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

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


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

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


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

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


Riomar golf course getting biggest makeover since 1963
week of April 23, 2015

That heavy machinery you might’ve noticed while driving past the Riomar Country Club is being used to dig ponds, relocate trees and resurface Vero Beach’s oldest golf course, which is undergoing its most significant upgrades since the back nine was added in 1963. “This is the big one,” said Jim McConnell, chairman of Riomar’s strategic planning committee. “We replaced the greens in 1999, and there have been some minor fix-ups from time to time, but we haven’t done anything of this magnitude. “The entire golf course is being renovated.” READ FULL STORY


Robertson ends 11 years with Atlantic Classical Orchestra
week of April 16, 2015

World class talent was embraced with small-town emotion this weekend, as a misty-eyed Stewart Robertson tried to maintain composure while taking his last bow after more than a decade as conductor of the Atlantic Classical Orchestra. The Scottish-born conductor Robertson also feels like a native son of Vero after 11 years conducting the Atlantic Classical Orchestra. Warm and approachable, his departure last week – a result of his deepening battle with Parkinson’s disease – touched audiences and orchestra members alike. As usual, he tucked a handkerchief in his tux for his last night as conductor Friday in Stuart. He had conducted his final Vero concert the night before. Normally at the ready to wipe his brow, for his final bow, it might have wiped a tear or two. READ FULL STORY


Moorings seeking to acquire Hawk’s Nest Golf Club
week of April 16, 2015

The Moorings Yacht & Country Club has made a $2.5 million offer to purchase the Hawk's Nest Golf Club, and hopes to know within weeks whether a “unique” opportunity to add a Jim Fazio-designed course to its existing amenities will enable it to move into very top tier of Florida private residential clubs. Moorings general manager Craig Lopes confirmed Sunday that the club made an offer last week to acquire Hawk's Nest, but he said it was "too premature to comment at this time." Members of Hawk’s Nest are expected to vote by May 1 on whether to accept one of three bids for the 300-acre property, which was built along the same sand-based ridge to the west of town as Red Stick, John's Island West, Bent Pine and the Indian River Club, as well as the county-owned, aptly named Sandridge. A small group of Hawk's Nest members and the San Diego-based Heritage Golf Group also have submitted letters of intent to buy the stand-alone course, which opened in October 1987 and has operated as an equity-member-owned club since September 1993. READ FULL STORY


Mental Health Court off to promising start
week of April 16, 2015

Three months after it began in late January, Indian River County’s Mental Health Court seems off to a highly promising start with more than 15 clients, defendants who were diverted to the problem-solving court instead of going to jail. “Mental Health Court here is exceeding our expectations as it continues to grow,” said Sheriff Deryl Loar. “The court has already saved taxpayers more than $50,000 for jail bed space and cut way back on recidivism.” The thought behind the new court is that structure, accountability and services are a better approach than incarceration toward getting mentally ill people who have committed crimes to be crime-free, productive citizens. Last week, defendants-turned-clients appeared before Judge Cynthia Cox as they do every two weeks. Several, who came to the court on its first day in late January have already changed notably. READ FULL STORY


Vero electric boss Tom Richards gives up, going back to retirement
week of April 16, 2015

Three years after he was brought in to preside over the decommissioning of Vero’s Big Blue power plant and sale of the electric utility to Florida Power and Light, Vero Electric Utility Director Tom Richards has given up on the hope of this happening anytime soon and is going back into retirement. “We’re going to be in the electric business for a long time,” Richards said in an interview, referring to Vero’s inability to extricate itself from its long-term contracts with the Florida Municipal Power Agency and the Orlando Utilities Commission. “When I came in July of 2012, it seemed to me that the negotiations with the sale of the utility were pretty far along. I thought this thing would be sold in a year,” Richards said. “But by the end of 2013, I finally came to the conclusion that we were never going to be sold to FPL.” Now Richards, who turns 70 in June, is just as tired of waiting for a sale to FPL as the rest of Vero’s 34,000 ratepayers. But unlike the ratepayers, Richard has an escape route. He submitted his letter of resignation last Wednesday, leaving behind a cadre of dispirited yet dedicated employees and a sprawling, aging electric system. READ FULL STORY


