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Perkins murder trial set to be first since pandemic
week of May 6, 2021

The case of a six-year-old murder at a South Beach home on Seagrape Drive in the Oceanside community is expected to be the first capital crime tried by a jury in Indian River County since the pandemic lockdown closed courts in March 2020. Asbury Lee Perkins will be representing himself on first-degree murder charges for the November 2015 shooting death of his business partner and estranged wife of nearly 25 years, Cynthia Betts, when the case likely goes to trial this summer before Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn, who inherited the case from Judge Cynthia Cox when judicial assignments shifted in January 2019. When asked about the timing, as more than a dozen depositions were recently scheduled indicating that things are now moving along on the case, Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor said “maybe July, August. It has not been set yet but we’re working hard to get things done to have it ready to go.” READ FULL STORY


After career, a time for philanthropy–and time for mom
week of May 6, 2021

For the past decade, Hope Woodhouse, a longtime Wall Street executive who got her start on the mostly male trading floor at Salomon Brothers and went on to become George Soros’ chief operating officer, has re-directed her skills toward philanthropy. This time, the neediest are reaping the rewards. After serving as president of the John’s Island Community Service League from 2018 to 2020, Woodhouse now chairs its strategic grants committee – and the volunteer league, operating for 41 years out of one of the island’s most affluent communities, has become one of the largest generators of donor dollars in the county. While the membership of more than 1,000 John’s Island residents includes several hundred men, new members increasingly are women like Woodhouse, retiring from high-intensity careers, now able to apply their leadership and strategy skills to local philanthropy. In the past year, the league raised a record $1.5 million, and gave it away to scrupulously selected causes benefiting the county’s women, children and families. READ FULL STORY


Riverfront restaurant, bar and marina for sale – but which one?
week of May 6, 2021

Somewhere in this county – along the banks of the Indian River Lagoon – someone is selling what an online listing describes as a “well-established and profitable” restaurant, bar and marina in an “unbeatable location.” Nobody, though, will say which waterfront establishment is for sale. Not even the broker. Sebastian-based Justin Lefebure of Transworld Business Brokers of Central Florida said last weekend the seller has allowed him to identify the property only to a qualified buyer who provides a personal financial statement and signs a non-disclosure agreement. “It is highly confidential,” he said of the listing, which can be found on the bizbuysell.com and businessbroker.net websites. The listing does offer some hints, however. READ FULL STORY


A1A road-widening project ‘not over,’ but those orange barricades are finally gone
week of May 6, 2021

The orange barricades that have lined long stretches of A1A from just north of Vero Beach city line to the Wabasso Causeway were removed last week, but the Florida Department of Transportation’s $6.7 million road-widening project isn’t done yet. “No, it’s not over,” FDOT project spokeswoman Kathleen Dempsey said Monday. “We’re one step closer to completion, which is still scheduled for this summer, but we’ve still got work to do there. “It’s still an active construction project.” Dempsey said the barricades were removed because the repaving of that section of the island highway is complete and they’re no longer needed to redirect the flow of traffic, which has been “shifted back to normal.” The remaining work includes installing “thermo-plastic striping” along the roadway and other punch-list items, as well as improvements at the intersection of A1A and the causeway, where some barricades still remain. READ FULL STORY


Vero weighs phasing-in proposed stormwater tax
week of May 6, 2021

After experiencing sticker shock at the financial burden its proposed new stormwater tax would place on Vero Beach’s businesses, churches, nonprofits and residents, the City Council is considering a phased-in approach. Newly appointed Councilman Dick Winger proposed the compromise after he saw support for more than $1.1 million in new taxes wavering. Under the plan put forth by consultants last week, the owner of the average 2,500-square-foot home would pay $80 in stormwater taxes in the fall, but businesses and other non-residential properties would shoulder two thirds of the tab. The city’s largest commercial and government properties would see tax bills running into the tens of thousands per year. Councilman Bob McCabe, previously a stalwart “yes” vote for the stormwater tax, began to balk once he saw the dollars and cents of the proposal, and how it would disproportionately impact the business community. Next year would be better, McCabe said. Mayor Robbie Brackett has long said 2021 in the lingering pandemic economy is horrible timing for a new tax on residents and businesses. READ FULL STORY


Seagrass making strong comeback at Sebastian Inlet
week of May 6, 2021

Seagrass is making a surprisingly strong comeback at the Sebastian Inlet, a positive sign for the Indian River Lagoon. Seagrass provides food and shelter for marine creatures ranging from tiny crustaceans to huge manatees, and is the foundation of the lagoon’s ecology. The Sebastian Inlet District, which has been monitoring seagrass growth since 2008, recently announced that grass beds on the shoals west of the Inlet increased by more than six acres in 2020 and now cover nearly 115 acres. That coverage is comparable to 2008 when the Lagoon was healthy prior to the algae superbloom in 2012 that killed more than half of the seagrass in the waterway – a disaster followed by other destructive blooms that further damaged seagrass and slowed recovery. The latest seagrass survey, conducted by district consultant Atkins North America, produced additional good news besides the increase in acreage – there have been no new scars inflicted by boat propellers in the inlet shoals since the prior survey. In 2019, 34 prop scars were documented. READ FULL STORY


Latest bid for charter school at Pointe West comes to an end
week of May 6, 2021

The latest effort to launch a charter school out to the west of Vero in Pointe West has come to naught. Mater Academy withdrew its application for a K-5 charter after school district administrators recommended rejection mainly because it offered no help with court-ordered desegregation efforts in Indian River County. The Miami-based nonprofit had proposed opening a college-preparatory school in August 2022 with 414 students and growing it to 768 students by its fifth year of operation. Mater’s plan was to take over the 14-acre parcel at 16th Street and 76th Drive where Somerset Academy had proposed building a K-8 charter school for 1,700 students. Those plans have been on hold for three years at the request of Somerset Academy, according to School Board Attorney Suzanne D’Agresta. Mater Academy and Somerset Academy both use Academica Corp., as an educational service provider, records show. A subsidiary of Academica owns the 14-acre parcel. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases again down in county; vaccine supply here now exceeds demand
week of May 6, 2021

The average daily number of new COVID-19 infections in our county continued downward last week to fewer than 17 a day – a 20 percent reduction from the week before and an 87 percent reduction from the mid-January surge. Six island residents tested positive for the virus last week. Countywide, the testing positivity rate remained lower than 6 percent for the past two weeks, with only two days when more than 5 percent tested positive. Hospitalizations remained low, with 10 people reported hospitalized with COVID-19 as of press time Monday. But six deaths from complications of the virus were reported over the past week, bringing Indian River County’s death toll to 299. Of those deaths, 128 have been people aged 80 and older. Another 83 deaths were people aged 75 to 79 years old. READ FULL STORY


Ocean Drive shops enjoying ‘post-pandemic’ rebound
week of April 29, 2021

Be prepared to wait in line if you are going shopping on Ocean Drive this month as island shops enjoy a strong “post-pandemic” retail rebound. The virus is still around, and precautions still need to be taken. But with more and more residents vaccinated and resuming their normal lives, the sound of cash registers ringing up sales along Ocean Drive, Cardinal Drive and adjacent streets is an exhilarating change compared to last year at this time, when shops were shuttered, and the future looked grim. Business is being driven by a rebounding tourism sector, longtime customers reemerging and new residents venturing out to enjoy the beachside shopping district. At Loggia, an Ocean Drive lifestyle store, they’re seeing lots of new faces said Diane Williamson, Loggia store manager. “People are definitely shopping. They’re buying clothing just as much as always; and then, of course, with all the new people moving to the area and others spending more time at home, the home decor category has been good.” READ FULL STORY


