for train, bus and air lines at Vero Beach Regional Airport. But no date was set. READ FULL STORY


Dale Sorensen Real Estate, largest brokerage in county, has record year
week of February 6, 2020

Dale Sorensen Real Estate had its best year ever in 2019 with more than $800 million in transactions across the three-county region where it operates, including well over $500 million in Indian River County, making it by far the largest real estate brokerage in the county in terms of both dollar volume and number of transactions. According to figures from the MLS, Sorensen’s four offices in Indian River County handled 1,350 transactions that totaled $508 million, up nearly 10 percent from 2018, when the company did $465 million in business here. That averages out to 26 transactions and nearly $10 million a week, in season and out, year-round. Transactions in Brevard totaled $249.3 million in 2019, up 25 percent from just two years before when the number was $200.1 million. St. Lucie sales were $14.2 million in 2019, down about $2 million from 2018. Besides the $771 million in sales recorded in the MLS in the three counties, Managing Partner Dale Sorensen Jr. says an additional $44 million in sales didn’t show in the multiple listing service because they were of new construction, outside the three-county area or simply not listed on the MLS, bringing the company total to $815 million, the biggest number ever for an Indian River County-based brokerage. READ FULL STORY


County tourism director files complaint of being drugged
week of February 6, 2020

The county’s tourism director, accused of battery on a police officer, has filed a complaint with the Vero Beach Police Department saying she was drugged in a local bar while out with friends prior to a 3 a.m. Dec. 22 incident at IHOP on U.S. 1 that landed her in jail. Vero Police Capt. Matt Monaco had told Vero Beach 32963 on Jan. 27 that 40-year-old Allison McNeal had not filed a complaint with his agency, but three days later revised that statement. “I just found out that McNeal did file a report with us on the 23rd. The report was delayed showing up in our system,” Monaco said in an email on Jan. 30. Details of the complaint, such as which drug was used and the name of the bar, are not yet available. “We are unable to release the report at this time since it is an active investigation,” Monaco said. McNeal’s defense attorney Bobby Guttridge says his client was the victim of a serious crime while out with friends, which led to her run-in with the police and arrest. “We do have test results showing an illegal drug in her system that she did not take,” Guttridge said. READ FULL STORY


Big surge in kids seeking mental health assistance
week of January 30, 2020

A stunning increase in the number of ninth-graders asking for urgent help with their mental health – 37 came forward in just four days last fall – is putting heavy pressure on a year-old school program provided by the Mental Health Association. The violence and suicide prevention program was proposed by the nonprofit MHA and the Indian River Hospital District the day after the Valentine’s Day 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and was put into effect last February. Last year’s entire spring semester generated about the same number of students seeking counseling – 40 out of 970 in the program – as in the four days this past October. “The problem is much greater than we ever imagined,” said Dr. Nick Coppola, CEO of the Mental Health Association. “We were patting ourselves on the back last year. Then we went back this year, and now that we’ve earned their trust, we realized last year we were only scraping the surface.” So far, the program has been funded by the Hospital District and $50,000 in grants. READ FULL STORY


Felony charges filed against tourism director
week of January 30, 2020

Despite assertions by Allison McNeal’s attorney that his client was drugged in a local bar before being arrested at a Vero Beach IHOP last month, the 40-year-old county tourism director is now facing formal felony charges for the Dec. 22 incident. On Jan. 22, State Attorney Bruce Colton’s office filed an Information charging McNeal, a Vero Beach resident, with third-degree felony of battery of Vero Beach Police Officer Kassandra Ayala, plus third-degree felony resisting arrest with violence and a second-degree misdemeanor charge for trespassing. The charging document filed by Assistant State Attorney Michelle McCarter says McNeal’s altercation with Ayala – which police say occurred around 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning at the IHOP in the 1800 block of U.S. 1 in Vero – happened during the course of Ayala’s duties as a police officer, and that McNeal knew Ayala was a police officer when she allegedly tried to hit her in the face, landing a blow on Ayala’s arm instead. The Information also says McNeal, whose job is to help attract and welcome visitors to Vero Beach, “refused to depart” the IHOP after having been warned. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff’s captain let off after theft probe
week of January 30, 2020

