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Double lots on ocean sought by wealthy buyers
week of January 12, 2017

The top 1 percent of wealthy homebuyers have a new No. 1 priority for their multimillion- dollar homes – privacy, according to a 2016 report from Luxury Portfolio International. The desire of this group for secure and peaceful seclusion is illustrated in Vero by a new trend in the estate section of the barrier island, where buyers have begun purchasing double lots on the ocean to build new homes. “It used to be if somebody bought a double lot – that was pretty rare. Now it is the norm,” says Premier Estate Properties broker associate Clark French, who with his partner Cindy O’Dare sells much of the property in the estate section. “And it’s not like they are buying extra land so they can build huge homes that take up every square foot. It is more for privacy.” “Affluent buyers are increasingly purchasing wider lots and double lots to create a physical barrier and landscape buffer between them and their surroundings so they can be secure and at peace on their property and have greater privacy if they’re using their pool or entertaining outdoors,” says Michael Thorpe, co-owner of Treasure Coast Sotheby’s International Realty. READ FULL STORY


American Icon Brewery hoping to open by 4th of July
week of January 12, 2017

Michael Rechter’s ambitious plan to transform the old Diesel Power Plant into a dining and drinking destination has moved another step closer to reality, and he now hopes to have his American Icon Brewery open by the 4th of July. The site plan for the brewery was approved by the Vero Beach Planning & Zoning Commission last week, and Rechter hopes to get the county’s OK of a $1.8 million building permit next week, along with the Vero Historic Preservation Commission’s “Special Certificate of Appropriateness.” With those hurdles cleared, renovation will be ready to begin. “I hope to have it open by July 4th for obvious marketing reasons,” Rechter said. “I would love to hit that deadline. But it has to be right. If we make it, we make it. We’ve been working hard the last six month. There are teams of architects, engineers, brewery and restaurant experts, and interior designers; there are probably 15 companies involved.” READ FULL STORY


INEOS sale seen moving forward
week of January 12, 2017

The CEO of the company trying to purchase the INEOS Bio ethanol plant and hire its employees remained tight-lipped after meetings with federal officials last Thursday, but negotiations seem to be on track for the transaction to go forward. After returning to West Palm Beach from U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters in Washington, Alliance BioEnergy CEO Daniel de Liege said he could not comment about the outcome of his D.C. meeting, but sent an email to county officials giving them an update. “He said the meetings in D.C. went well, and that he wanted to get together about the mulching contract,” County Commissioner Tim Zorc said this week. READ FULL STORY


City barred from replenishing its eroded beaches
week of January 12, 2017

A county request for $5.8 million in state money to fix Vero’s eroded beaches highlights a bizarre situation: The city is barred by its own charter from spending tax dollars to fix the beaches it depends on, not just for much of its revenue and reputation, but for its very identity. A charter amendment approved by voters in the 1989 bans the city from undertaking any major beach replenishment projects, and the popular beaches at Jaycee Park, Sexton Plaza and Humiston Park just keep getting narrower. Making the situation still more bizarre, the county, which feeds on bed tax money collected from barrier island hotels, has refused to pay for beach repairs within the city, even though the city is part of the county and draws most of the tourists who come here. City Manager Jim O’Connor, backed by a string of former mayors, has repeatedly asked the county to share bed-tax money collected from Vero Beach’s hotels and motels, citing the importance of the city’s beaches to tourism and the local economy. READ FULL STORY


Promoter of concert says no refunds will be given
week of January 12, 2017

Organizers of the inaugural Beach Town Music Festival, postponed because of Hurricane Matthew and finally rescheduled to be held 14 months later, said no refunds will be given to those who bought tickets for the October event which was to have been headlined by home-grown country music star Jake Owen. Instead, tickets purchased for the two-day festival – which ranged in price up to $249 for the event that was to have taken place last Oct. 7-8 at the Indian River County Fairgrounds – will be honored for the rescheduled event this coming December. "For all ticketholders, all sales are final and there are no refunds," promoter Basis Entertainment said in response to inquiries from Vero Beach 32963 that were prompted by angry ticket holders. "This is stated clearly when tickets are purchased and also noted in our terms of service online." Tickets purchased for the postponed festival will be honored in December, the statement said. The festival has been rescheduled for Dec. 8-9 (Friday and Saturday) and will remain at the fairgrounds. READ FULL STORY


Bondholders must approve Shores electric sale
week of January 12, 2017

The new leader of the statewide power co-op that has long blocked Vero’s efforts to get out of the electric business delivered some good news to the Vero City Council about a pending deal to carve Indian River Shores electric customers out of Vero’s territory and sell them to Florida Power & Light for $30 million. He said the Shores sale is not, in theory, a problem. Florida Municipal Power Association CEO Jacob Williams told the council that Vero’s membership covenants with the other FMPA cities and its bondholders prohibit the city from divesting itself of a substantial portion of the electric system, because electric revenues are seen as pledged in perpetuity to meet the FMPA’s financial obligations. But because the 3,000 Shores customers make up only about nine percent of Vero’s system, the sale would not be covered by the restriction, he said. But Williams also said FMPA bondholders must sign off on the deal. “The bondholders just have to say that it’s not a significant risk,” Williams told the council, adding that the process of formally presenting the question to those bondholders “will take several months to work through.” READ FULL STORY


FPL plans huge Indian River County solar ‘farm’
week of January 12, 2017

Florida Power & Light intends to build a 74.5-megawatt photovoltaic operation – a solar farm that produces enough juice to power 15,000 homes – in southern Indian River County, east of I-95, at 1750 122nd Avenue SW. Slated to be operational by early 2018, the power-generating project will occupy 354 acres of a 697-acre tract of former groves FPL is buying from Evans Properties, Inc. The sale price has not been disclosed. The Indian River County location was chosen, according to FPL, because of its close proximity to existing FPL transmission lines, flat topography, lack of trees and underbrush that would need to be cleared, and the fact that building a solar farm there will have virtually no negative environmental impact. Solar panels will be assembled on site and installed approximately 2 feet off the ground, placed strategically to avoid wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas. READ FULL STORY


Buyer emerges for foreclosed INEOS plant
week of January 5, 2017

The INEOS biofuel plant, a high-tech facility built in South Vero with tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies that never worked right in three years of semi-operation, may get a second chance to produce ethanol. A West Palm Beach energy company wants to buy the plant, which failed to produce marketable quantities of ethanol with its yard-waste fermentation process, and convert it to a cellulose-to-sugar ethanol process. Daniel de Liege, who heads up Alliance BioEnergy, said his patented technology is much simpler than what INEOS tried to pull off, and that the plant can be adapted quickly to a mechanical technique his scientists are already using at the company’s lab in Longwood, Florida. Alliance put in an offer on the 68-acre property after Arbor Bank, which holds a federally-backed loan made to INEOS through the USDA, foreclosed in November and began looking for a buyer. De Liege would not disclose the amount of his bid, but he said he has been encouraged by the bank’s response. READ FULL STORY


School employees use ‘the card’ for fancy hotel stays
week of January 5, 2017

If you are a high-ranking School District employee and you don’t want the School Board to know what you are spending on fancy hotels and airfare, put it on “the card.” This is Vero Beach 32963’s second investigation into use of the School District’s “procurement cards,” which function just like a credit card with an $8 million limit. The first investigation revealed nearly $500,000 has been paid to a mold remediation company since July, during the same period the district was denying there is a problem with mold in its schools. This time around, when 32963 acquired copies of procurement card statements showing staff travel charges and showed the statements to three School Board members, one had a visceral reaction. “This is very upsetting to me,” new board member Laura Zorc said. “The Waldorf? Give me a break. It’s easy to spend other people's money.” Use of the district’s all-too-convenient charge cards is supposed to be governed by an 18-page procurement code, but School District officials have repeatedly flouted the written rules to conceal unauthorized spending. READ FULL STORY