Concept plan for Three Corners site now up to Council
week of April 29, 2021

Vero’s Three Corners Steering Committee has recommended a version of the Master Concept plan for the mainland riverfront development at 17th Street to the Vero Beach City Council, but still unknown is whether a developer will want to salvage and repurpose the city’s shuttered Big Blue power plant. By a 5 to 4 vote, the committee sent the “Community Plan” up to the council, with an amendment that the project could include residential development atop shops and businesses, in accordance with the city’s height restrictions. Steering committee members pushing for less-intensive use of the lagoon-front land and more green space for recreation voted against the concept of people living on the property. The City Council is expected to take up the committee’s recommendations in May and begin studying the feasibility of the project with a financial advisor. The steering committee was only tasked with turning ideas and a vision into a plan they could get behind – not with figuring out how to afford it or make it come to fruition. READ FULL STORY


Students will not need to be masked at summer school
week of April 29, 2021

Summer program students will be allowed to go facemask-free when they can maintain at least 3 feet of social distancing, under new COVID-19 rules proposed by Indian River County School Superintendent David Moore. Facial coverings will be optional when students are sitting or standing at least 3 feet apart, whether in a classroom, a school assembly, or an extracurricular activity. Students can also go without masks while eating in the cafeteria or other designated areas when summer programs start June 7, under the new rules Moore proposed. The School Board reviewed Moore’s 21-page Safe at School 2021 Summer Program Plan during a business meeting Tuesday evening. Moore released his plan after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance Saturday for protecting children during summer camps that continued to call for: “universal and correct use of well-fitted masks that cover the nose and mouth.” The main change in the CDC guidance was reducing the physical distancing recommendation to 3 feet from 6 feet for campers in their immediate group, or cohort. But the CDC still recommends staying at least 6 feet away from others. READ FULL STORY


Good news! Island’s beaches expand during past decade despite hurricanes
week of April 29, 2021

Despite several strong hurricanes and winter storms, the island’s more than 22 miles of beaches expanded – on average – by about 2 feet between 2013 and 2019, due to beach renourishment projects and the natural deposit of sand carried by ocean currents and waves. That’s the finding reported by the coastal engineering firm helping the county update its beach preservation plan first adopted in 1988 and revised multiple times since then. The massive document prepared by Stantec Consulting Services found that county projects to fill in sand on eroded shorelines and build up dunes is the most cost-effective strategy for managing beaches in the future. Stantec found that, taken as whole, the island’s beaches gained close to 4 inches of width each year, between 2013 and 2019, amounting to approximately 2 feet during the period. “Countywide that’s a really good number,” said county commissioner Peter O’Bryan. “Looking at the projects we’ve done, I think we have done a good job with our beaches. I know a lot of people think it’s a waste of money. [But] in my mind, beaches are critical infrastructure ... a key part of our community and why people come here.” READ FULL STORY


After four decades, Shores Town Attorney Chester Clem retires
week of April 29, 2021

Indian River Shores Town Attorney Chester Clem possesses, in his Vero Beach law office, a copy of every ordinance the town council ever adopted, but officials past and present say that paper archive pales in comparison to the knowledge Clem holds in his memory bank. Throughout his 40-plus years representing the town, Clem has served at the pleasure of a succession of five-member elected councils, with no job security apart from his continued exemplary performance. “There was no contract – ever – for his employment,” Town Clerk Laura Aldrich said. Want to know the details of how a piece of land was acquired, or when and why a town building was built? Or the history of any dispute or contract to which the Shores was a party? Former vice mayor Jerry Weick says Clem not only had the information, but could retrieve it quickly, put it into context and help the council make wise decisions. “Chester was always very accessible any time I had a question,” said Weick, who served eight years on the town’s Planning Zoning and Variance Board and then another eight years on the town council. “You could call Chester at any time and he would always get right back to you with an answer, either a phone call or with a letter confirming what you thought was the case.” READ FULL STORY


Only 7 new cases of COVID-19 on barrier island in the past week
week of April 29, 2021

The new COVID-19 infection rate dropped significantly this week, down from an average of 26 cases per day to 20.7 cases per day – with the barrier island accounting for just seven of the 145 new cases. The overall positivity rate of those tested also decreased in the seven days before press time, ranging from 3 percent to 5.1 percent and only exceeding 5 percent one day in the past week. With vaccine supply more available and the Indian River County Health Department conducting its last two no-appointment-needed vaccine clinics last Friday and this Wednesday, nearly 77,000 people locally have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 51,000 county residents have completed their shot regimen as the county phases out the fairgrounds vaccine distribution effort next week. Going forward, people wishing to get the jab will need to make an appointment through a retail pharmacy, hospital or medical clinic, or at the health department’s office at the county government complex READ FULL STORY


Vero considers legal action against county in Shores dispute
week of April 29, 2021

The City of Vero Beach is considering legal action against Indian River County to enforce what the city views as its permanent water-sewer service territory as set forth in a 1989 agreement – a provision that would keep the Town of Indian River Shores on the city utility system, even unwillingly. The dustup began after the Indian River Board of County Commissioners voted to allow county staff to cooperate with engineering consultants the town hired to find out whether or not it would be feasible for the Shores to obtain water-sewer service from the county in October 2027, when the town’s franchise agreement with Vero ends. Vero Mayor Robbie Brackett says the city has three separate legal opinions defending the city’s right to not lose utility customers to the county because a 1989 agreement lays out which areas are to be served by Vero, and which areas are to be served by Indian River County – with any proposed changes requiring Vero’s permission. READ FULL STORY


W. Galen Weston, founder of Windsor and developer of Orchid Island, dies at 80
week of April 22, 2021

W. Galen Weston, the Canadian billionaire whose vision transformed a strip of Vero’s north barrier island into the internationally known residential enclave of Windsor, died at his home there last week. Weston, who was 80, was known for his vigor and sociability, though his health had declined in the past several years. The passing of the department store and grocery store magnate triggered headlines around the world. But his death caught many by surprise in the close-knit community of Windsor, which was muted in sorrow last week as residents allowed the family, especially Weston’s widow, Hilary, to grieve in peace. “Everyone here is just devastated,” said Windsor resident Dhuanne Tansill, a prominent supporter of the arts in Vero who was unaware until recently that Weston’s illness had progressed to a critical phase. “Nobody told us,” she said. “I wrote them a letter thanking them for everything they’ve done for us. They had such beautiful vision,” said Tansill. “He created what he set out to do,” said Betsy Hanley, president of Windsor Real Estate. “He was visionary in the retail world, and he had this vision for here. He was a man of great achievement, but we’ll remember him for what he’s done for the community by creating this environment.” READ FULL STORY


Retired Undersheriff Jim Harpring moves into new job as Indian River Shores town manager
week of April 22, 2021

After being chosen from among 53 applicants for the position of Indian River Shores Town Manager, retired Undersheriff Jim Harpring will dive right in to work on Friday morning to replace Joe Griffin, who resigned in February for health reasons. Harpring, 58, a longtime island resident, retired from the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office in 2020 after nearly 16 years of service. Hired by Sheriff Roy Raymond, Harpring most recently served as General Counsel for Sheriff Deryl Loar before being promoted to undersheriff – an administrative job which closely resembles the duties of a municipal manager, according to Shores Mayor Brian Foley. “When you think about the undersheriff job, Mr. Harpring was kind of the COO of the Sheriff’s Office, so he has extensive project management experience,” said Foley, who interviewed Harpring and three other finalists on April 10. “We’ve got the town hall center project in progress.” Foley said the Shores town council had a very tough time deciding between the top two applicants, Harpring and Assistant County Administrator Mike Zito. READ FULL STORY


Construction starts on Environmental Learning Center pavilion
week of April 22, 2021