Investigators say a recently concluded, 144-day Internal Affairs probe into theft allegations against a Sheriff’s Office captain – who chose to resign in September, rather than provide a sworn statement – did not uncover enough evidence to charge him with a crime. According to the IA report, however, the investigation produced sufficient evidence to prove that Adam Bailey, as captain of the Corrections Division last summer, violated Sheriff’s Office rules, policies and procedures by purchasing more than $1,700 worth of household-type items with his agency-issued credit card. According to the complaint lodged against him, “It is alleged that Captain Adam Bailey has procured items using his assigned credit card and then used said items in a manner not directly related to the mission of the Sheriff’s Office. “It is alleged that he purchased new tools, camping equipment and household fixtures, and said items have not been properly accounted for, nor were they submitted for issuance of an asset number and/or assignment.” A Jan. 10 letter from Sheriff Deryl Loar informed Bailey that the IA investigation found him guilty of “unbecoming conduct” and “neglect of duty,” but was unable to prove any violations of the law. READ FULL STORY


Abandoned citrus packing houses poignant reminder of glory days
week of January 30, 2020

Abandoned citrus packing houses in and around Vero Beach are a poignant reminder of the glory days here, when the scent of orange blossoms perfumed the air in spring and summer, and more than half the grapefruits grown on the planet came from Indian River and St. Lucie counties. Most of these hulking ghosts, with their tumble-down signs and flapping sheet metal, are strung out along U.S. 1 and Dixie Highway between Wabasso and Oslo Road. They are the aftermath of citrus greening – a wicked, insect-borne bacterial disease from China that appeared in Florida in 2005 and over the next decade wiped out 75 percent of orange production and 85 percent of grapefruit production in the state, according to the University of California. The faded names on the shuttered packinghouses – Hale Groves, Quality Fruit Packers, Graves Brothers – evoke the history of Indian River County, but the properties themselves could be part of its future. The packinghouses come with fair-sized chunks of land and many of the buildings are still sound, despite their forlorn looks. READ FULL STORY


County unlikely to kick in to keep Elite flying from Vero
week of January 30, 2020

County Administrator Jason Brown says Indian River County most likely will not fly to the rescue as Vero Beach tries to come up with funds to keep commercial airline passenger service at Vero Beach Regional Airport. The funding shortfall cropped up when Elite Airways, the airport’s only passenger airline, boarded more than 10,000 passengers for the first time in 2018. That number triggered a reclassification of the airport from a general aviation airport to a commercial airport that will go into effect in July. The reclassification reduces the airport’s eligibility for state grants and could cost the Vero as much as $1 million annually for airport projects in the city’s five-year plan, according City Manager Monte Falls, but Brown said that is the city’s problem. Brown said he would recommend the County Commission refrain from taxing county residents to prevent passenger service at the airport from crashing. “There has been a tendency for the city to look at county residents as takers and not contributors to the city airport,” Brown said. “The city raised the issue that some of the customers of Elite are county residents so they need to help pay for this, but I would also say county residents ... support the airport in its other operations.” READ FULL STORY


Seminar to discuss flushing Bethel Creek with seawater
week of January 30, 2020

County Commissioner Tim Zorc is determined to clean up Bethel Creek. For years, he has pushed for a project that would flush the stagnant creek with ocean water. Continuing that effort, he will host a seminar in March to make the public more aware of an innovative research project now underway in the creek that could lead to the kind of seawater flushing he believes would restore the ecological health of this inlet from the Indian River Lagoon. At the seminar, experts will explain a research project that has been undertaken by scientists from Florida Institute of Technology. The project involves a highly sophisticated computer-model study based on data collected in Bethel Creek, aimed at determining if the murky inlet can be cleaned by flushing it with ocean water. The university last year was awarded $800,000 by the state legislature for the first phase of the project, which will study a site in the Banana River and the Bethel Creek – which starts near the Village Market on the barrier island and curves through residential neighborhoods to open into the lagoon near the Vero Beach Municipal Marina. READ FULL STORY


New program may see local schools compete for students
week of January 30, 2020

Superintendent David Moore wants Indian River County schools to compete for students by offering specialized programs youths will be excited about and want to attend, and he has a plan to make that happen. Principals and teachers at every school in the district have been tasked with developing unique programs and curriculum to attract students from other schools, under a new “schools of choice” program Moore announced last week. “I’ve asked principals to market their schools with unique offerings,” Moore said. “In March we’re going to have a schools of choice fair where principals and teachers will pitch their schools” to students and parents. The goal is to motivate each school in the district to provide better opportunities for students, Moore said. Those opportunities could come in the form of niche programs, such as specialized math and science classes, or arts programs not offered elsewhere in the district. The schools of choice fair will be an annual event, Moore said. READ FULL STORY


Vero City Council backs Sen. Mayfield’s rail safety bill
week of January 30, 2020

