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The winner of the naming contest is ... Centennial Place
week of April 11, 2019

Three months ago, in our New Year’s issue, we launched the VeroNews.com “Name That Property Contest” soliciting reader input on a name for the lagoon-front property owned by the city at the west end of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge. Our goal was to help Vero come up with a classy, meaningful name for the combined 35 acres of property at the intersection of Indian River Boulevard and 17th Street, which has the potential – once the old electric plant and wastewater utility are gone – to become an incredible new focal point for the city’s future. Our secondary objective was to head off the Press Journal’s insistence on referring to the property as “Three Corners” – a name that is arguably even more stupid than the idiotic sobriquet “Twin Pairs.” During January and February, some 90 local residents responded with emails to contest@VeroNews.com, suggesting several hundred possible names. The three finalists were Alma Lee Loy Place, Centennial Place, and Manatee Station. And the winner is . . . Centennial Place. READ FULL STORY


Irate ex-mayor charged in gun incident at home
week of April 11, 2019

Police say former Vero Beach mayor Craig Fletcher crossed a line in his words and behavior when he answered the front door of his home brandishing a loaded gun amid a dispute with his neighbor’s landscapers, but attorney Andrew Metcalf said the allegations paint a picture vastly different from the Fletcher many long-time Vero residents know. Fletcher, 77, a retired aerospace engineer and Vero native, was arrested on March 29 by the Vero Beach Police Department, charged with felony aggravated assault and, as a condition of being released from the Indian River County Jail on $2,500 bond on March 30, he was ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim, Soterios Bouchlas. “We will be entering a plea of not guilty and waiving arraignment, and I will be giving Mr. Fletcher the best possible defense,” Metcalf said. “As a lifelong resident of Vero Beach, I am well aware of his service to our community, and these allegations are certainly not in character with his life of service, and that should not be forgotten.” READ FULL STORY


Retrial of accused killer of island man off to a slow start
week of April 11, 2019

The second murder trial of Henry Lee Jones got off to a slow start this week when Chief Assistant State Attorney Thomas Bakkendahl and Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann, who is representing Jones, spent the opening morning going over jury questionnaires while potential jurors waited outside the courtroom. The questionnaires were prominent because they contained questions about racial bias – Jones is black and the man he is alleged to have murdered was white – and Jones’ first conviction for murder was overturned because the judge did not allow his lawyer to ask potential jurors if they had racially prejudiced views. When 75 potential jurors were finally admitted to the courtroom for selection, 38 of them told Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn they had biases that made them incapable of rendering an impartial verdict, or else knew a witness in the case. Thirteen of those 38 were quickly dismissed. The opposing attorneys then spent the afternoon continuing to question some of the remaining potential jurors. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island pipeline project heads for showdown at County Commission
week of April 11, 2019

Opponents in the quarrel over an effort by John’s Island to install an irrigation water pipeline 80 feet beneath the Indian River Lagoon are rallying their troops for a show of force at the April 23 County Commission meeting. Supporters and foes of the $6-million project are circulating petitions and calling for their followers to attend the meeting where commissioners are expected to review two crucial pipeline-related items. The first is a consultant’s report on whether it would be feasible to install a new irrigation pipeline in the crowded underground utility right-of-way along A1A from Wabasso Beach Road south to John’s Island instead of tunneling under the lagoon. The second is a request for a temporary construction easement under Hole in the Wall Island so a contractor can install a 16-inch pipe beneath the lagoon to carry reuse water to John’s Island from Indian River County’s Sea Oats Wastewater Treatment Plant on 77th Street. The commissioners could effectively block the subaqueous pipeline project by denying the easement request for the old Winter Beach Road bridge right-of-way. READ FULL STORY