Construction was slated to begin this week on a $1.3 million event pavilion at the Environmental Learning Center that is the centerpiece of the organization’s multimillion-dollar, master-planned expansion. The expansion is intended to “reinvent” the highly popular nature center, elevating it “to the next level, as a major, regional environmental education resource,” said Environmental Learning Center Executive Director Barbara Ford. “This is a real game-changer for the ELC,” said Environmental Learning Center Board Chair Don Barr. There was a COVID-condensed groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for the Thomas R. Schidel Education and Event Pavilion, named for the local businessman and inventor whose $1-million donation jumpstarted the pavilion project. Construction was set to begin with removal of a spongy layer of soil that will be replaced with solid soil so foundation work can start. Ford said the project “should be done by the end of 2021.” The ELC’s 64-acre riverside campus is located at the western base of the Wabasso Bridge on the south side of the 510 Causeway. The 2,500-square-foot pavilion and adjacent 9,000-square-foot grassy oval will be built northeast off the entrance road, on the grassy expanse where the Laura Riding Jackson homestead once stood. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 vaccine now exceeds demand here with 90 percent of seniors over 65 vaccinated
week of April 22, 2021

With nearly half of all county residents and 90 percent of seniors age 65 and older having received at least one COVID-19 shot, vaccine supply in Indian River County now outpaces demand. “We’re having trouble filling appointments. We’ve got plenty of supply,” said Indian River County Emergency Services Director Chief Tad Stone. State officials increased counties’ allocations of vaccine doses in April and nearly 1,200 shots per day can be administered by appointment here, but public health workers have run through the once-long waiting list of names. To reach more people, the county has for the past two Fridays offered walk-up, no-appointment-needed first-dose shots at the Indian River County Fairgrounds. Provided that the weather cooperates, anyone age 18 or older wishing to get a first-dose vaccine can show up between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday, April 23 at the Fairgrounds. Heavy rains and lightning can cause the closure of the outdoor tent clinic, as happened on Monday when the county had to reschedule people with appointments for another day. READ FULL STORY


Beachland teachers accuse ex-School Board member of disruptive actions
week of April 22, 2021

County public school administrators are investigating an incident at Beachland Elementary in early April in which former School Board member Tiffany Justice has been accused of angrily disrupting classrooms and flouting the board’s mandatory facemask policy. Two Beachland Elementary fifth-grade teachers last week begged the School Board for help coping with the fallout from the parental rights advocate’s confrontational behavior during the week of April 5. Justice and her fifth-grade son refused to wear facial coverings, as required by School Board policy, and Justice angrily disregarded educators’ directions during her April 7 visit to the school, teachers Megan Brescia and Tina Newberry told the School Board last Tuesday. Newberry and Brescia also accused Justice of repeatedly telling lies about the incident during an April 8 interview on Newsradio WTTB’s local news magazine podcast while complaining about her treatment at Beachland Elementary. “Currently I have a parent in my classroom who has made my job a nightmare,” Brescia said. “The constant threatening and bullying tactics on her part is something I will no longer tolerate. “She has created a hostile situation,” Brescia said. “She has personally attacked my teaching practices, grading policies, classroom management and even accused me of lowering her [child’s grades]. READ FULL STORY


School superintendent argues for new position to resolve desegregation order
week of April 22, 2021

A Chief Equity and Diversity Officer is needed to help the School District of Indian River County overcome community intransigence and resolve a 54-year-old federal desegregation order, School Superintendent David Moore said last week. Opponents have spoken out against the proposed position as a waste of money and a threat to Indian River County’s cultural norms. But Moore said it will take an all-out effort to help the school district get out from under the federal order by hiring more African-American educators and improving the academic performance of African-American students. “It needs to be all-encompassing,” Moore said last Wednesday about the position during a meeting of the Indian River County Taxpayers Association. “We need to put more resources into that office, that work,” Moore said. “The design of it is to be determined. I’m just asking for a little trust. “It’s very unique on how we’re going to have to do it here,” Moore said. “The school system can be an agency within the community that pulls the community together.” READ FULL STORY


Facemasks expected to be optional when new school year starts Aug. 10
week of April 22, 2021

Schools Superintendent David Moore has until April 27 to draft a long-awaited plan to phase out the mandatory facemask policy instituted this school year amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. Barring an unforeseen spike in COVID-19 cases, facemasks are expected to be optional for students when the new school year starts on Aug. 10, said School Board Chairman Brian Barefoot. “The goal is to eliminate them ASAP, certainly before summer school begins,” Barefoot said last Wednesday. “Nobody likes the idea of wearing masks.” The school year ends May 28 and the school district’s summer programs start June 7. Moore’s plan will determine whether students will be required to wear facemasks during summer school. “All of that could change tomorrow because there’s some new guidelines, there’s a surge or an outbreak, although the trends are certainly headed in the right direction,” Barefoot said. “I think we all hope we can have masks be optional, if not eliminated.” READ FULL STORY


Study underway at Bee Gum Point may lead to more game fish
week of April 22, 2021

A two-year scientific study underway at the Bee Gum Point Preserve on the east side of the Indian River Lagoon may yield important information to help control mosquitoes, enhance sport fish populations, and improve the overall health of the 156-mile estuary. Directed by Florida Tech Professor Emeritus Dr. Jon Shenker and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust scientific and conservation director Dr. Aaron Adams, with field work conducted by graduate students from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, the research focuses on how popular game fish such as snook and tarpon use the 100-plus acres of manmade mosquito ditches at Bee Gum Point. The mosquito impounds are owned by the Indian River Land Trust and managed by the Indian River County Mosquito Control District. Marine scientists have known for decades that mangrove marshes along the lagoon are not just breeding grounds for mosquitoes, but also function as important nursery habitat for juvenile snook and tarpon. READ FULL STORY


Wabasso Beach Park closed until April 30 for sand restoration
week of April 22, 2021

Wabasso Beach Park closed this week – and will remain shut down through April 30 – to allow work crews to complete the first phase of a $14 million beach-restoration project on the island’s northern tier. Treasure Shores Beach Park also will remain closed through the end of the month, but Indian River County spokesperson Kathleen Keenan said Monday that Golden Sands Beach Park was scheduled to temporarily reopen this week as beach repair work moves south to Wabasso Beach. The busy-season closure of Wabasso Beach Park was initially scheduled for mid-February to allow sand to be placed northward from the park. However, the county’s Public Works Coastal Engineering team postponed the closure because high tides prevented sand trucks from accessing the beach in that area. The first phase of the project, which began Jan. 4, must be completed by April 30, before the official start of the sea turtle nesting season. “We need to be off the beach before peak sea turtle nesting season begins,” Keenan said. “Beach surveys for biological monitoring are being completed every morning – before any work begins on the beach – to protect nesting sea turtles and shore birds.” READ FULL STORY


GOP rally with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene moves to Fairgrounds after 14 Bones says ‘No’
week of April 22, 2021

Local Republican Club Chairman Jay Kramer said he expects more than 300 people to attend a Saturday morning rally at the Indian River County Fairgrounds, where controversial Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is scheduled to be the headline speaker. “It’s becoming a bigger event than I thought it would be,” Kramer said, “so we might get more.” The breakfast event initially was scheduled to be held at 14 Bones Barbeque on U.S. 1 in Vero Beach, but a harsh social-media backlash convinced the restaurant’s owner, Scot Wilke, to back out. Kramer said he told Wilke that Greene would be the event’s marquee attraction, but Wilke said he didn’t recall Kramer mentioning her name or warning that she is a political lightning rod. “We’ve worked with the Republican Club before, and when we agreed to do this one, we thought it was just another event,” he added. “We were blindsided by the response. "We were a paid vendor, not an organizer or sponsor of the event." Kramer said he understood Wilke’s decision to withdraw. READ FULL STORY


Manatees in Indian River Lagoon dying at alarming rate
week of April 22, 2021

Manatees in the Indian River Lagoon and elsewhere along the coast have been dying at such alarming rates that the federal government has launched an investigation, and directed additional money and personnel to rescue the animals and determine what is causing the spike in deaths. NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service last month declared an “unusual mortality event” for Florida manatees after at least 539 died between Jan. 1 and March 19, including 235 of them in the Indian River Lagoon or its tributaries. That amounts to nearly 10 percent of the estimated statewide manatee population of 5,733, according to Save the Manatee, a nonprofit conservation organization, and is almost as many as died in the entire previous year. Eighteen manatees have been found dead along Indian River County’s shores. The new UME was declared just three years after the marine mammals were taken off the endangered species list and re-categorized as merely “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The UME designates the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to lead the response to the crisis, and provides additional funds and staff support to the agency and its environmental partner groups. READ FULL STORY