School District kept inaccurate health insurance records
week of January 5, 2017

One measure of the School District’s poor management of its self-insured health insurance fund is the $7 million deficit it ran up in recent years. Another equally damning measure is the number and magnitude of discrepancies between what the district reported to the state Office of Insurance Regulation and what it reported in its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The district’s 2011 audited financial report showed plan revenue of $17,162,000 but it reported only $14,468,373 in revenue to the state – an astonishing variation of $2.7 million. On the expense side, the district’s audited report showed $16,804,000 but it told the state it spent $14,630,585, a $2.1 million difference. When Brown & Brown Insurance – which Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources William Fritz has blamed for the insurance fund woes – was hired as the district’s health insurance broker in 2010, Executive Vice President Ken Felten realized his firm was being fed inaccurate information. “I asked the district to conduct an internal audit to reconcile what the payroll department was deducting from paychecks, what the benefits department had for employee coverage and what Blue Cross Blue Shield had as employee coverage. None of it matched up,” Felten said. READ FULL STORY


Driver who killed Orchid man expected to plead guilty
week of January 5, 2017

The woman charged with killing Orchid Island winter resident Peter Meyer in a hit-and-run incident in Savannah in January 2015 is expected to plead guilty to vehicular homicide at a Feb. 6 hearing in Georgia Superior Court. "From what I've been told by the district attorney, she'll enter an open-ended plea," Meyer's daughter, Sue Ross, said last week. "She'll plead guilty, then the lawyers from both sides will argue mitigation and aggravation. "I don't know if the family will be allowed to address the court, but we're submitting 30 victim-impact statements from family members and friends that the judge will consider before imposing a sentence." Ross said she didn't know if Chatham County District Attorney Frank Pennington agreed to seek less than the maximum 15-year prison sentence Darcia Lavonde Hymon, 51, of Jacksonville, could receive under Georgia law if she takes her case to trial and is convicted. Neither Pennington nor Assistant Public Defender Robert Attridge could be reached for comment. READ FULL STORY


George Heaton gives up on south island hotel project
week of January 5, 2017

George Heaton’s ambitious plan to build a 10-story, 160-room hotel, 45 condos and nine cottages on 12 acres at the far southern end of the barrier island is dead after he terminated a contract to buy the land. The developer, who built the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa on Ocean Drive and is developing a new subdivision in Riomar, told 32963 he had hoped to close on the property at 2600 A1A in St. Lucie County this past fall to build the 170,000-square-foot, $70 million project. But that did not happen. The listing broker for the property, Bob Lowe, said Heaton no longer has a contract for the prime oceanfront land. “I heard the plan was too expensive to build. He does not have a contract. Anybody can come in and buy the land,” Lowe said last week. Heaton confirmed the plan as it was proposed is dead because of the economics. "We probably over-designed the project,” he said. READ FULL STORY


Clinical trials to be open to Vero cancer patients
week of December 29, 2016

Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute will make scores of clinical trials of cancer drugs available to Vero Beach patients in the coming year, potentially providing a second chance for those with hard-to-treat cancers or a more effective treatment for others on existing cancer medications. According to local oncologist Dr. Raul Storey, between “80 to 100 clinical trials” will be open for enrollment by patients here, aimed at “every different type of cancer.” Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute, which opened its office in Vero about three years ago, has 34 locations and more than 200 oncologists in Florida, making it the nation’s largest independent, physician-owned medical oncology practice. It has teamed with the Sarah Cannon Research Institute, a global cancer research firm, to bring the clinical trials to Indian River County. Two other Vero physicians, Dr. Noor Merchant and Dr. Hugo Davila, will join Storey in enrolling patients in the trials. Merchant founded his oncology practice in Vero Beach some 30 years ago before teaming up with Florida Cancer Specialists. READ FULL STORY


Mayor Moss prepared to negotiate first phase of electric sale
week of December 29, 2016

Six impressive law firms want to represent the City of Vero Beach in the sale of the Indian River Shores portion of its electric system to Florida Power & Light for $30 million, but Mayor Laura Moss says it’s too soon to lawyer up. In a unanticipated move, she plans to oversee negotiations herself for the time being. “Once you hire an attorney, it’s like stepping into a taxicab, the meter starts running,” Moss told Vero Beach 32963 when she received an 82-page packet of proposals from prospective legal counsel. The first priority, Moss said, is getting a clear fix on the complex technical aspects of partitioning the electric system. “City Manager Jim O’Connor and [Electric Utility Director] Ted Fletcher are already working on that with FPL, they started on that the very next day after we approved the letter of intent to sell,” Moss said. READ FULL STORY


School District cover-up seen over blame for $7 million deficit in health insurance fund
week of December 29, 2016

The School District, which ran up the current $7 million deficit in its health insurance fund by ignoring the advice of its actuary from 2011 to 2015, now seems to have been caught in a cover-up in its effort to blame the massive premium shortfall on “bad advice” from its former broker. Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources William Fritz, who oversees the district’s self-insured health insurance fund for its teachers and other employees, has repeatedly claimed the district didn’t charge enough in premiums over the past five years because Brown & Brown, its broker, recommended increases insufficient to keep pace with rising costs. Asked by the School District to produce records supporting this claim, Fritz said he couldn’t find Brown & Brown recommendations on premium rates because the district had moved to new offices and there had been staff turnover. But in fact, documents that Vero Beach 32963 obtained from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation show that rate recommendations during this period actually came not from Brown & Brown but from the Wakely Consulting Group, the actuary employed by the School District. And Wakely recommended significant rate increases each year that were largely ignored by the district. READ FULL STORY


Fritz usurps School Board authority in raising retiree insurance premiums
week of December 29, 2016

Assistant School Superintendent William Fritz appears to have usurped School Board authority by announcing a substantial hike in retiree health insurance premiums before the increase was approved by the board, and at least one board member is not happy about it. Fritz oversees the human resources department, which includes benefits and risk management. His department sent a letter dated Nov. 9 to retirees 65 and older, with no sender-name or contact given, informing them of a 32 percent hike in rates to take effect Jan. 1. But it wasn’t until Nov. 22 that the Indian River County School Board met and approved the increase. After seeing a copy of the letter sent to retirees ahead of the board’s vote, newly-elected board member Laura Zorc said, “This is unacceptable.” Board members Shawn Frost said, “I'm not a big fan of staff jumping the gun on policy issues because that is the role of the Board. They are charged with implementation, board corporate sets policy.” READ FULL STORY


No retail shops for Ocean Drive condo
week of December 29, 2016

Vero Planning and Development Director Tim McGarry has said he would like to see more mixed-use development in the city, with retail or restaurants on the ground floor of new residential buildings, but developers of a luxury condo project across from Conn Beach say it won’t include that feature. The four-story, five-unit building is slated to go up on the spot where the Boardwalk Café and Ice Cream shop was until last May, and similar businesses might have been desirable amenities for beachgoers, but developer and longtime Vero resident Yane Zana says the economics of his project don’t support mixed use. "We are primarily oceanfront residential developers and leasing commercial space doesn't particularly interest us,” says Zana, managing director of the Coastmark Companies, developer and builder of the 4091 Ocean condos, which take their name from the property’s street address. "As to the economics, just look at the lease space in the Citrus Grill building [at the Ocean Park development next to Humiston Park]. Empty commercial space is not an enticing proposition." READ FULL STORY


Shores to consider eliminating aging septic systems
week of December 29, 2016

Pressure on local governments to take action aimed at reversing the ecological crisis in the Indian River Lagoon has resulted in programs to phase out septic tanks, and the Town of Indian River Shores is not immune to the issue. The Shores is served by Vero Beach Utilities but sewer service is not available to the entire town and 160 homes still use aging septic systems that most scientists say leak harmful chemicals into the groundwater and eventually into the lagoon. The Shores Town Council has in the past heard presentations about septic pollution by environmental organizations and scientists, including Dr. Brian LaPointe of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, but the discussion was strictly academic; the Shores never considered taking action to mandate that residents switch from septic to sewer. Now, however, Councilman Dick Haverland is urging his colleagues to fully examine the issue and ponder potential solutions. “Bring somebody in to give us all sides of the issue,” Haverland said, acknowledging there is some disagreement among experts about how much septic systems contribute to the overall pollution load in the estuary. READ FULL STORY