Defense confident spa videos will be suppressed
week of April 11, 2019

Citing the Florida Constitution’s heightened protections from governmental intrusion, a Vero Beach attorney representing more than two dozen men arrested in a recent prostitution sting is asking judges to exclude from trials the video evidence prosecutors need to prove their cases. Andy Metcalf said he has filed motions to suppress the surveillance video police used to charge more than 160 men with soliciting prostitution at two massage spas in Indian River County. A hearing has been set for April 23. “I’m attacking the installation and use of the cameras,” Metcalf said. “The need for the video in a low-level prostitution case is pretty aggressive stuff. This was an overreach by law enforcement.” On Monday in Vero Beach, County Judge David Morgan denied Metcalf’s motion to prohibit the dissemination of the spa videos, saying it was “not ripe,” which means the videos haven’t been publicly released and no one has requested them. However, Metcalf said Morgan ruled that the videos’ contents were obscene under Florida law, which makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to disseminate obscene materials. READ FULL STORY


Verizon gives shores another new date
week of April 11, 2019

Verizon Wireless customers waiting to get decent reception in their Indian River Shores homes are now being told a better signal will come in June. Verizon reached out to Vero Beach 32963 in response to a recent article stating that Verizon service from the Shores new cell tower was expected to be up and running by late April, saying that the best estimate they now have is not April but June. “Though construction should be complete by the end of April, Verizon service is not expected to go live until June. We look forward to enhancing coverage and capacity in this area in June,” said Verizon Public Relations spokesperson Kate Jay. Datapath Tower President Curt Jones had provided the April target date. “I was going off of what the general contractor was doing on the site and extrapolated when the site should be on the air.” St. Petersburg-based Datapath Tower permitted and constructed the Monopine tower – which bears some resemblance to a pine tree – in partnership with the town. But the two companies who lease space on the tower – AT&T and Verizon – install, test and maintain their own transmission equipment. READ FULL STORY


Piper sales soar; company expects to add more workers
week of April 11, 2019

Piper Aircraft’s payroll now exceeds 1,000 employees as a strengthening economy has sparked an increased demand for its single- and twin-engine airplanes, and the Vero Beach-based company predicts it will add as many as 100 workers by early next year. If that happens, Piper’s workforce will have nearly doubled since 2015, when sagging sales and uncertainty in the global market prompted layoffs and early retirements that reduced the company’s payroll to fewer than 600 employees. “We’re still hiring,” Piper spokeswoman Jackie Carlon said last week, when the company – the largest private employer in Indian River County – announced the biggest civilian fleet order in its history and, at the same time, the introduction of two lower-cost training aircraft to its product line. The announcement of a 10-year contract to build 240 airplanes for L3 Commercial Aviation came only 14 months after Piper received a record-breaking order to build 152 training aircraft for China’s Fanmei Aviation Technologies. The L3 order, however, will not impact Piper’s current 1,009-employee workforce because, Carlon said, the company “knew before the year started that the deal was coming” and “had already adjusted staffing levels to meet our production schedule.” READ FULL STORY


School Board talks seriously about replacing Rendell
week of April 4, 2019

The School Board’s March 26 meeting was contentious and perhaps momentous, and there have been hundreds of responses – on social media sites, in radio interviews, and in press reports – to what happened that evening as the board talked seriously about replacing Superintendent Mark Rendell. The superintendent and some School Board members are locked in an increasingly bitter dispute that erupted after the board began discussing Rendell’s upcoming job evaluation during a March 12 work session. At that time, several board members indicated they might not support renewing the superintendent’s contract. Rendell responded by having Tallahassee-based attorney H.B. Stivers send a letter dated March 20, notifying the School Board that he has been “retained to advise and assist Dr. Rendell concerning the terms and conditions of his employment with the district.” Rendell further raised the ire of board members by informing them by email on March 25 that he was seeking employment outside the district and reminding them that by the terms of his contract, he is only obligated to give them a 30-day notice of his departure. READ FULL STORY