$4.6 million road project coming to Indian River Boulevard next year
week of April 22, 2021

Traffic jams like those island residents have sporadically endured for months on Highway A1A will be coming to Indian River Boulevard just across the river early next year. That is when construction begins on a $4.6 million resurfacing and bike lane project that will extend from the Merrill Barber Bridge to the road’s terminus at 53rd Street, where it feeds into U.S. 1. just beyond Grand Harbor. The majority of the 40 or so people who showed up at a public workshop on the project last Thursday were bike enthusiasts who, for the most part, complained loudly that the proposed bike lanes would be 5 feet wide rather than 7 feet wide as they are on the section of A1A being resurfaced on the island. Indian River County Assistant Public Works Director James Ennis explained several times that requirements for state roadways such as A1A are different than those for county roads like Indian River Boulevard. He said changes to the project that would have to occur to accommodate 7-foot bike lanes would not only cost much more but also render the county ineligible for state grant funding, because the project would no longer qualify in the “maintenance” grant category. READ FULL STORY


Property appraiser closing beachside office due to low demand for services
week of April 22, 2021

County Property Appraiser Wesley Davis said he will discontinue service at the Oceanside County Complex on Cardinal Drive at the end of September, citing a lack of demand for his office’s services there and insufficient Internet capability. “Our lease is paid through September, which allows me to have a presence there through the end of the TRIM,” Davis said referring to the Truth In Millage Rate notices his office sends out in August. “People on the island can continue to schedule appointments there until then,” he added. “Even after we leave, we’ll keep some printed materials over there.” County Clerk Jeff Smith pulled out of the beachside office last April, after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down courthouses and prompted the state to cut clerk-of-court budgets. Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan, however, said she has renewed her $4,092-per-month lease at the 1,200-square-foot beachside office, which opened in June 2019, and she plans to use the space vacated by Davis to increase her staff there. Jordan said the traffic at all four of her locations – at the County Administration Building, Sebastian and Vero West branches, and on the island – continues to grow. READ FULL STORY


Shores seems focused on switching water-sewer provider
week of April 22, 2021

The breach of contract suit filed by the Town of Indian River Shores against the City of Vero Beach is plugging along, with the parties exchanging interrogatories and providing documents, but win or lose, the Shores seems focused on ending its water and sewer utility arrangement with Vero in 2027. While the lawsuit proceeds, the Shores and a consultant hired by the town are examining whether it’s feasible to switch water-sewer providers, getting services from the county once its franchise agreement with Vero expires. If the Shores wants to make the leap, town officials must give notice by October 2023, so everything being done now backs up from that date. Because the $121,000 feasibility study by the Arcadis consulting firm would require the cooperation of county employees and data from county systems, the Indian River Board of County Commissioners discussed the Shores’ efforts and voted 4-1 to approve the use of staff time to participate in the study. That is an encouraging sign for the Shores. If the county had no interest in having Indian River Shores as a utility customer, a ‘no’ vote would have ended the process. READ FULL STORY


Surfsedge homes sell at record pace during pandemic
week of April 15, 2021

When real estate developers from Florida’s Gulf Coast bought a 5.2-acre tract of land in Indian River Shores at an auction four years ago, they could hardly have anticipated that a pandemic would turn the luxury subdivision they envisaged into one of the hottest developments in Vero history. But that’s exactly what has happened at Surfsedge, where the 10 available homes – starting at $1.76 million for the least expensive – sold out in a two-month period this spring to buyers from as far away as Texas and the Northeast. “Once we signed the first contract, it was like dominos falling,” said Megan Raasveldt, the Dale Sorensen Real Estate agent who leads the sales effort at the 24-home luxury subdivision, which includes 12 single-family homes and 12 oceanfront condos priced at up to $3 million for the largest condo. The first of three model homes in the subdivision was completed on Jan. 5, which seems to be what buyers were waiting for – the opportunity to walk through the finished product before committing to a purchase. The first contract was signed two weeks later on Jan. 18 and Raasveldt sold the last of 10 available homes on Good Friday. READ FULL STORY


Ex-School Board member Justice in Beachland ruckus
week of April 15, 2021

Former School Board member Tiffany Justice raised a ruckus at Beachland Elementary last week, seeking special treatment for herself and her fifth-grade son, claiming he has difficulties coping with facemask rules. Attempting to check on her son, Justice sought an exception from the policy requiring parents to give 24-hour notice to visit their child’s classroom but was rebuffed. She then demanded the policy’s repeal, even though she voted to approve the policy in 2018 when she represented the barrier island on the School Board. Justice complained no special accommodations were made to allow her son to go mask-free in his classroom. She also objected to being monitored by the school resource officer during her visit to Beachland last Wednesday – even though she had taken an adversarial stance against the school in person and on a local radio talk show. Justice aired her grievances against Beachland Elementary School and the school district both before and after her Wednesday school visit during appearances on Newsradio WTTB’s local news broadcast and podcast with Bob Soos last Tuesday and Thursday. “I was being treated like Enemy No. 1,” Justice said. “The fact they want to silence us means we need to speak up and be louder.” READ FULL STORY


Vero’s fine dining restaurants having great season
week of April 15, 2021

If you’re planning to head out for a nice dinner at your favorite restaurant anytime soon, be sure to make a reservation. After a difficult 2020, Vero restaurateurs are celebrating a great first quarter of 2021, with many reporting record-breaking numbers. And many chefs and owners expect the good times to keep rolling into the summer as snowbirds extend their stays and new residents flock in from locales hit hard by the pandemic. “It’s been one of the busiest seasons we’ve ever had,” said Scampi Grill’s chef-owner, Alessandro Amelio. “I think it has mostly to do with an influx of northerners coming down and staying for a longer period of time.” By expanding outdoor seating at Scampi, Amelio has been able to continue serving the same number of diners as he did before the pandemic while maintaining social distancing inside the restaurant. “A lot of customers who come in never thought about dining outside. Because of the pandemic, they’ve ventured out a little bit and now they think dining outside is awesome,” Amelio said. READ FULL STORY


Dick Winger’s return to Vero Beach City Council is not a feel-good story
week of April 15, 2021

Never in recent times has a three-vote Vero City Council majority acted in such a self-serving manner as last week, when it voted to appoint former mayor Dick Winger to fill the final seven months of Joe Graves’ two-year council term. In nearly 13 years of covering the Vero Beach City Council, we’ve seen members on the dais vote for policies both wise and foolish, in times of recession and times of surplus. But we’ve never witnessed anything quite like this. The council had three or four other solid candidates for the seat left open by Graves resignation. But they chose Winger, who pledged to serve as a de facto rubber stamp for whatever the three-member voting bloc of Vice Mayor Rey Neville, Councilwoman Honey Minuse and Councilman Bob McCabe want to do. In his interview during the public meeting, Winger, 83, said he would go along with the prevailing will of the council. “I would not be the tie-breaking vote,” Winger said, adding that being merely appointed and not elected, he does not feel he would have the authority to push his own objectives or opinions, or to block the majority from acting. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian high school swimmer headed for Olympic trials
week of April 15, 2021

On a recent Saturday morning, at an elite competition in St. Petersburg, Florida that would turn out to be Mitchell Ledford’s ticket to the U.S. Olympic Trials, the sophomore at Sebastian River High School took his place on the block with four of the fastest swimmers in the world. On his right was Ryan Lochte, winner of six gold medals. On his left was Caeleb Dressell, two-time gold medalist and holder of the world record in butterfly, Mitchell’s stroke. On the far side of Dressell was Joseph Schooling, who held a state record Ledford had his eye on. Mitchell Ledford’s goal in St. Pete was to swim well enough to earn a trip to the Olympic Trials in Omaha in June, a goal thwarted last year by the lockdown. When the swimmers hit the water, Mitchell’s drive to keep up with the Olympians flanking him was hard to curb. The short course race meant more turns, and more time underwater, and Mitchell had to portion out his energy all the way to the end. READ FULL STORY