As Virgin Trains USA develops passenger service that will zip through Vero Beach at up to 110 mph, the City Council concluded safety trumps cozying up to the company for a possible train station. Two weeks after skipping a chance to endorse state Sen. Debbie Mayfield’s high-speed passenger rail safety bill, the council voted unanimously Jan. 21 to send her a letter supporting the legislation. Councilman Joe Graves and Vice Mayor Laura Moss said their reluctance to support Mayfield’s bill on Jan. 7 as the council sought talks with Virgin Trains about a train station was misinterpreted by the public and rival politicians. “After hearing the comments after the last city council meeting, I personally want to make it clear that I applaud the efforts of Sen. Mayfield for putting forth this rail safety bill,” Graves said. “I would never compromise the safety of the citizens in order to get a stop.” Criticism of Graves and Moss for downplaying Mayfield’s bill and pushing for talks with Virgin Trains about putting a train station at Vero Beach Regional Airport continued during the Jan. 21 council meeting. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic making major changes to ER
week of January 23, 2020

For Holly Owen, wait times can’t wait. Owen, who took over managing the emergency department at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital last fall as part of her role as director of critical care services, immediately went to work devising a plan to shave critical minutes off ED wait times while also improving patient privacy and quality of care. The changes, expected to be complete by the end of January, will add 20 patient beds or treatment chairs to the current 44, streamlining the workflow and reducing patient wait times. Improved care and comfort are also part of the plan. A paramedic will now greet patients at the front entrance to identify symptoms of urgent concern. And at registration and discharge, clerks with portable tablets and printers will come to the patient instead of the other way around, sparing patients the effort of standing in line while shaving more minutes off the dreaded ED ordeal. “It’s going to be drastically different,” says Owen, fanning the pages of a daily checklist that evolved out of multiple meetings over the past month. “We’ve had work groups with physicians, registration, techs, paramedics – everybody – so we can streamline the times and make the experience an excellent one while still giving quality care.” READ FULL STORY


New super:‘Bold steps’ needed to improve schools
week of January 23, 2020

Superintendent David Moore told a standing-room-only crowd at a townhall meeting last week that the school district’s current way of operating isn’t working, and vowed changes are on the way. Those changes include better management of the district’s finances and holding school administrators and teachers more accountable for student academic success, Moore said. Moore delivered his bluntly worded message to more than 150 school employees and residents who attended a Jan. 16 townhall meeting at the J.A. Thompson Administrative Center. “Our current plan is not working,” Moore said. “Bold, courageous steps must be taken to improve the district. “I’m going to be questioning our current efforts and outcomes, the effectiveness of our current leadership. It’s not a matter of can things change. They will change.” READ FULL STORY


Lagoon waterfront saved from development
week of January 23, 2020

All island residents who care about protecting the wide green vista along the western shore of the lagoon that we see when coming over the top of the Barber Bridge got a late Christmas present last week from the Indian River Land Trust. The nonprofit, which was founded in 1990 to help save McKee Botanical Gardens, scored its biggest triumph in recent years on Friday, when it closed on the purchase of a 65-acre parcel just north of the Barber Bridge. The land, long known as the Hoffmann property, completes what is now a two-mile stretch of shoreline – extending from the main relief canal south of the bridge to Oak Harbor – that will be preserved in its natural state for the foreseeable future. “This is the most visible and impactful acquisition we have made along the lagoon,” Land Trust board chairman Chuck Cramb said. “The property embodies the Land Trust’s . . . [goal of] preserving habitat, protecting scenic waterfront and providing public access to the benefit of future generations.” READ FULL STORY


Community Church bids farewell to Revs. Baggott
week of January 23, 2020

More than 1,000 smiling faces – and fistfuls of tissues – reflected the mixed emotions of the congregation as the Revs. Bob and Casey Baggott delivered a final message Sunday to worshipers at Community Church, where the couple has served for 16 years. The Baggotts, who shared duties as the spiritual leaders of one of Vero’s most prominent churches, are headed back to Minneapolis to be close to their 13 children and grandchildren – a group that filled a long row of seats at Sunday’s service. In addition to hundreds of sermons, the pair also co-wrote the On Faith column for Vero Beach 32963. The Baggotts’ farewell was delivered in the church’s main sanctuary, against a backdrop of the spectacular Lively-Fulcher pipe organ. The sanctuary required extensive renovation when the organ was installed and the Baggotts led the successful effort to raise $13 million for the instrument and construction. READ FULL STORY


School Board seeks options for replacing outside attorney
week of January 23, 2020