New guidelines expand access to healthcare
week of April 4, 2019

More people in Indian River County will qualify for low-cost healthcare after a vote by the Hospital District Board to change its criteria for who is considered medically indigent from 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines to 200 percent, effective in October. The board also made it easier to sign up for county-funded care. The new guidelines mean a family of four making $50,200 or less will be eligible for subsidized healthcare under the Hospital District’s mandate. That care is delivered by low-cost clinics and other agencies which are then reimbursed through the Hospital District, which is funded by taxpayers. The move edges the taxing district closer to income guidelines of the Cleveland Clinic, which in January took over Indian River Medical Center. Cleveland Clinic provides free care to uninsured patients earning up to 250 percent of the poverty guidelines, and offers assistance to patients earning up to 400 percent. Insured patients include those with commercial insurance as well as Medicaid and Medicare. READ FULL STORY


Vero Ford dealership passes from Velde family to Mullinax
week of April 4, 2019

Last week marked the end of an era in Vero Beach, where, for the first time since 1976, the Ford dealership conducted business under a name other than Velde. The Apopka-based Mullinax Automotive Group finalized the purchase of Velde Ford on March 26 and immediately rebranded the dealership as Mullinax Ford of Vero Beach. The local Ford dealership is now one of five owned and operated in Florida by Mullinax Ford, the state’s largest Ford retailer, which was among the pioneers of the upfront, no-haggle pricing philosophy that began in the mid-1970s and has become popular throughout the automobile-sales industry. “We’ve been in this industry for many years, and I know our philosophy can provide the community with a dealer experience they haven’t had before,” said Jerry Mullinax, owner of the Mullinax group, which has been doing business in Florida since 1970. Mullinax said he has retained about 90 percent of the Velde staff, most of them longtime employees. Those employees made the decision to sell the dealership difficult for Patty Velde, who had served as Velde Ford’s president since her husband, Jeff, died in September 2012. READ FULL STORY


Shores demands action from Vero on rates for reuse irrigation water
week of April 4, 2019

By next week, Indian River Shores utility customers will either have some indication that the City of Vero Beach will reduce reuse irrigation water rates for the town, or the town will declare that Vero Beach Utilities has defaulted on its water-sewer franchise agreement with the Shores. The town’s 2012 franchise agreement ties the Shores’ water, sewer and reuse irrigation water rates to Indian River County Utilities’ rates, meaning that both Vero and the Shores gambled on what the county would do with its rates. In December, Indian River County reduced its reuse irrigation rates from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents per 1,000 gallons, effective March 1. Vero officials, so far, refuse to give the Shores the lower 21-cent rate, citing a technicality that was not identified or clarified in the 2012 contract. All five members of the Shores Town Council agreed last week that this refusal violates the terms of the franchise agreement, and that the time to stick up for the town’s rights is now. READ FULL STORY


Elite Airways will resume seasonal flights to Asheville and Portland
week of April 4, 2019

Elite Airways announced last week that it will resume its seasonal flights between Vero Beach and Asheville, N.C., on May 23 and continue the non-stop service through Sept. 5. The airline also plans to bring back its non-stop service to and from Portland, Maine. “We’re adding Portland for the summer,” Elite President John Pearsall said Friday. “So we’ll have the Asheville flights on Sundays and Thursdays, and the Portland flights on Fridays and Mondays. “We’re also looking at adding flights to one other place, but nothing has been decided yet.” Pearsall said the airline hadn’t yet set a date for when flights between Vero Beach and Portland will resume or determined what the airfares will be. The service to and from the North Carolina mountains depart Vero Beach at 2:45 p.m. and Asheville at 5 p.m., with airfares starting at $179 each way. Elite, which returned commercial air service to Vero Beach in 2015, currently offers non-stop service to Newark, N.J., with flights four days per week. READ FULL STORY


35 scientists conduct first survey of invasive fish in Indian River County waters
week of April 4, 2019

A posse of 35 scientists from nine federal and state agencies, universities and other research institutions fanned out across rivers, canals, lakes and drainage ditches from Sebastian to the north fork of the St. Lucie River Tuesday and Wednesday, hunting and catching freshwater invaders. Using cattle-prod-like electro-shockers, minnow traps, cast nets, seine nets and hook-and-line gear, the scientists collected 11 species of invasive fish that are not native to Treasure Coast waters – trying to get a handle on what species are here, exactly where they live, and how their presence affects native fish such as bass, bluegill and others. "There's a lot we don't know about non-native fish," said Dr. Pam Schofield, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, who led the two-day ‘bio-blitz.’ Before you can do any assessment or management, you've got to know who is where. There's no way any one agency can keep track of all the fish in every pond, canal, ditch or lake in Florida So we work together. Everyone pitches in." READ FULL STORY