Key details still to be worked out in electric deal
week of December 22, 2016

As the calendar rolls over to 2017 and the Vero Beach electric saga moves into its eighth year, Florida Power & Light and city officials are closely examining the nuts and bolts of a sales agreement that Indian River Shores residents hope will finally set them free from Vero’s high electric rates. But some key details still need to be worked out before a final sales agreement is inked, and Councilmen Tony Young and Dick Winger have raised questions about one clause in the letter of intent presented by FPL and approved by the city – a provision stating that Vero would pay for its share of the costs of splitting up the electric system. The technical reality of the partial sale is that Vero current brings power into the Shores from the south, but FPL would eventually need to reconfigure its transmission system in the Shores to bring power in from the north barrier island where it already has customers. READ FULL STORY


Bent Pine embarks on $4 million renovation
week of December 22, 2016

They’re calling it their “Vision 2020 Enhancement Program” – a $4 million renovation project that members and management say will ensure that Bent Pine Golf Club remains competitive in the local market. “We’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses,” said Bent Pine’s new general manager, Hugh O’Donnell, who was hired in July and is overseeing the project. “We’re hoping to enhance the experience of our current members and attract new ones. “We think these improvements, both outdoors and to our clubhouse, will create excitement and get more people to take a look at us and see what Bent Pine is all about.” O’Donnell said Bent Pine members “overwhelmingly approved” the project in March, and the club has submitted its site plan and renderings to county officials with hopes of embarking on the first phase of the renovations this spring. The initial phase includes construction of a new, longer, 50,000-square-foot driving range, which will be relocated to vacant land between the first and third holes. The existing driving range will be transformed into a short-game practice facility that includes chipping areas and bunkers. READ FULL STORY


Miracle baby Kaiden Bracken’s third Christmas
week of December 22, 2016

Two Christmases ago, the miracle of Kaiden Bracken’s heart transplant was announced in a press conference at Joe DiMaggio Children’s hospital in Hollywood, the first baby in South Florida to get a heart from a donor of a different blood type. The next Christmas, in 2015, the family celebrated that Kaiden had survived a landmark first year. His mountain of presents included a noisy flashing car that careened around the south barrier island living room of his grandparents, George and Linda O’Malley. On the eve of Kaiden’s third Christmas, his obsession is a toy train, a hand-me-down from a friend who saw in an instant the thrill it gave little Kaiden. Joyful and full of energy, Kaiden navigates knees, couches and chairs following the train on its mesmerizing course around the coffee table. This year there are too many miracles to count in Kaiden’s life, the news that a biopsy of his swollen tonsils came back negative for Hodgkin’s disease chief among them. The decision to remove the tonsils was difficult – doctors were reluctant to take away a natural defense against infection, since Kaiden’s aggressive regimen of immune-suppressant drugs already restricts his life. READ FULL STORY


Vero Rowing Club’s gift to the public: a floating dock
week of December 22, 2016

As the Vero Beach Rowing Club searches for a $1 million donor who will make its dream of a boathouse come true, the club has given a gift of its own to the boating public: a floating dock to use for launching kayaks, paddle boards and – if they have them – rowing shells like the ones the club will eventually launch from the dock. The 100-foot modular dock, which floats parallel to the southern shore of the boat launch area at MacWilliam Park, is the first part of a new $2.2 million rowing center planned by the club. Construction of the $28,000 structure started two weeks ago when concrete footers were poured. The aluminum ramp that connects the dock to a city-owned tract of land leased by the rowing club in an agreement reached a year ago rises and falls with the tides. It was attached to the footers by three rowing club members who were more than qualified for the task. They included Todd Young, senior engineering designer for the City of Vero Beach, and Chris Ryan, who has three degrees from M.I.T. and ran a global engineering firm. Then last week, volunteers helped assemble the sections of the dock made of industrial-grade grey plastic. READ FULL STORY


Shores plans to build new enlarged community center
week of December 22, 2016

If you’ve ever attended a meeting or event in the Indian River Shores Community Center and wondered why the floor is squishy, it’s because the donated former model home and sales office was not built on a poured foundation, but instead moved to the site from the nearby Victoria Condominium in 1982. Now it’s time for the wealthy Shores community to have a new, permanent community center, town officials decided last week. Town Clerk Laura Aldrich said the history of the community center was handed down from former Town Clerk Virginia Gilbert, who remembered then-mayor Fritz Gierhart negotiating the deal with Justice Builders to acquire the $200,000 building for the $22,000 cost of moving it. Shores resident Burton Salmon donated the $10,000 to finish the project, so the building was dedicated to his late wife Sally. Once in place at the government center, the building was elevated and anchored down like a mobile home, then hooked up to utilities. Former Vice Mayor Jerry Weick said the town has been very lucky, considering storms and the age of the building, that the center has served Shores residents as long and as well as it has. But 35 years is pushing the limit for a “temporary” building. READ FULL STORY


Shores cell tower may be operational by Easter
week of December 22, 2016

With federal and tribal approvals and a favorable environmental assessment in hand, the company Indian River Shores contracted to build its much-anticipated cell tower is now finalizing the design for a 135-foot Monopine tower, which will go up much like a gigantic artificial Christmas tree. The site plan still has to be approved by the Planning Zoning and Variance Board and the Shores Town Council. Construction will take two or three months and town officials hope to have the tower operational Easter. After a deep-rooted foundation is poured to elevate sensitive equipment to one foot above the floodplain, the basic tower will go up. It won’t look pretty at first, but Town Manager Robbie Stabe told residents to be patient – camouflage branches will go on before long and the tower will look at least a little bit like a tree. “The main tower will go up first, then the antennas, and then the branches go on last. Please rest assured, it is not going to be a monopole with external arrays,” Stabe reported to council members. READ FULL STORY


Sewer question again is an issue in Central Beach
week of December 15, 2016

Older homes in Vero’s Central Beach neighborhoods that still utilize septic tanks and might benefit from hooking up to the city’s hybrid septic-sewer system often are on canopied streets, with grand, overarching oaks deeply rooted in the path sewer lines would need to cross to carry away household waste. The challenge of how to balance two competing ecological interests – preservation of charming old trees and preventing septic runoff into the Indian River Lagoon that poisons marine life – has caused Vero officials to pause before extending the Septic Tank Effluent Pumping (STEP) system to the city’s most established barrier island streets. City council members were scheduled to vote on an ordinance change last week that would permit the water-sewer utility to run lines down these shell or gravel streets, something currently prohibited due to concern for the historic tree canopy. But in the analysis of the amendment, city staff noted the move might “bring some opposition from property owners and the public concerning protection of the Live Oak tree canopies along these streets.” READ FULL STORY


Jake’s buddy giving Vero two youth baseball diamonds
week of December 15, 2016

Homegrown country music star Jake Owen will be getting an impressive Christmas gift from his NASCAR buddy, Kevin Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner who visited him in Vero Beach last weekend. A pair of diamonds. Baseball diamonds. According to a knowledgeable source, Harvick will donate in Owen's name "several hundred thousand dollars" to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which will match the contribution and build two youth-league baseball fields – including one with a synthetic turf surface – at Vero Beach's Michael Field complex. The donation is expected to be announced this week, when Owen performs at a Charlotte, N.C.-area fundraiser for Harvick's foundation, and it may well come as news to Owen, who seems not to know about the gift. The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Owen was unaware of Harvick's donation last week. It is possible the 2014 NASCAR Series champion told Owen about the gift this past weekend, when both played in the 71st Hale Groves Indian River Grapefruit Pro-Am golf tournament at the Vero Beach Country Club, but Owen said nothing about the baseball fields during his Friday night concert at Vero Beach High School's Performing Arts Center. READ FULL STORY