Link to Vero’s past disappearing. Steil gas station on U.S. 1 to close
week of April 15, 2021

Vero Beach’s iconic Steil gas station on U.S. 1 – a local landmark for more than five decades – is scheduled to close Saturday, unable to compete with the upgraded products, services and ambiance at nearby Wawa, Cumberland Farms and Speedway stores. The property will be sold next week, but it will not remain a gas station, according to Cecilia Simons, daughter of Jim Steil, who founded the independent Steil Oil Company in 1965 with the gas station on U.S. 1 and saw it expand to 16 Florida locations. Steil, a Miami native who served in the Army during World War II and moved to Vero Beach in 1954, died in 2019. The station on U.S. 1 is the company’s lone surviving station. “We’re a small, family business, and we’re like all the other small, locally owned businesses that are getting pushed out by big corporations,” said Simons, who co-owns the company with her brother and sister. “We were doing well enough to keep everyone employed, and we wanted to keep going, if only for sentimental reasons,” she added. “We developed a lot of loyal customers over 56 years, going back to when the area code here was 305, and the station still reminds them of old Vero. READ FULL STORY


70,000 county residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine
week of April 15, 2021

More than 70,000 Indian River County residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of press time Monday, and of those, more than 42,000 people are fully vaccinated. That means more than a quarter of the county should be fully protected from serious COVID disease and hospitalization – which outpaces the state of Florida as a whole, where only one-fifth of residents are fully vaccinated. Combining the number of locals partially and fully vaccinated with those recently recovered from infection results in heartening news that nearly half of all county residents have at least some level of immunity from COVID-19. Despite those numbers, the local daily case count is up slightly this week – possibly due to the expected post-spring break hump from more people traveling over public school and college vacation time in March. The number of new infections per day jumped from a daily average of 21 last week to 26 this week, but the positivity rate remained way below 10 percent, ranging from 4 percent to 7 percent over the past week. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic adds physicians to hospital staff
week of April 8, 2021

Even as Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has coped with COVID-19, its leadership has continued to look beyond the pandemic, bringing dozens of new doctors to town to expand its healthcare offerings. Since the world-renowned health system took over Indian River Medical Center in January 2019, it has added close to 200 physicians to its staff, bringing the total number of physicians practicing at the hospital to 423. Of those, 157 are employed by Cleveland Clinic Indian River, an increase of around 65 since the health system took over, a hospital spokesman said. That increase factors in both resignations and new hires, he said. The remaining doctors have privileges and work at the hospital taking care of patients but are in private practice. While all eyes were on COVID counts, PPE shortages, intensive-care beds and caregiver burnout, the Vero hospital diligently continued work begun the previous year to make good on its pre-pandemic commitment to expand services and staff. READ FULL STORY


VNA nurses now visiting homebound seniors to give COVID-19 vaccinations
week of April 8, 2021

In the frantic first weeks of COVID-19 vaccine availability, a subset of Vero’s seniors were spared the frustration of trying to book appointments via jammed phone lines and crashed websites. They had no hope of getting a shot because they couldn’t leave their homes. Last week, homebound residents in Indian River County finally went to the front of the line. Through a collaboration of local agencies, those incapable of getting to a vaccine clinic can now get a house call from a VNA nurse, happy to give them the shot in the comfort of their home at no cost. The house-call solution to getting the homebound vaccinated is the result of collaboration between the county’s Health Department, the VNA of the Treasure Coast, and the Senior Resource Association and its Community Coach bus system. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 cases here decline; hospitalizations also down
week of April 8, 2021

As COVID-19 shots opened up to anyone age 18 and older (16 and older for the Pfizer vaccine) this week, more than 100,000 shots have been administered locally, and 40 percent of Indian River County residents had gotten at least one dose of vaccine. Eighty-six percent of local seniors age 65 and older have been fully or partially vaccinated, an important achievement since that age group accounts for 68 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 87 percent of the deaths reported from complications of the virus. The daily new infection count reflects the county’s robust vaccination efforts, as the average number of new cases declined slightly to 21 per day, and only eight barrier island residents tested positive in the past week. Hospitalizations were down to 13 patients at press time Monday – about a quarter of the people hospitalized at the peak of the virus locally. READ FULL STORY


Flood insurance premiums headed higher for ‘equity’
week of April 8, 2021

A new Biden Administration plan to make flood insurance rates promote “equity in action” could drastically increase premiums for luxury residences in coastal areas like Vero’s barrier island. Based upon a national study of flood premiums, claims and property values as they relate to flood zones and risk of damage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) last week released the objectives of its Risk Rating 2.0 plan. “The modernized pricing methodology corrects the current system’s unintentional inequities in which many policyholders with lower-value homes are paying more than they should and policyholders with higher-value homes are paying less than they should,” the FEMA press release states. “As a result, nearly a quarter of the NFIP’s current policyholders will see a decrease in their premiums under the new pricing structure.” “We are putting equity at the forefront of our work at DHS and making reforms to help our nation confront the pressing challenges caused by climate change,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. READ FULL STORY


New stormwater fees could equate to 12 percent tax hike
week of April 8, 2021

The Vero Beach City Council was set to move forward this week with the next step of imposing a stormwater utility tax on residents, businesses and nonprofits – without the support of the mayor. Since the November election, there’s been a solid, three-vote majority supporting the city staff’s push for a dedicated fund billed separately on the tax rolls to pay for stormwater projects intended to clean up the lagoon instead of lumping those expenses into the general property tax fund. Mayor Robbie Brackett has been against this new form of revenue in a pandemic economy. “The way I see it, this would mean an 11 or 12 percent tax increase at a time when businesses are still struggling and we can’t do that,” Brackett said on Monday, a day ahead of the council vote putting the public on notice that the city intends to assess a new tax. READ FULL STORY


Huge new subdivision would add hundreds of homes near airport
week of April 8, 2021

A massive subdivision that was planned but never started on the property known as Dodger Pines just west of the Vero Beach airport is showing new signs of life. If approved and built as planned, Heritage Reserve would be the biggest subdivision in Vero Beach, increasing the number of homes in the city by more than 10 percent and substantially bolstering the tax base. As of 2019, the city had 7,357 houses and apartments, according to Location Inc., a division of CoreLogic. The new subdivision would add 830 new homes to that total, according to the developer and a preliminary plat provided to the Vero Beach Regional Airport. Residents of Heritage Reserve would be close to the hospital, the downtown and Miracle Mile. They would also be close to the airport, but not in a flight path and not “in the high noise area,” according to former Vero planning director, Tim McGarry, in a 2018 interview. READ FULL STORY


Construction boom puts pressure on county building department
week of April 8, 2021

The sizzling-hot, local real estate market has put a strain on the county’s Building Division, where the staff has been overwhelmed by permit applications for new-home construction, major home remodeling and additions to existing homes. The increased demand during the ongoing boom, in fact, has caused delays in the county’s processing of those applications, which must be obtained before licensed builders and contractors may begin such projects. But Community Development Director Phil Matson said the surge in new-home construction hasn’t hurt the quality of Building Division inspections of ongoing and completed work. He said he’s not worried about inspectors – even those hired on a temporary basis to handle the growing workload – rushing through inspections to keep up with a heavy workload and get on to the next job. READ FULL STORY