Attorney Suzanne D’Agresta’s long tenure as hired outside counsel for the Indian River County School Board seems likely to end this year after the board directed Superintendent David Moore to explore options for replacing her. The board’s directive comes just days after D’Agresta was reprimanded by a federal judge for writing and submitting an unauthorized desegregation “progress” report. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams, who oversees the school district’s compliance with a federal desegregation order that has been in effect for 52 years, also sharply criticized D’Agresta for refusing to include in the report input from the NAACP and the district’s Equity Committee. While D’Agresta’s solo report painted a rosy picture about the district’s progress in complying with the federal order’s requirements to reduce inequity in the schools, the NAACP and the Equity Committee say little progress has been made. The board and Moore said the judge’s reprimand of D’Agresta was “embarrassing” to the school district. “We’ve been dancing around this for the past year,” School Board chairwoman Mara Schiff said at the board’s Jan. 14 work session. “We need to make a decision sooner, rather than later. We need to do this.” READ FULL STORY


High school likely to start later in the future
week of January 23, 2020

Superintendent David Moore wants high school students to start classes later in the morning than the current 7:10 a.m, a change advocated for the past year by School Board member Tiffany Justice. Moore, who took over leadership of the school district last month, previously served as an assistant superintendent in the Miami-Dade district where school start times were advanced after three years of research. He said is in favor of a similar change here and has already begun pitching it to the School Board and to the public. “Our research shows that later start times improve academic performance,” Moore told the School Board in December. “It is a big change and it takes time to implement so you have to move aggressively.” Pre-K and elementary classes currently start between 8:40 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. Middle school students begin school at 8 a.m. The school day for high school students starts at 7:10 a.m. Board members expressed most concern about the early start time for high school students. It wasn’t clear if start times for other grade levels might be altered as well. READ FULL STORY


Why did state wait so long to bring charges in boating death?
week of January 23, 2020

More than two and a half years after a tragic boating crash resulting in the June 2017 death of his friend Chance Riviero, 21-year-old Jayson Clark of southwest Vero was arrested on vessel homicide charges. What took so long to make an arrest is somewhat of a mystery. Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman, the attorney prosecuting the case based upon an investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), said “vehicle fatality cases always take longer than other cases before being presented. “This case required additional follow-up by the agency and review by experts before I could reach a charging decision,” Workman said. “The charge is well within the statute of limitations and I expect it to now proceed just as any other case.” Vero-based defense attorney Andy Metcalf, who is representing Clark, said he’s worked a good number of cases involving a fatal crash and a state agency – typically the Florida Highway Patrol – and though the length of time can vary, two and a half years is more than twice as long as what he has experienced. READ FULL STORY


Vero City Council ‘blindsided’ by airport funding problem
week of January 23, 2020

When Elite Airways arrived in Vero four years ago, the city was so excited by the resumption of commercial air service it appears to have never considered how unlikely it was that passenger growth would offset a future loss of state funding for Vero Beach airport projects. But city officials now belatedly say it would take at least 200,000 passengers departing from the Vero airport annually to offset the loss of $1 million a year in state airport funding that kicks in when commercial flights board more than 10,000 passengers. The number boarding Elite flights here in 2018: just over 11,000. “From talking to the previous city manager, the understanding that I have gleaned from it was that the city anticipated that the growth from Elite – and possibly other airlines that might come in – would get to the point that would make this viable,” City Manager Monte Falls said. “It’s just unfortunate that the growth hasn’t been that dynamic.” The Vero Beach City Council was blindsided by the news of the financial booby trap, Vice Mayor Laura Moss said. “I was surprised because you think to yourself, ‘Well, everybody must have known, including Elite.’” READ FULL STORY


Mystery public-records lawsuits plaintiff strikes again
week of January 23, 2020

The mystery plaintiff who filed public records lawsuits against the school district and Sheriff’s Office in December is now taking the City of Vero Beach to court, too. According to the plaintiff, identified only as “John Doe aka saveverobeach@gmail.com” in all three court filings, more such lawsuits are planned. “Obviously, I cannot say who the next lawsuit will be filed against,” the plaintiff said in an online interview with Vero Beach 32963, adding that “more are currently being drafted and another will be filed soon.” The anonymous plaintiff said he will not reveal his identity until he’s done filing lawsuits to compel government officials and agencies to provide the public records he seeks. The third lawsuit was filed last week against the City of Vero Beach and City Clerk Tammy Bursick for public records connected to her city-issued cellphone. The suit also sought the August billing statement for another city-issued cellphone assigned to City Councilwoman Laura Moss. READ FULL STORY