New Harbor Branch director set to deal with big challenges
week of December 15, 2016

For a world-renowned oceanographer like Anton Post, climate change deniers have always been a bit maddening. So only days after the presidential election, Post sat in his new office at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, trying to reconcile election results with the already daunting challenges he faces as Harbor Branch’s new executive director. The former visiting scholar at M.I.T., who won a fellowship to do research at the famed Oceanographic Institute at Woods Hole, had spent his career studying the shifting oceans. Now a political tide had rendered him close to speechless, at least on one subject: Donald Trump, the soon-to-be leader of the free world, has said he thinks climate change is a hoax. “I live on Cape Cod. I see the effects of sea level rise there. I work in Rhode Island, in Newport. They have kept a record since the 1930s. Sea level rise has happened there at a foot-and-a-half per century. That may sound like little, but it is not,” says Post. READ FULL STORY


Rate study shows Vero electric not becoming competitive
week of December 15, 2016

A rate study delivered to Vero officials last week does not show the city’s electric rates becoming competitive with Florida Power & Light rates. Instead it anticipates rising power and personnel costs for the utility along with the issuance of $5 million in new debt. But the study – which cost $31,000 – may have lost its relevance when the Vero Council voted last week to pursue a sale of the Indian River Shores customers. The study does not take into account elimination of the cost of serving and maintaining the Shores portion of the system nor the influx of $30 million from the sale. The study was commissioned by the previous City Council that rejected Florida Power & Light’s offer to purchase the Shores customers, so consultants looked at rate projections based on the cost to continue providing power to all 34,000 customers, plus expenses for upkeep and service to the entire system. Consultants Public Resource Management Group (PRMG) projected significant increases across the board in operating expenses beyond 2017, including a 3 percent annual increase in labor and benefit costs, a 5 percent increase in worker’s compensation premiums, and a 3 percent increase in general liability insurance. READ FULL STORY


County teachers hit with huge hike in health insurance costs
week of December 15, 2016

The mid-month paychecks that went out to Indian River County public school teachers this week were considerably lighter than usual as the result of a huge increase in the amount they now are going to have to pay for their health insurance. While the teachers union last week overwhelmingly voted to reject a contract that contained the School Board’s proposed premium increase, the School Board nevertheless imposed the rate hike – as it was entitled to do – under a strange procedure in which it acts as an arbiter in disputes between the School District and the union. The proposal that was implemented forces teachers and other employees to pay an additional $3.8 million in premiums while the School District kicks in an additional $2 million to make up a $5.8 million annual shortfall in the district’s health insurance fund. The School Board sat as a panel of judges to rule on how much teachers would have to pay for health insurance because the union and the School District could not come to an agreement after lengthy negotiations. READ FULL STORY


FPL takeover of Shores electric moving quickly
week of December 8, 2016

Hoping to move swiftly on the purchase of the 3,000 Indian River Shores electric customers now served by the City of Vero Beach electric system, Florida Power & Light delivered a 92-page letter of intent to Vero last week that outlines terms of the proposed deal. The Vero City Council then approved moving forward on these items at Tuesday’s City Council meeting on a 3-to-2 vote, despite expressions of consternation by those opposed to selling off the Shores customers for $30 million cash. FPL says it would need to purchase Vero’s transmission assets that carry power to residents and businesses in the Shores, and those assets need to be free and clear of liens and other encumbrances. It states that FPL will provide retail electric service to Shores customers and charge its existing rates, as approved and adjusted by state regulators. In addition, the Shores Town Council last week affirmed its previous commitment for the 80 percent of town residents that would be switching from Vero electric to FPL to fund $3 million of the purchase price via a surcharge. READ FULL STORY


Major donors suspend support of Food Bank
week of December 8, 2016

Two major contributors to the Treasure Coast Food Bank, Feeding America and the Publix Charitable Foundation, have launched their own probe of the Food Bank in the wake of a Vero Beach 32963 investigation questioning how CEO Judy Cruz had spent thousands of dollars in donations. Sources close to Publix and Feeding America say that the Food Bank has been put on “probation” until a forensic audit is completed, which means no money and no food is currently being given to Treasure Coast Food Bank by either donor. Meanwhile, managers and check-out clerks at area Publix stores are quick to reassure wary customers – when they asked them to donate to feed the hungry for the holidays – that none of the money is going to Treasure Coast Food Bank. The United Way of Indian River County has also expressed concern over where money given to the Food Bank is going. But rather than proceed with its own investigation, the United Way has agreed to let Miguel Cody, Food Bank board chairman who is a longtime friend of Cruz, conduct his own inquiry and share the findings with the United Way. READ FULL STORY


Property owners moving to repair their own beaches
week of December 8, 2016

Damage to Indian River County’s beaches from Hurricane Matthew is now estimated to be nearly $14 million, with no certainty where the cash for repairs will come from or when the work might get done – so some oceanfront property owners are taking action to repair their own beaches, using expedited county permits to bring in sand to shore up protective dunes. Federal emergency declarations for coastal counties set off a process by which normal permitting restrictions for urgent repairs are lifted, meaning county officials could, on a case-by-case basis, approve permits not only for dune replenishment, but also for boardwalk and dock repairs. “Staff has issued 29 permits authorizing modest placements of approved beach-compatible fill to shore up damaged dunes,” said County Coastal Engineer James Gray. Several Indian River Shores residents pulled permits and hired Henry Fischer & Sons to haul in and place their sand. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said the town worked with Fischer to minimize traffic, shoreline disruption and impact to neighbors so several projects could be completed at once. READ FULL STORY


School Board seeks insurance answers
week of December 8, 2016

The Indian River County School Board got a break on the School District’s employee health insurance debacle, and now a majority of members seem determined to find out why it occurred. After years of mismanagement that allowed the School District’s self-insurer’s fund to go $7 million in the red, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation a month ago approved a four-year pay-back plan, spreading the expense out to make repayment less onerous. But Superintendent Mark Rendell barely mentioned the resolution of this major financial problem at the Nov. 22 School Board meeting, repeating what he has said before. “We haven’t, for several years, been operating the self-insurer’s fund properly.” While that may have been enough of an explanation for the prior School Board, newly-elected members Laura Zorc and Tiffany Justice, along with member Shawn Frost, now want more of an explanation. They are calling for a deeper examination of how this happened in the first place. Frost said staff told him that the School District’s hired actuary, Brown & Brown Insurance, gave the district “bad poop.” The company has since been replaced with Aon Hewitt. READ FULL STORY


School District credit card spending needs look
week of December 8, 2016

Five months after the Indian River County School Board approved opening a $7 million credit card account to be used for certain purchases, an investigation by Vero Beach 32963 has discovered that financial safeguards put in place to monitor School District spending are not being followed. Even more alarming, the School District appears to be using the credit cards to circumvent spending limits for individual vendors. In the case of at least one vendor, use of the card appears designed to hide mold problems in schools from the School Board. As a first line of defense against unauthorized purchases, the School Board is supposed to get “transaction information electronically from . . . [Regions Bank, issuer of the card] through its Procurement Card Management System on a daily basis,” according to the 18-page policy governing use of the card. But School Board members Charles Searcy and Shawn Frost said that although millions of dollars have been charged to the card and the board is responsible for the money being spent, they haven’t seen a single bank statement detailing card expenditures, READ FULL STORY