Andres Duany kept on to help city finalize riverfront plan
week of April 8, 2021

The Vero Beach City Council has approved another contract for consulting services with architect and urban planner Andres Duany, who has worked with Vero since 2019 on getting public input and designing the Master Concept Plan for the city’s riverfront redevelopment project. “Andres will tweak the design and give us a revised Master Concept Plan and we needed the new work order because that wasn’t part of the original job,” said Vero Planning and Development Director Jason Jeffries. “We’re calling this the Community Plan and we will show that plan to developers because it reflects what the community wants to see on the site.” Vero city officials expect to bring an updated conceptual plan for the proposed redevelopment of the riverfront power plant and sewer plant sites to the Vero Beach City Council in May. They will solicit pitches from developers to implement their vision at the same time. On April 26, prior to that May presentation, the city’s Three Corners Steering Committee will review the in-progress, revised designer’s renderings of the layout and forward its recommendations to the council. READ FULL STORY


Brightline tracks from north and south to meet at county line
week of April 8, 2021

The heavy thump of pile drivers reverberates from south Vero Beach to Sebastian as Brightline constructs new railroad bridges for the extension of its passenger train service from South Florida to Orlando. The $2.6 billion project appears bound for completion in late 2022 in Indian River County, the final bastion of resistance where county commissioners spent $4 million on futile legal challenges aimed at stopping the train project. That effort ended in October when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-gasp appeal. Brightline contractors have been working full blast on high-speed railroad tracks in neighboring Brevard and St. Lucie counties for several months, but construction activity in Indian River County has been spotty. Whether coincidentally or intentionally, the construction schedule sets the stage for the linking of the new train tracks from the north and the south with a “Golden Spike” in Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


Few realize that hardbottom reefs lay close to shore just off Humiston Park
week of April 8, 2021

Most Floridians think of the Keys when they hear the word reef, visualizing colorful coral forests teeming with bright fish. But Vero Beach has reefs, too, right offshore and likewise loaded with marine life. A new book discussed in a recent Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute lecture highlights this fascinating feature of the Vero environment that many residents don’t have a clue about. "Islands in the Sand" was co-authored by four Florida scientists: Ken Lindeman of Florida Institute of Technology, Dr. Dan McCarthy of Jacksonville University, Dr. Karen Holloway-Adkins of East Coast Biologists and David Snyder of CSA International. In the book, the authors tell the story and describe the complex ecology of Florida’s hardbottom reefs that lay close to shore in less than 12 feet of water along the Atlantic Coast between Miami and St. Augustine, including reefs just offshore from Riomar Country Club and Humiston Park. READ FULL STORY


Expansion proposed for Riverside Park tennis complex
week of April 1, 2021

The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation is seeking donors to fund a major renovation and expansion of the city-owned tennis complex in Riverside Park. Plans for the $5.7 million project – which would include construction of a clubhouse and small stadium court that could be used for tennis tournaments and exhibition matches, along with refurbishing existing courts – were first presented to the city last year. The complex would serve as a hub not only for local tennis players – the hard-court facility would not compete with the Vero area’s private clubs, which all have clay courts – but for foundation-funded youth and afterschool programs. The plan was put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March 2020 and shut down much of the economy, but the Mardy Fish foundation is now going public with its proposal. READ FULL STORY


Boardwalk south of Jaycee Park getting overhaul
week of April 1, 2021

The Conn Beach boardwalk just south of Jaycee Park is getting a major overhaul and will be closed one portion at a time from now through mid-June. This stretch of boardwalk, always popular, has become more popular than ever this past year as walkers sought safe, outdoor and socially distanced avenues for exercise and a change of scenery during the pandemic. It is “one of the most heavily used recreation facilities in the area,” said Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls. The 1,460-linear-foot renovation will extend from the southernmost end – the part already closed and under repair – to the flagpole near Jaycee Park. “The whole boardwalk will not be closed at once,” said Assistant Public Works Director Richard Mutterback on Monday. “It is the goal of the project to maintain as much access to the boardwalk for the public as possible throughout the project. “As one section is nearing completion, they will start on removal of the decking from the next similar section [between access points], and they will continue in this manner as they progress north.” READ FULL STORY


More excuses, little progress, on A1A road-widening and resurfacing project
week of April 1, 2021

As the island cruises through the heart of its busy season, the fluorescent orange construction barrels that line A1A seem to have become a permanent part of the landscape – a situation intensely frustrating for drivers faced with confusing traffic lanes and unpredictable backups while no tangible progress occurs. The Florida Department of Transportation has offered a series of excuses for why no work is being done and said repeatedly the project is ahead of schedule, but regardless, there is no question improvements on the island’s main thoroughfare have stalled in recent months. Throughout the first 90 days of 2021, Vero Beach 32963 readers have been phoning and emailing this newspaper, asking why no work is being done on the state-funded, $6.7 million road-widening and resurfacing project that began in June. As of last week, Florida Department of Transportation officials continued to say the project – which covers a 6.74-mile stretch from just north of the Vero Beach city line to just north of Wabasso Beach and includes the construction of 7-foot-wide bicycle lanes on both sides of the road – is progressing ahead of schedule and will be completed this summer. READ FULL STORY


‘Pinky’ Regan, a year after COVID, out on town again
week of April 1, 2021

A year after the pandemic came to our island when Barbara “Pinky” Regan was confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, she is back out enjoying Vero’s reviving social scene. But she says her bout with the virus was difficult and has had lasting effects. “It’s been a long haul. My taste is altered, and I’m tired – but that could be just because I’m getting older,” says Regan. Besides having less energy and getting periodic stomach aches, she’s had to deal with an aversion to several things she previously loved – wine, orange juice and coffee. “Some people lose their sense of taste. I could taste; I just didn’t like the taste,” Regan told Vero Beach 32963 last week. “I loved coffee, but it tasted horrible to me. I had to learn to like that again.” It was in early March of last year that word began to circulate at clubs Regan frequents – John’s Island, Quail Valley, and the Vero Beach Bridge Center – that she had fallen ill with COVID-19, which was just beginning to raise alarms in the United States. READ FULL STORY


Island COVID-19 cases down slightly
week of April 1, 2021

With places around the globe reporting an uptick in cases, or even a post-spring break surge in COVID-19 infections, Indian River County held steady this past week with an average of 24 new infections reported each day, and hospitalizations from the virus in the single digits. Ten barrier island residents tested positive over the past week, down slightly from recent weeks. The case positivity rate countywide increased slightly, with the percentage of people tested turning out positive inching above 5 percent on seven out of the past 14 days. But the overall positivity rate remained well under 10 percent, which has been seen as the threshold causing increased concern from public health officials. Vaccinations continued at full steam with people age 50 and older eligible to get the shot last week, and people age 40 and older eligible as of Monday. More than 58,000 local residents had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of last weekend. READ FULL STORY


New memory care facility preparing to open on U.S. 1 in May
week of April 1, 2021

Another assisted living facility is opening on U.S. 1 in Indian River County, this time a dedicated memory care center offering space for 64 residents. Certus Senior Living, a Sanford-based company with three similar properties in Mount Dora, Orange City and northeast Orlando, is expecting its certificate of occupancy for the property just a short distance north of Grand Harbor “any day, any minute,” according to marketing director Deirdre Murray. The project has been underway since at least 2018, when it won conceptual plan approval from Indian River County’s planning and zoning commission. It follows on the heels of another recently opened assisted living facility, the Promenade, with 116 beds, including some for memory care, a few miles north of Certus on U.S. 1 in Sebastian. That facility opened last August, just weeks after the county experienced a frightening COVID-19 surge in July. READ FULL STORY


Six apply for open seat on Vero Beach City Council
week of April 1, 2021

Six men are seeking to serve out the seven months remaining in former Vero councilman Joe Graves’ term, and they reflect Vero’s past, its present and its future. Two ex-city officials – one-term councilman Brian Heady and three-term councilman and former mayor Dick Winger – both want to mount a comeback, to infuse the four sitting council members with their strong views and experience in government and their pre-retirement careers. Winger, who while on council frequently boasted about his varied corporate experiences, submitted a five-page resume listing 18 different jobs, plus military experience, and an objective of “Participatory Retirement, Stay Active.” Heady didn’t turn in a resume but noted that he’s very interested in utilities issues and that his “most important educational experience was two years on city council.” In fact, those years made such an impression that Heady wrote a book about his adventures in and with city government. READ FULL STORY