FMPA hedging produces losses of $136 million
week of April 9, 2015

A decade ago, when the Florida Municipal Power Agency was planning to build an 800-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Taylor County to provide electricity to Vero Beach and the other members of its so-called All Requirements Project, the financial planners at FMPA came up with a scheme to save millions on financing. Instead of waiting to issue bonds until permits for the plant were in hand – thereby taking a chance interest rates might go up – the FMPA decided to play the hedging game using a form of financial derivative called an interest rate swap. The Taylor swaps, as they became known, were going to produce a huge payoff. “Savings could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” an FMPA press release boasted in 2006. But permits for the Taylor power plant fell through, and since it was never built, the FMPA didn’t need to convert the nine sets of swaps to bond issues. The result: losses to FMPA members are expected to approximate $136 million when the swaps need to be unwound this Oct. 1. READ FULL STORY


New debtors’ prisons: High court fees tough on poor
week of April 9, 2015

The 50-year-old defendant sat in the front row of the courtroom last Thursday, waiting to be called to the bench to be sentenced by Judge Joe Wild after pleading “no contest” and being declared guilty as a result. As David M. waited, his jaw clenched and his face turned bright red with anxiety. He hoped to get probation for two misdemeanors, and be diverted to Mental Health Court for a strict program of accountability and structure, instead of going to jail. But the pressure of not knowing his fate was obviously taking its toll. “Jail would be easier,” he had said the day before. “I’d play cards and read and not owe as much money in fees as I will on probation. But I know that being out and working toward a more honorable life is better for me and society.” David M.’s concern about escalating fees imposed on defendants for minor offenses is the subject of a national debate over whether poverty-stricken defendants should go to jail when they can’t pay. READ FULL STORY


Shores again ponders fire engine staffing
week of April 9, 2015

The Indian River Shores Town Council, along with its new Public Safety Department Chief Rich Rosell, met Thursday to re-visit the issue of staffing the town’s fire and emergency medical services. Public safety managers a year ago told the Town Council that the Shores was at risk of being downgraded in its Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating – which impacts homeowner insurance rates – because of the way the town handles staffing of fire engines and ambulances. When last evaluated in 2007, the Town scored a 4 on a 1-to-10 scale with a 1 being the best and a 10 being the worst. The Town’s score is roughly the same as other areas of the county covered by Indian River County Fire Rescue. “The workshop is for the ISO representative to clearly explain what the ISO Risk Assessment is and how Public Safety staffing affects the overall assessment. The ISO has not yet done the assessment,” said Town Manager Robbie Stabe, who served as the Town’s Public Safety Director before being promoted to the Town’s top job. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian River Medical Center: Vero’s other Emergency Room
week of April 9, 2015

One Sunday afternoon last month, when the Indian River Medical Center Emergency Room was swamped, 17 ambulances were diverted and sent up US 1 to the Emergency Room at Sebastian River Medical Center. How does the 154-bed Sebastian River Medical Center handle its own Emergency Room patient load as well as the occasional diversion from much larger IRMC? “Our hospital is prepared to care for any patient who comes into our emergency department,” said CEO Kelly Enriquez. While Sebastian River primarily serves the unincorporated North County, Sebastian, Fellsmere and South Brevard, it sees a growing number of patients from Vero Beach and the northern part of the barrier island. A point of special focus for all hospitals is the ER “wait time,” and Sebastian River Hospital offers a “30-minute ER Pledge.” “Our goal is to initially see every patient within 30 minutes of their noted arrival,” says Director of Emergency Services Brad Guffin, noting that this wait time does not apply to patients with serious trauma/injury, who always receive immediate attention. READ FULL STORY


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