Zorc seeking to revitalize local School District
week of December 1, 2016

Newly-elected school board member Laura Zorc may be the district’s best hope for revitalizing the School District and reversing a trend toward deteriorating grades and facilities. The district’s last overall report card showed it’s about a point below the state’s average, which is very average indeed. “I don’t want our kids to just pass. I want us to be above average,” said Zorc, who brings enthusiasm, determination and considerable experience with educational issues to her new $34,000-a-year job. “I want to be an innovative school board member. We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.” Zorc formed Florida Parents Against Common Core in 2013, which now boasts 20,000 members, and became enough of a force that Gov. Rick Scott tried to make common cause with her by appointing her to the 10-member “Keep Florida Learning” state committee. READ FULL STORY


Burt Lee’s lifelong dedication to medical excellence
week of December 1, 2016

Several years ago, Gail DeGioia, who moved to Vero Beach from Bennington, Vermont, was surprised to see her late husband’s oncologist, Burt Lee, eating dinner at the Ocean Grill in Vero Beach. “My first thought,” said DeGioia, who is a registered nurse in Vero, “was to wonder what such a prominent New York oncologist was doing here. My second thought was to figure out how to thank him for keeping my husband alive way beyond what was predicted.” But, at the time, says DeGioia, she was too shy to approach him, and it would be years before she completed her mission. When she finally did this past September, Lee, 86, was suffering from complications with bladder cancer that would soon end his own life. He died at his Riomar home last Friday, Nov. 25, with his wife of 50 years, Ann Kelly Lee, and his three children by his side. READ FULL STORY


Shores could all be on FPL power by next summer
week of December 1, 2016

With a new Vero Beach City Council in control, a previously rejected $30 million deal to sell Vero Electric customers in Indian River Shores back on track, and new legal counsel coming on board, Florida Power & Light hopes to have a contract inked with city officials within months. If that timeline – which began with a 4-1 vote last Tuesday to pursue the partial sale – holds, the 80 percent of Shores electric customers now served by Vero could be on FPL’s system in time for their summer electric bills. Responding to the decision last week to resuscitate the sale, the Shores Council convened this Tuesday and formally reapproved town residents pitching in $3 million over three years’ time via a surcharge on electric bills to make the numbers in the deal work. The terms for town residents who would be taken over by FPL remain the same, Town Manager Robbie Stabe said Monday. The 20 percent of town residents already on the FPL system would not pay the temporary surcharge. READ FULL STORY


Betsy DeVos, winter Windsor resident, named to Cabinet
week of December 1, 2016

If Betsy DeVos didn’t make it back to Vero for the seasonal Windsor Club welcome-back party, she probably wished she had. The tightly-cloistered toward the northern end of our island might have served as a buffer to the onslaught of editorials and TV news shows opining on her nomination as secretary of education by President-elect Donald Trump. While there has been much praise for DeVos’ commitment to children, the school voucher program she so strenuously supports is highly controversial, in part because it blurs the First Amendment-mandated line between church and state. Government vouchers given to poor students to use for private school tuition funnel taxpayer money to private schools, many of them religious or for-profit. DeVos has also faced opposition for her support of charter schools. The American Teachers Federation, the union representing 1.6 million teachers, is campaigning vehemently against her Senate confirmation, its president calling her “anti-public education.” But her ideas clearly dovetail with Trump’s plan to break up what he calls a “government-run monopoly” of public education. READ FULL STORY


$5.2 million repaving project coming to 6-mile stretch of A1A
week of December 1, 2016

The Florida Department of Transportation has announced plans to repave a 6-mile stretch of A1A, mostly within Indian River Shores, from the CVS store to SR 510/Wabasso Road, and local bikers are hoping wider bike lanes will be part of the $5.2 million project. It might surprise some taxpayers that this stretch of road will get new pavement a few years from now, since it seems fairly smooth and in good repair, but Phil Matson, Indian River County’s Metropolitan Transportation Organization staff director, said the DOT uses a technical scale to evaluate pavement’s wear-and-tear and, according to that scale, the busy stretch of A1A is due for re-surfacing. “The beachside roads . . . wear out,” Matson said. The Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Bicycle Advisory Committee had a meeting this summer to give residents a chance to discuss the project with DOT representative Alexander Barr and more than a dozen bicyclists showed up to voice their support for wider bike lanes in the project area. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Marine Laboratory’s big expansion plans now up in air
week of November 24, 2016

The Vero Beach Marine Laboratory was going great guns, attracting grants to research seahorses and other ornamental fish – a billion-dollar industry in Florida – led by Florida Institute of Technology Professor and Lab Director Dr. Junda Lin. It was going so well that Florida Tech announced in 2013 a plan to expand the facility, building a $10 million education center and updated lab on the four-acre site adjacent to Tracking Station Park in Indian River Shores. “We plan to build a significant new building that will include a public facility where members of the community can observe our marine and aquaculture labs,” Dr. Anthony James Catanese, then-president of FIT, said. A fund-raising campaign was launched. But at the same time, Lin was battling cancer. He died in March after a seven-year fight against the disease. Since then the site has gone quiet. READ FULL STORY


Shores cell tower may actually be ready this spring
week of November 24, 2016

Island residents could enjoy better cellphone service in Indian River Shores before seasonal visitors leave town and head north this spring, officials said. With all required government and neighborhood approvals being wrapped up this week, and negotiations well underway with the first major service provider, the final site plan for the new tower is expected to go to the Shores Planning Zoning and Variance Board in early December. After that, the Town Council would need to approve any required variances, either at a special call meeting or at their regular meeting on Dec. 15. The tower, which will be located within the Shores Public Safety Department complex, west of Town Hall in an area with existing trees, will be anchored to a concrete foundation sunk as deep as 40 feet in the ground. Because of the deep foundation, which will stabilize the tower in high winds, it will not need guy-wires. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said Datapath Tower engineers estimate construction of the 135-foot Monopine cell phone tower designed to look like an enormous pine tree, would take at least 60 days. “Then it will take six weeks or less to be operational,” Stabe said. “Barring any major changes it should be up and operational sometime this spring.” READ FULL STORY


Three football coaches share season of success
week of November 24, 2016

Let’s start by putting a myth to rest: They don’t do it for the money. The bottom line is, the head coaches of the county’s three highly successful high school football teams don’t get paid enough to adequately compensate them for the time they invest, effort they put forth and personal sacrifices they make to do the job. Unlike big-time college football coaches, Vero Beach’s Lenny Jankowski, Sebastian River’s Kevin Pettis and St. Edward’s Bill Motta don’t get generous checks from rabid boosters to supplement the stipends they’re paid for coaching. Each receives less than $6,000 for coaching, which doesn’t amount to much when you consider that coaching high school football has become a year-round job that includes spring drills and 7-on-7 competitions during the offseason and, from August to November, demands a seven-day work week. READ FULL STORY


FEMA inspections delay repair of Conn Beach oceanfront boardwalk
week of November 24, 2016

More than six weeks after Hurricane Matthew pounded the Conn Beach boardwalk on Vero’s oceanfront, a gaping chasm still exists between the popular walkway and the collapsed edge of the pavement on Ocean Drive. Immediately after the storm, the city spent $45,000 on emergency repairs to make the boardwalk accessible and secure the embankment and parking area. But City Manager Jim O’Connor says further repairs are stalled until FEMA beach and ocean specialists visit in early December to inspect the damage. O’Connor said it will take at least another $300,000 to complete repairs to the roadway, boardwalk and dunes that were washed away by high surf during the October storm, and the feds will not reimburse Vero if the city moves ahead on repairs without FEMA inspections. “They will tell us what is reimbursable and give us an estimate on the repair costs,” O’Connor said. READ FULL STORY


Jason Edwards, star of ‘Ring of Fire,’ dies two days after show’s close
week of November 24, 2016

When Peg Girard found herself moved to tears during Riverside Theatre’s “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” she immediately went home and googled Jason Edwards. The handsome, velvet-voiced actor who portrayed an older Cash, Edwards had also directed the show. “He was spot-on,” said Girard, a lifelong Johnny Cash fan and artistic director of the Melbourne Civic Theatre. “Man oh man, what a talent.” Now Girard seemed close to tears again. Two days after the show’s last performance Nov. 13, Edwards apparently died in his sleep at his temporary Vero residence. He was discovered when friends arrived to take him to the airport. The cause was a heart attack, said Riverside’s Oscar Sales.More than 11,000 people came to see Edwards’ show, a Riverside record for a season-opener. The 24 performances drew “many, many people who had not been here before,” said Sales. The typical first show of the season draws 7,000 to 8,000, Sales said. READ FULL STORY