New oceanfront development off to blazing start
week of March 25, 2021

The island’s latest luxury oceanfront development is off to an extraordinary start. New developments typically take years to sell out, sometimes decades, but eight of 21 units at Indigo already have been reserved less than two months after sales opened. “We expect to be sold out by the end of the year,” says Fernando de Nunez y Lugones, executive vice president and chief economist at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, the brokerage handling sales at Indigo. Developer Yane Zana goes further. “At the current pace, we could very well be sold out by the time we break ground this summer.” “The level of interest has been exceptional,” says Kristine Gabor, the Sotheby’s agent in charge of sales at the development. Located south of Tracking Station Park on a 4-acre parcel that previously was home to a marine research facility, Indigo is a mix of detached villas and condominium units that range in price from $2 million to $3.5 million. Vero buyers typically have been slow to purchase units in new, multifamily developments before construction begins, but in this case a compelling set of circumstances has steamrolled that hesitancy. READ FULL STORY


Downtown Fridays: Another step on road back
week of March 25, 2021

Another mainstay of Vero small town life is making a welcome return this week after a long pandemic shutdown as the monthly street fair on 14th Avenue known as Downtown Fridays resumes at 5:45 p.m., with food, drinks, music and vendors. The downtown art gallery and dining district has survived the pandemic mostly intact, according to Susan Gromis, executive director of Main Street Vero Beach, which puts on the street fair. “We had a few closures along 14th Avenue, but we had new businesses coming in too. And a couple that did close had already been talking about closing before COVID,” said Gromis, who says she has seen a visible uptick in foot traffic along Main Street in recent weeks. The first Downtown Friday in many months comes in the wake of a successful First Friday Gallery Stroll in March. “We had over 100 people come through during the recent March stroll,” which is only 50 fewer than pre-COVID, Gromis reports. If you decide to head out to the downtown street fair this Friday, you’ll find things much the same as in the past, but with fewer vendors and food trucks to allow for more social distancing. READ FULL STORY


Simon Caldecott, driving force behind resurgence of Piper Aircraft, retiring
week of March 25, 2021

Piper Aircraft’s announcement this week that President and CEO Simon Caldecott will retire on April 2 didn’t merely mark the departure of the driving force behind the decade-long resurgence of the county’s largest private-sector employer. It was a reminder of how Piper nearly lost its way. Even though he was only interim president and CEO when he arrived in 2011, Caldecott didn’t hesitate to make a major course correction in the company’s flight path. Correctly reading industry trends in the midst of a recession that hit the aircraft industry hard, Caldecott immediately halted Piper’s ill-fated venture into a once-trendy-but-faltering, small jet market. “Clearly,” Caldecott said at the time, “the market for light jets is not recovering sufficiently and quickly enough to allow us to continue developing the program under the economic circumstances we face.” Instead, under Caldecott’s direction, Piper turned its focus to its M-Class line of single-engine, cabin-class business aircraft – launching the luxurious M600 turboprop that has become a huge seller and the company’s flagship product – and expanded its offerings in the now-burgeoning trainer aircraft market. READ FULL STORY


Skyborne has big plans in taking over FlightSafety Academy
week of March 25, 2021

Skyborne Aviation will focus on attracting American students who want to work as commercial pilots for U.S.-based airlines when it takes over Vero’s largest flight training school, Skyborne chief executive officer Lee Woodward told Vero Beach 32963. Skyborne is purchasing the faltering FlightSafety Academy, where in recent years most students came from outside the United States with many of them sponsored by airlines in their home countries. “We’re a British company, but our plan is to make a massive effort in the U.S. market to develop U.S. pilots, especially for U.S. airlines,” Woodward said. “We have a very airline-centric philosophy,” he added, “and we already enjoy successful working relationships with several U.S. carriers, including at least four that have expressed interest in creating pathway programs. “With that philosophy and those relationships – along with our team of talented instructors – we want to really energize the U.S. market.” The enthusiasm in Woodward’s voice was unmistakable throughout a 30-minute trans-Atlantic phone call on which he discussed his company’s plans to restore Vero Beach’s diminished stature in the pilot-training industry. READ FULL STORY


‘Experience’ in obstruction not what Vero city council needs
week of March 25, 2021

The Vero Beach City Council said last week that they want to appoint someone “experienced” to fill the seat vacated by Councilman Joe Graves, who resigned because he’s moving outside the city limits. But experience with a previous era’s problems does not necessarily equate to wise judgment in today’s big decisions. Graves might not have been the most seasoned or sage council member – he was thin-skinned at times when criticized and he sometimes over-inflated the importance of being a municipal official in a small burg of 18,000 people – but he possessed several qualities that made him a good fit for rapidly evolving situations that the council finds itself dealing with these days. While on the council, Graves generally approached issues with an open mind. He knew how to seek and accept counsel, and he listened to differing opinions. Graves was not afraid to admit what he did not know. He also was not afraid to change his mind should facts change, or if his position evolved over time. Those are attributes the city council members should be looking for as Vero navigates the ongoing pandemic, and major decisions regarding the future of the city’s riverfront utility sites. Instead, they seem stuck on “experience” as their number one criteria. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases continue trending down as more residents vaccinated
week of March 25, 2021

Indian River County experienced another encouraging week of downward-trending case numbers and rising vaccinations as Florida surpassed two million COVID-19 cases statewide this week. Countywide only 148 positive cases of the virus were reported, just 21 per day on average, down from the mid-20s the past two weeks. Thirteen of this week’s cases hailed from the 32963 ZIP code. The case positivity rate remained in the low single digits, rising above 5 percent only three times in the past two weeks. Nearly 5,000 people got a jab of COVID-19 vaccine during the past week, with more than 52,000 people now being partially or fully vaccinated. Looking at the combined number of people vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19 the past few months, about one in three Indian River County residents should have some level of immunity to the virus. Only four people were newly hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past week, and as of Monday evening the total daily hospitalizations with COVID-19 were 13. This number has remained low for more than a month. READ FULL STORY


Kerry Bartlett appointed to replace Tracey Zudans on Hospital District
week of March 25, 2021

Kerry Bartlett, a consultant on philanthropy and prominent figure in the local nonprofit realm, has been named by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace Tracey Zudans on the Indian River County Hospital District Board. Bartlett brings significant experience in the nonprofit world to the seven-member volunteer board. She was the first executive director of the Indian River Community Foundation and has held development posts with the VNA of the Treasure Coast and the United Way of Indian River County. A certified fundraising executive with a degree from the University of Florida, she maintains her own philanthropy consulting firm while part of the Vero-based consultancy, Carter. “She’s got a tremendous amount of experience in the community in fund-raising and development strategies,” said Ann Marie McCrystal, a District Board trustee who worked with Bartlett when both were at the VNA, where McCrystal served as chairman of the VNA’s foundation for many years. “Kerry is a true professional because she’s educated herself in the field ... and knows a lot about the nonprofit world,” said McCrystal. “She knows about the agencies and what they do for our community. READ FULL STORY


Funding doubled for addiction treatment center
week of March 25, 2021

The Hospital District board has unanimously agreed to double its funding of Phoenix Rising Wellness Center, increasing the addiction treatment center’s capacity to treat indigent clients with substance abuse problems. The Hospital District board voted to give the center an additional $200,000 for the fiscal year ending in October. That is on top of the $220,000 in Hospital District funding already in place for this year. The vote came after trustees heard appeals from the center’s medical director and case manager, as well as a testimonial from an intake manager who is a graduate of the program. “My family wrote me off a long time ago and if it wasn’t for Phoenix giving me a shot, I don’t know if I’d be alive today,” said the graduate, introduced as Misty, who came to the program when it began and remains sober. “I wanted to say how much I appreciate [your support] on a personal level,” Misty told the board. Phoenix Rising opened in the summer of 2018 and, six months later, its young founder, Pedro Bernabe, made his first presentation to the Hospital District. READ FULL STORY