New tap water rates for Shores seek to deter waste
week of March 28, 2019

Vero Beach Utilities on Tuesday will take up a new schedule of rates and fees for its water and sewer customers in Indian River Shores, and the changes could force residents to stop wasting tap water – or pay more. Vero supplies tap water, reuse water for irrigation and sewer service to the Shores. This slate of conservation-minded tap water rates is the same one imposed by Indian River County Utilities on March 1 after a December vote of the Indian River Board of County Commissioners. By the terms of a utility franchise agreement signed with Vero Beach in 2012, Indian River Shores is governed by any changes Indian River County makes to its water-sewer rates. Vero has by resolution also extended county rates to the South Barrier Island and mainland county customers outside the city limits to quell complaints about those customers paying city rates. Still in dispute is a rate change on the Indian River County schedule, effective March 1 for county customers, reducing the cost of reuse irrigation water from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents per 1,000 gallons. READ FULL STORY


Star Suites makes Riverside ‘an even more coveted gig’
week of March 28, 2019

Eliza Doolittle no longer has to look for “a room somewhere.” Now, she’s got a suite. The cast of Riverside Theatre’s current mainstage show, “My Fair Lady,” are the first to stay in Riverside’s new actors’ housing facility, the Star Suites, which opened this month near Historic Dodgertown. “Riverside Theatre has done something completely new and, as far as I know, unprecedented,” said James Beaman, who plays Zoltan Karpthy in ”My Fair Lady.” “I know that, once word is out in NYC about these great new actor digs, Riverside Theatre will be an even more coveted gig than it already is!” The 60-suite hotel will relieve Riverside of having to find – and pay for – some 10,000 nights a year of hotel rooms or apartments for visiting cast and crew. It also will generate a steady stream of revenue for the theatre as rooms are rented to the public when not being used by actors, directors and designers. As an Equity theater, Riverside is required to provide housing for its performers and other theater professionals, many of whom come here from New York to entertain Vero Beach audiences. READ FULL STORY


County government services coming soon to new office in Central Beach
week of March 28, 2019

Island residents soon could have a shorter trip – and not have to cross bridges to the mainland – to register motor vehicles, get marriage licenses, question property taxes, apply for passports, pay traffic tickets and file for homestead exemptions. County officials are in negotiations to rent office space in a building on Cardinal Drive, where they plan to open a satellite facility for the Tax Collector, Property Appraiser and Clerk of the Circuit Court. Carole Jean Jordan, the county’s tax collector and the driving force behind the project, said she’s hoping to have a lease in hand next month and open the beachside branch no later than May. “There’s no lease yet, but we’re getting closer,” Jordan said last week. “Once we have one, there’s still a lot of work to do, because the offices will need to be wired to connect our computers to our networks. “But I’m excited,” she added. “I’ve been talking about this for several years, but it was only in the last 60 days that things got serious and we were able to look for a place that works for everybody.” READ FULL STORY


School superintendent hires lawyer as board members talk of dismissal
week of March 28, 2019

School Superintendent Mark Rendell has hired a lawyer and is accusing School Board members of meeting illegally to discuss firing him. Rendell’s current contract expires June 30, 2020 and the board has until the end of July to decide whether it will extend his term of employment. Tallahassee-based attorney H.B. Stivers, who represents Rendell, sent a letter dated March 20 notifying the School Board that he has been “retained to advise and assist Dr. Rendell concerning the terms and conditions of his employment with the district.” “It appears that the terms and conditions of his employment has been a ‘hot topic’ of conversation by board members amongst themselves as well as with third parties,” Stivers wrote in the letter. “During the representation of our client, it will be necessary for us to be included on any and all communications, whether those are directly to us or that we are copied on, that concern or otherwise relate to Dr. Rendell’s employment.” READ FULL STORY