Marine Bank books a strong quarter with increased earnings and deposits
week of November 24, 2016

Marine Bank & Trust, the island’s only local bank, continues to grow its quarterly earnings this year while also beefing up its assets. Third quarter earnings in 2016 hit $300,000, a modest increase of $17,000 over the same three-month period in 2015. For the first nine months of 2016, Marine’s earnings were $842,000, an increase of $125,000 over the $717,000 in earnings during the same period last year. During the third quarter, Marine also finalized the purchase of the Valley National Bank facility on U.S. 1 in Sebastian, adding 565 new customers, $13 million in customer deposits and three new employees. “The third quarter was all about putting the Sebastian deal together,” said Bill Penney, president and CEO of Marine Bank. During the first nine months of 2016, Marine has helped put 83 families in new homes and originated 125 residential loans worth $38 million. On the commercial loan front, the bank has provided $11 million in loans to 34 companies to open or expand businesses. READ FULL STORY


Elderly suspect sought in rash of island burglaries
week of November 17, 2016

After three sightings either by camera or by eyewitnesses of a white male in his 60s or 70s, seen walking – sometimes with a cane – at crime scenes, Vero Beach Police detectives have asked for help in catching the elderly man suspected of burgling multiple Central Beach residences over the past few weeks. The rash of property crimes started the evening of Oct. 18 when police were called to the 700 block of Gayfeather Lane in response to an alarm and found a broken window and burglarized home. An image from the resident's security camera showed an older white male wearing a hat, glasses and dark gloves looking up into the backyard camera. Though nothing was taken from the residence, the man was observed on camera walking around the outside of the house. The next evening, police were again called out to the 700 block of Gayfeather where what's thought to be the same man was caught on surveillance video. READ FULL STORY


Windsor condo complex arises along Jungle Trail
week of November 17, 2016

While most multimillion-dollar projects on the island are unveiled with considerable preconstruction fanfare, a three-story condominium complex is rising in Windsor behind the trees that line the Jungle Trail with no one involved in the project willing to discuss it. The condo, known to the county as Windsor Block 48, is a cluster of three connected 35-foot-high buildings far more massive than the private homes that line the adjacent golf course. The buildings will house 12 of the largest condo residences ever built on the island, ranging in size from 2,845 square feet to just under 4,000 square feet, according to county records. The complex is situated along Windsor’s western perimeter near the northern border of its property, and is separated from the Jungle Trail by an estuarine wetland designed to be a visual screen between the trail and development. But the top section of the bulky concrete shell of the buildings rises well above the Jungle Trail treeline, making them clearly visible to passersby. “It’s on the perimeter of Windsor, so it makes it seem more prominent,” said Ryan Sweeney, a county planner. READ FULL STORY


Grandson of Vero’s first mayor new face on the City Council
week of November 17, 2016

One of the more enjoyable tasks the newly seated Vero Beach City Council will undertake after being sworn in next week is the planning of the city’s centennial celebration in 2019, and with the election of Tony Young, there will be someone with a direct connection to the city’s founding on board to help. Young, a 61-year-old Vero Beach native, is the grandson of Vero’s first mayor, A.W. Young, who was elected in 1919 and served a subsequent term in 1935. Those deep roots and commitment to serving his hometown are part of what drove Young to run for office, and likely what got him elected. Coming home to sleepy Vero Beach to volunteer his time after living all over the world and retiring as an Army colonel might seem like a step backward for a man with Young’s resume, but he says it’s that sense of a familiar place to call home that drew him back 10 years ago. READ FULL STORY


Construction moving ahead at Beachland
week of November 17, 2016

A two-story 16-classroom building and connected auditorium-cafeteria-kitchen “cafetorium” are steadily rising on the Beachland Elementary campus, the only public school on the island. The 24,000-square-foot classroom building and 12,800-square-foot cafetorium will replace five buildings already torn down, as well as the portable classrooms used in recent years and during the year-long construction project. A portable cafeteria has been moved on campus, but the absence of a kitchen requires the daily delivery of food from Dodgertown Elementary, which has a new kitchen. Recently elected school-board member Tiffany Justice, who will be sworn in Nov. 22, was integral in getting the construction project underway at the dilapidated school. Parents had been complaining about the state of the 1957 buildings, with reports of mold and vermin causing alarm and claims that the school was making children sick. READ FULL STORY


School District exec resigns after unauthorized spending
week of November 17, 2016

Indian River County School District Director of the Physical Plant John Earman has resigned following a flap over his attempt to cover a trail of overspending on outsourced janitorial services. Earman’s curt resignation letter states, “I hereby submit my resignation as Director of the Physical Plant effective November 18, 2016. This is two-weeks’ notice.” He did not reply to requests for comment. Earman submitted a $45,000 purchase order for “sub-custodial” work in July but the district’s new head of purchasing, Jeffrey Carver, rejected the order because it came after, not before, services were contracted. Purchase orders require prior approval to prevent one person from having too much purse-power. “It is unacceptable to have processes out of control,” School Board Member Shawn Frost said a month ago, when Carver brought the problem to the board’s attention. Frost asked if Earman would be reprimanded and if termination was a possibility. Superintendent Mark Rendell said the incident would be reflected in the employee’s file but did not comment on termination. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council recaptured by majority favoring electric sale
week of November 10, 2016

A well-financed effort that backed a slate of Vero Beach City Council candidates committed to the sale or partial sale of Vero electric scored a stunning victory Tuesday as voters elected Laura Moss and Lange Sykes to join holdover councilmember Harry Howle in forming a new 3-to-2 pro-sale majority. Sykes and Moss, who already have said they would join with Howle in voting to accept a Florida Power & Light $30 million offer to purchase Vero electric’s customers in Indian River Shores, will not actually be seated until Nov. 21. Retired Army Col. Tony Young, who had declared he was against selling off the Shores customers at any price less than $47 million, won the third seat up for grabs and will presumably replace Mayor Jay Kramer's anti-sale vote on the council. But the election – assuming the result stands – puts pro-sale forces in the Council majority for the first time since 2013, when a “Keep Vero Vero” movement opposed to giving up the millions of dollars harvested by the electric utility each year from out-of-city customers gained the upper hand on the Council. READ FULL STORY


Hospital District remains split over IRMC
week of November 10, 2016

Both critics and supporters of the leadership of tax-supported Indian River Medical Center won races to become trustees of the Indian River County Hospital District Tuesday, leaving the two entities still at odds over whether or how the hospital could do a better job of managing its finances. Three of the five candidates who won seats Tuesday – Omar Hussamy, Barbara Bodnar and incumbent Michael Weiss – want more transparency and better financial management of Indian River Medical Center. But the other two winners – incumbent Ann Marie McCrystal and Karen Deigl – are staunch supporters of hospital leadership. Since the two holdover District trustees also generally back the hospital, IRMC’s strong supporters continue to be in the majority, That means when issues having to do with hospital operations and finances come up, the Hospital District, which directs millions of property tax dollars for indigent healthcare – most of it going to the hospital – is likely to split four to three in favor of IRMC requests rather than challenging hospital leadership. READ FULL STORY


School District backs down on health insurance
week of November 10, 2016

Facing a $7 million health fund deficit and skyrocketing insurance premiums, the Indian River County School District this fall dropped 300 employees from its program. But last week, after Vero Beach 32963 reported that art teacher Lis Bech, who is undergoing chemotherapy for stage-four ovarian cancer, was cancelled without warning because she filled out an online form incorrectly, the School District decided to allow 100-plus employees dropped for form errors to re-enroll. Bech had not completed the spouse survey at the beginning of the online application because her husband had never been covered on her policy, and she was in the midst of a divorce. That’s why her application was rejected. Now it turns out hers was not an isolated case. Teachers union President Liz Cannon said the School District last week sent out 111 emails to employees who failed to fill out the spouse survey, telling them they were out of the program but could re-enroll by Nov. 10. READ FULL STORY


Charter High video finalist in $100K national contest
week of November 10, 2016

It would be hard to imagine the culturally sophisticated students at Indian River Charter High didn’t get some good laughs out of John Oliver’s recent bit on charter schools gone bad on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” If they did, it didn’t stop them from rising to the challenge when a school choice group offered a $100,000 prize to the best rebuttal to Oliver’s diss. Last week, Charter found out its three-minute video placed in the top 10 of 250 entries nationwide and expects to find out by the end of this week whether it won the Center for Education Reform’s “Hey John Oliver! Back Off My Charter” contest. School officials learned of the news in a video conference call with representatives of Center for Education Reform, a pro-voucher, pro-charter and pro-online learning think tank based in Washington, D.C. that is supported largely by conservative family foundations. READ FULL STORY


Pilar Turner’s farewell: The acrimony will continue
week of November 10, 2016

At her final meeting after serving six years on the Vero Beach City Council, ushered in as part of the 2010 push to get Vero out of the electric business, Councilwoman Pilar Turner sharply addressed those who hope to make the Vero electric controversy go away without solving the problem. “Clearly my greatest regret in serving on the council has been the failure of the city to respond to the demand to sell Vero electric,” said Turner, who served as mayor and vice mayor during her tenure. Her six years spanned the initial $100 million offer by Florida Power & Light to purchase the electric utility, to the contract for sale, to the disintegration of the deal due to pushback from the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA). “Once again, this (Vero electric) is a failed business model. We’re surrounded by the lowest-cost producer (in the state). It’s going to continue to create acrimony in this community,” she said. “I don’t believe Indian River Shores or the county are going to quit fighting when we’re seeing such an economic disparity in the rates.” READ FULL STORY


Shores welcomes two newcomers to Town Council
week of November 10, 2016

It wasn’t exactly a close election – or even an election at all – but the Shores will have some new personalities on the dais next week to tackle the old business. With just three candidates qualifying for three seats, Shores voters did not have to vote for town officials Tuesday. By default, Mayor Brian Barefoot will return for a second two-year term, joined by newcomers Debbi Peniston and Bob Auwaerter. This is the first November Shores Town Council changing of the guard since the term endings were changed from March to November. Vice Mayor Jerry Weick was term-limited after serving nearly eight years, and Councilman Tom Slater opted not to run for re-election, leaving two open seats for Auwaerter and Peniston. Returning to serve out two more years are Councilman Michael Ochsner, who is eligible to run again in 2018, and Councilman Dick Haverland, who will be term limited next time around. READ FULL STORY


School officials deny de facto privatization of janitorial services
week of November 10, 2016

Most of the Indian River County School Board accepted recent staff assurances that a de facto privatization of janitorial services is not taking place, but the janitorial union – and the School District’s own numbers – suggest otherwise. While the janitorial staff for the county’s schools totaled 294 five years ago, according to Assistant Superintendent of Finance Carter Morrison, only 101 janitors are currently employed by the school district. At the same time, records show the district has upped the amount it pays for outside janitorial services from nothing in 2014 to nearly $300,000 per year. Despite those figures, Superintendent Mark Rendell told the school board at a recent meeting the district “is not moving toward privatization.” Privatization should not be happening because the board rejected the idea during July budget talks, mainly for security reasons. The majority said regular staff janitors, known by school personnel and students, are a better bet for pupil safety than outside contractors. READ FULL STORY


Striking new Quail Valley lodge opens on the Pointe
week of November 3, 2016

It looks unlike anything else in Vero. In fact, the 47,365-square-foot waterfront complex on the site of the old Lobster Shanty – with its New York fieldstone and river rock exterior, combined with a dark-wood interior – has the appearance of a North Carolina or Colorado mountain lodge. Welcome to Quail Valley at the Pointe, the latest addition to Vero Beach’s wildly successful private club, which continues to offer its members an ambiance not usually found in this part of Florida. When members see the new restaurant, lounge and hotel at Royal Palm Pointe, they say “Wow!” “Many of our members belong to other clubs in town,” Quail Valley co-owner and general manager Kevin Given said, “and we don’t want to duplicate what they’re getting somewhere else.” READ FULL STORY


School District seeks huge hike in health premiums
week of November 3, 2016

The Indian River County School District, having allowed its employee healthcare fund to plunge $7 million into the red, is seeking to hike the premiums teachers and other staff will pay in the year ahead by as much as a whopping 230 percent. The School Board voted unanimously to increase the premiums of 229 non-union employees by up to $200 a month, effective this past Tuesday, and has given the same offer to the Indian River County Education Association, which represents about 1,100 teachers, and to the Communications Workers of America, which represents about 800 workers. While the teachers union rejected the proposal and wants to negotiate further, the School District is acting as though it is a foregone conclusion that the union employees ultimately will fall in line. “The longer (union) negotiations last, the more money per month each individual will have to pay,” said School Board member Charles Searcy. The vote hiking rates was one of the final actions for outgoing School Board members Claudia Jimenez and Matthew McCain, whose eight-year tenure oversaw the depletion of funds in the district’s self-owned health insurance company, which now require replenishment. READ FULL STORY


Two locked in key battle for Hospital District trustee
week of November 3, 2016

Two candidates running for the same seat on the board of trustees of the Hospital District are locked in a bitter, complex and extremely important argument over Indian River Medical Center’s insurance reimbursement rates for the services it provides. Incumbent Val Zudans, a Vero Beach ophthalmologist, says if hospital CEO Jeff Susi were to negotiate better reimbursement rates with commercial insurance companies – rates even close to those obtained by neighboring hospitals – IRMC would be profitable, and would not constantly be seeking more money from taxpayers. He also contends that companies with private health insurance are not likely to be significantly affected. His opponent Karen Deigl, a former Hospital District executive director, argues that if the insurance reimbursement rates for patients treated at IRMC go up, government agencies that self-insure like the School District, the County and the Sheriff’s Office will take a significant hit, and private employers will see their insurance bills soar as well. Healthcare experts that we interviewed last week tended to side with Zudans, who has cast himself as a watchdog holding IRMC accountable and looking out for the interests of taxpayers. READ FULL STORY


School teacher with cancer has insurance cut off during chemo
week of November 3, 2016

Lis Bech, an award-winning art teacher in our public schools for 19 years, tried to schedule her regular bi-monthly ovarian cancer chemotherapy treatment recently, only to learn the Indian River School District had cancelled her health insurance and she was on the hook for $6,000. Shocked and scared, Bech called the district’s benefits department, but no one would take her call. Employees had been warned in a district-wide email that Hurricane Matthew had delayed open enrollment data entry and “Employee Benefits will not be taking calls and/or appointments.” She was allowed to email, however, and got a response. “They told me in an email that I was no longer on the district insurance, and it was my fault because I filled out the form incorrectly,” Bech said. “I’m very expensive right now. I think they’re trying to drop me,” Bech said. “Just one of the drugs I’m taking is $9,000 each time.” The School District is self-insured and client services, such as help with enrollment, leave much to be desired. READ FULL STORY