While acting as his own lawyer, Jones undermined his murder defense
week of March 28, 2019

Accused murderer Henry Lee Jones appears to have inadvertently undermined his own defense while serving as his own lawyer and preparing for a retrial of his 2014 conviction for the slaying of Brian Simpson in his Central Beach home. In a pretrial motion filed last year – intended to show that the killing of Simpson during a botched burglary was not premeditated and thus could not be first-degree murder – Jones stated: “When the victim returned home, the defendants attempted to retreat through the bathroom window. The victim initiated an attack which prevented the defendants from leaving. This led to the victim’s death.” This misstep – which comes close to an admission of guilt – was one of several Jones made during an eight-month period in 2018 when he insisted on serving as his own legal counsel, and it could hand state attorneys a golden opportunity to use Jones’ own words against him during his upcoming April 8 retrial. Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann asked Circuit Court Judge Daniel Vaughn during a March 20 hearing to wipe Jones’ self-incriminating statement from court records, and so keep it from being entered as evidence during trial. READ FULL STORY


Verizon now hopes to finally go live on Shores cell tower in April
week of March 28, 2019

Verizon cellphone customers heading back to their northern homes for tax deadlines or for Easter will have to wait until next season to experience smooth data service and clear phone calls while inside their homes and traveling on the barrier island. Last week, Curt Jones, who heads up Datapath Tower, the Town of Indian River Shores’ business partner on the town’s new cell tower, said equipment needed to provide upgraded service to Verizon customers was on the way, and would likely have arrived by the time this issue of Vero Beach 32963 reaches mailboxes. “Verizon Wireless did redirect assets from another site and shipped them to Florida to use on the Indian River Shores site,” Jones said. “Equipment is being delivered this week and installation will occur over the next few weeks. Then, Verizon Wireless needs to commission the site and optimize it, so by the third or fourth week of April, it should be live.” Town Manager Joe Griffin confirmed that Jones’ estimate matches the latest information provided to the town. READ FULL STORY


Officials fear escalating railroad crossing maintenance costs
week of March 28, 2019

Indian River County's local governments paid $2.8 million to Florida East Coast Railway and affiliates in the past five years to lease and maintain 29 railroad crossings, where local roads cross the railroad’s right-of-way. Those costs could double, increasing to more than $1 million a year, if Virgin Trains USA realizes its vision of establishing express train service between West Palm Beach and Orlando, according to a consultant’s estimate. And the local governments could be on the hook for escalating railroad crossing costs for decades if the express train proves profitable and continues to run. That’s partly because longstanding agreements between Florida East Coast Railway and local governments from Miami to Jacksonville require those governments to reimburse FECR for the costs of constructing and maintaining railroad crossings and safety equipment. Virgin Trains has an agreement with Florida East Coast Railway to operate on its tracks and right-of-way. Another reason is FECR’s 159 railroad crossings between West Palm Beach and Cocoa must be upgraded to meet the Federal Railroad Administration's sealed corridor standards for the higher-speed passenger trains. READ FULL STORY


Village Beach Market still interested in store in Orchid
week of March 28, 2019

Orchid officials haven’t seriously considered longtime Vero Beach businessman Ken Puttick’s recent suggestion that the town buy his vacant, commercially zoned, 7-acre parcel of land on the north side of State Road 510, immediately west of Jungle Trail. But they probably will – and soon. In fact, Orchid Mayor Hal Ofstie predicted the topic will be raised at the Town Council’s April 5 meeting. “We haven’t ever discussed it as a council, so, in terms of anything official having transpired, the answer is no,” Ofstie said last week, nearly a month after Publix withdrew its proposal to build a supermarket-anchored shopping center on the property in the face of resident objections. “Some people have mentioned it, just in casual conversation, and within the community you can almost hear people’s brains churning on what to do,” he continued. “So I suspect we’ll probably talk about some of the comments we’re hearing from the community, maybe at our next meeting. “But we haven’t heard from Ken, and there’s really nothing happening at this point.” READ FULL STORY