Driver of car that killed Cole Coppola to serve time
week of November 3, 2016

A plea deal has been reached between state prosecutors and the woman who was charged with DUI manslaughter after 16-year-old Cole Coppola was killed in a car-versus-bicycle traffic accident on the 17th Street Bridge two years ago. Jamie Williams, now 23, who pleaded not guilty after her arrest and was released from jail after posting a $100,000 bond, will enter a change of plea Dec. 1 in Indian River County Circuit Court, Assistant State Attorney Steve Gosnell said Monday. If Circuit Judge Cynthia Cox accepts the new plea, Williams will be sentenced immediately. Gosnell said the plea bargain, which was approved by Coppola's family, requires Williams to serve time in prison. There are still some minor details yet to be finalized, Gosnell said, but he doesn't anticipate any changes to the deal. Coppola's family will attend the 3 p.m. hearing at the Indian River County Courthouse and will be given an opportunity to address the judge before she hands down her sentence. READ FULL STORY


Shores appeals PSC ruling on Vero electric
week of November 3, 2016

Attorneys for the Town of Indian River Shores last week appealed a ruling by the Florida Public Service Commission which failed to remedy what town officials claim would be an illegal utility operation within its borders after Vero electric’s franchise agreement expires the end of this week. The Town, petitioning the five-member board of appointed utility regulators in Tallahassee as a consumer of Vero electric service, has asked the PSC for an “expedited administrative hearing” on the matter. “While constitutional issues sometimes can be complicated, this one is not. The constitutional constraints on the City’s extra-territorial powers are based on a common-sense principle, namely, one municipality (the City) cannot unilaterally impose its municipal will on another equally independent municipality (the Town), unless the Florida Legislature expressly grants those unilateral powers to the City,” Mayor Brian Barefoot said last week. READ FULL STORY


Body cameras being tested by Shores and Sheriff’s Office
week of November 3, 2016

While the nearby seaside Town of Melbourne Beach began using police body cameras in the spring of 2015 and now swears by them, law enforcement agencies in Indian River County have been more hesitant, testing the cameras but not committing to use them every day on the beat. Questions over privacy, cost, safety and evidence retention and access have provided much fodder for the national media, with the New York Times following the massive New York Police Department’s continued resistance to the cameras. Most recently, the Times has explored the Seattle Police Department’s challenges in dealing with strong open records laws – similar to Florida’s laws – that have drowned police personnel in processing, redacting and fulfilling requests for body cam images. Local testing of the devices is proving out those same concerns, and more, on a small scale. Indian River Shores Chief Rich Rosell, a 35-year law enforcement veteran, said “we have been testing body cameras for several months now.” READ FULL STORY


Shores cell tower finally moving ahead
week of November 3, 2016

The Town Council Monday voted unanimously to enter into a land-lease agreement with Datapath Tower, the next step in the effort to get better cell phone service in Indian River Shores. The lease covers 2,500 square feet on Town Hall property needed to sink a concrete base up to 40 feet deep upon which the 110-foot monopine cell tower will be constructed and camouflaged to look like a huge pine tree. Datapath is leasing the land for renewable five year terms for up to 50 years. Datapath has agreed to pay the Town a $30,000 fee up front, plus periodic payments of $1,350, in addition to a share of the proceeds of the fees paid by cell phone providers to place their transmitters on the tower. The Town and Datapath will share the cost of building the tower. The exact price is not known, but the Town is responsible for up to $150,000 of the pine tree camouflage, as this accoutrement was not envisioned in the original proposal. READ FULL STORY


Shores license plate cameras lead to manhunt
week of October 27, 2016

Those Indian River Shores license plate cameras really work. A hit on a car reported stolen in Fort Pierce last week led officers on a chase up A1A and a manhunt, assisted by private security officers from two gated island communities. Last Wednesday around 3 p.m., the cameras recently installed at the south entrance of the town and focused on northbound A1A, alerted on the license plate of a black 2013 Chrysler 200 that had been reported stolen, according to Shores Det. Sgt. Kip Benham. A Shores patrol officer caught up to the vehicle as the driver attempted to enter the gate of the Shores, a subdivision just behind John’s Island, where the car stopped long enough for the gate security guard to get a description of the two men inside: both in their 30s or maybe 40, one a white male, one a black male. After being turned away at the gate, they eluded police and sped up A1A, finally crashing the car outside the Sea Oaks community and fleeing on foot. READ FULL STORY


Vero could levy stormwater utility tax without vote
week of October 27, 2016

The city’s goal of getting a stormwater utility tax plan ready for voters to decide on in November did not come to fruition, but the new Vero Beach City Council could opt to assess property owners hundreds of thousands of dollars next year without a vote. The idea of creating a stormwater authority to speed up projects that will reduce pollution of the Indian River Lagoon was proposed by then-mayor Dick Winger in 2014. As a first step, Vero hired a consultant to outline how a stormwater taxing entity could be implemented, but City Manager Jim O’Connor said the plan did not come together in time to place a question on the Nov. 8 ballot that would have given voters a chance to say yes or no to the plan. “We are still working with the contractor and expect to have a presentation to Council before the end of the year,” O’Connor said. “Public Works is reviewing the latest data. We have spent $86,000 [for the study so far] and have authorization of up to $103,000.” READ FULL STORY


St. Paul’s Church moving forward
week of October 27, 2016

Almost six months after a groundbreaking ceremony on the site, the new St. Paul's Church is under construction on Flamevine Lane, just off Ocean Drive, where its doors are expected to open next August – nearly two years after the original target date. The cause of the delay? Not enough parking. In fact, Vero Beach city planners would not approve the barrier island project until the Anglican church, which has room for only 20 spaces on its property, produced an agreement with a neighbor to provide enough parking to accommodate its 150-seat sanctuary. "It was a combination of parking and getting all our plans approved by the city, including the Architectural Review Committee," St. Paul's Rector Jon Robbins said of the obstacles that delayed the construction of the 6,500-square-foot, two-story building that will include administrative offices and classrooms on the second floor. "The property was already zoned for a house of worship, so the parking issue was the primary reason for the delay," he added. "Thankfully, we got that resolved. The shared-parking agreement was offered to us as an act of kindness by strong Christian folks who believe that St. Paul's would enhance the community." READ FULL STORY


Arrest emerges as factor in last year’s ouster of Coach Joe
week of October 27, 2016

A 2003 felony arrest for aggravated battery, later reduced to misdemeanor assault, has emerged as a key justification for the firing of a beloved coach and teacher. It’s been nearly a year since Joe Nathaniel was suspended with pay by Indian River County School District officials while awaiting a formal hearing on a tussle he had with a student, Isaiah Speights, on Nov. 17, 2015. Nathaniel and some witnesses say Speights, who has a history of arrests and problems at school, instigated and escalated the conflict and that Nathaniel was acting responsibly, subduing a violent student and protecting other students. But the district contends Nathaniel was at fault and is guilty of mistreating Speights. When the district sent Nathaniel a termination notice after the incident, it did not mention his 2003 arrest, but Superintendent Mark Rendell alluded to the arrest while giving testimony last week at the long awaited hearing, held by Judge John Van Laningham, Department of Administrative Hearings. READ FULL STORY


Elections fraud complaint filed against IRNA mailer
week of October 27, 2016

A 16-page newspaper-style mailer sent to Vero Beach residents last week touting three candidates for Vero Beach City Council prompted a complaint to the Florida Department of State for alleged elections fraud, but the Indian River Neighborhood Association, which primarily funded the mailing, says it did nothing wrong. Former Vero Beach City Councilman and Vero Beach Chamber of Commerce founder Charlie Wilson filed two complaints, dated Oct. 21, against the IRNA Political Committee and the paper’s publisher, New Mexico resident Mark Schumann, alleging that the mailer constitutes an illegal piece of electioneering communication. The IRNA is a local nonprofit organization with its own PAC, the IRNA Political Committee. The PAC can perform political functions such as electioneering that the nonprofit itself is not permitted to do, but Wilson contends the group crossed a line by underwriting the publication and distribution of campaign literature masquerading as a newspaper. The mailer was entitled Inside Vero and resembles a community newspaper Schumann published sporadically for a couple of years before moving to New Mexico. Inside Vero was not published by a corporation, but is a fictitious name Schumann registered in 2013. READ FULL STORY


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