Is pending bill aimed at eliminating Hospital District?
week of March 25, 2021

A piece of legislation moving through the state legislature could prove an existential threat to hospital districts, local officials are warning. The Special District Accountability Act would require a performance audit every five years on independent taxing districts like the Hospital District. The proposed audit, taking effect in October, would cost hospital districts between $20,000 and $50,000, depending on their size. The audit would come on top of the district’s existing annual financial audits. The bill appears to be aimed at eliminating replication of existing county services, among other things. But district officials – and advocates for special taxing districts – believe the bill’s true intention may be to shut down hospital districts altogether. The bill states results of the performance audit would be sent to Florida’s auditor general and leaders of the House and Senate. In an email sent to the 16 agencies the Hospital District funds, including Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, Hospital District executive director Ann Marie Suriano warned that aspects of the bill could have “great impact” on the district. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff Flowers forming a ‘Citizen Advisory Committee’
week of March 25, 2021

Sheriff Eric Flowers will soon announce the creation of a Citizen Advisory Committee he hopes will improve communication between county residents and his agency by allowing the panel to review policies and procedures and, when appropriate, offer recommendations. The committee – believed to be the first in the agency’s history – will not have oversight responsibility, however, nor will it participate in the Sheriff’s Office’s active cases. Flowers, who was elected in November to his first term as sheriff, did not respond to questions about his motivations for forming the committee, how it will be structured, how members will be selected and its mission. But a public records request filed earlier this month by Vero Beach 32963 produced 33 pages of Sheriff’s Office documents related to the committee – including a series of emails in which Flowers asked all five county commissioners in January to nominate up to three candidates to serve on the panel. READ FULL STORY


At last, events restarting here after long year
week of March 18, 2021

The unwanted visitor with the strange name came to Vero on Friday the 13th. For the superstitious, the date somehow seemed fitting because in the span of only a few hours last March, COVID-19 caused the shutdown of three of Vero’s biggest events, turning away crowds of more than 100,000 – equivalent to two-thirds of the county’s population. That same day, Florida schools were closed, flights from most of Europe were halted and cruises were canceled. But it was the closure of three hugely popular happenings – the Under the Oaks art show, the Firefighters Fair and a big Broadway musical at Riverside Theatre – that foreshadowed a long year of dramatic changes to our community’s social, arts and entertainment scene. However, now, almost exactly a year later, there were signs last week of Vero slowly coming back to life. READ FULL STORY


Nearly 80 percent of county seniors have received jab
week of March 18, 2021

With more than 1,100 shots in arms per day on average in Indian River County over the past week, nearly 80 percent of the county’s 53,000 seniors 65 and older have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Those vaccination efforts – which opened up to those age 60 and older on Monday – are presumably keeping the new infection count low, as for the second week in a row the average number of reported infections has been 24 per day. The barrier island accounted for 13 out of the county’s 156 new cases during the past week. In other good news, the daily case positivity rate only ventured above 5 percent two out of the past 14 days, with the highest rate being 5.17 percent on March 7 and the lowest being 2.66 percent on March 5. The daily hospitalization rate remained in the teens as of press time Monday, a fraction of the 50-plus people in the daily hospital census during the post-Christmas holiday surge. READ FULL STORY


COVID pandemic has changed life in significant ways
week of March 18, 2021

One year, more than 11,300 reported infections and 272 COVID-19 deaths later, Indian River County has come through the first 12 months of the pandemic better than many locales. Nevertheless, life here has changed in significant ways. Local government facilities took lockdown measures seriously last spring, shielding employees from the public altogether, then gradually opening offices up by appointment, with masks and temperature checks. But some services are still completely online or on a grab-and-go basis with drop boxes, digital forms and lobby pick-up arrangements to reduce personal contact. Vero Beach Mayor Robbie Brackett is growing impatient with limitations placed on city operations and on the community in general that have persisted for many months. As a business owner and an elected official, Brackett said he, like many in our community, had to be out and about, taking care of business in-person even during the precarious summer 2020 and post-holiday surges of COVID infections. “I hope none of this becomes permanent procedure,” Brackett said “I don’t take the pandemic lightly – I had the virus, my parents had it and I was very concerned about them. But I hate the ‘new normal’ and how we’ve gotten away from personal contact. I want the normal back, not the new normal.” READ FULL STORY


Teel lawsuit against sheriff’s office moves a step closer to trial
week of March 18, 2021

A $10 million wrongful death lawsuit filed against the sheriff’s office and a deputy who fatally shot a Vero Beach doctor’s wife in 2017 has moved closer to trial after court-ordered mediation failed to produce a settlement. Todd Norbraten, one of the attorneys representing Dr. Dudley Teel, said the mediation was held Feb. 25 via Zoom conferencing, adding that he could not elaborate because federal law requires the contents of such sessions to remain confidential. For that reason, Norbraten was prohibited from saying how long the session lasted and whether the parties came close to settling the lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach. Norbraten said there was “no other movement” in the case since the failed mediation. If no settlement is reached in the coming weeks, the trial won’t begin for at least two months – because a COVID-19-prompted administrative order issued in February by Chief Judge K. Michael Moore of the U.S. Southern District of Florida postponed all civil-court jury trials until May 3. READ FULL STORY


Shores seeks help from consultant in exploring its water-sewer options
week of March 18, 2021

In two and a half years, Indian River Shores must decide whether its breach of contract dispute with the City of Vero Beach Utilities over water rates is reason to move on to a different utility partner. To help inform that decision, the Shores was preparing to hire a consulting firm to explore the town’s options. The Shores’ 15-year water-sewer franchise agreement with Vero is up for renewal in October 2027, and it requires a four-year termination notice if the Shores opts to join Indian River County Utilities instead. County officials bid for the Shores’ business in 2011 but with growth countywide, and Vero’s water infrastructure in the town a decade older, it’s unclear if the county still has the desire or the ability to serve Indian River Shores in 2027 and beyond. Shores Councilman John McCord gave Vero an ultimatum last month, urging Vero to consolidate services with Indian River County or threatening that the Shores would exit Vero’s system in 2027. READ FULL STORY


Three more Beachland Elementary students test positive for COVID-19
week of March 18, 2021

Three Beachland Elementary students tested positive for COVID-19 and 17 classmates were quarantined last week in the most serious outbreak of the virus this year at the island’s only public school. That brings the total number of COVID-19 cases at Beachland Elementary this school year to 13, according to Florida Department of Health reports, or nine, according to school district press releases. Some parents said Friday they believe the school has done a good job containing COVID-19 and notifying them about cases, but others said they were unaware of last Wednesday’s outbreak and were concerned for their children’s health. “I didn’t know about it, but I’m not happy because it’s contagious and I have a child in that school,” said Sandy Brachfeld, whose granddaughter is a fourth-grader at Beachland Elementary. “She’s vulnerable.” Deangilo Williams, who has a daughter in third grade and son in fifth grade at Beachland Elementary, said: “Knowing that they can bring it home without knowing and nobody notified us about the COVID cases is pretty strange. I had absolutely no idea and I bring them to school every day.” READ FULL STORY


Vaccination recommended even for those who have had coronavirus
week of March 18, 2021

One shot? Two shots? Or no shot for barrier island residents who had COVID-19 and have since recovered? A panel of doctors who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention debated earlier this month whether or not to change the guidance the agency issues for the use of the three COVID-19 vaccines. Several members of the panel feel strongly that having COVID-19 acts as the patient’s “first dose” of vaccine, so all they need is a booster shot. But no studies have produced enough data to convince the majority of the panel. Two Cleveland Clinic specialists advise patients who have recovered from the virus to get protected just like people who have not yet been infected. That would mean getting two shots of Pfizer or Moderna or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine. “We still recommend that you get the vaccine even if you’ve had COVID-19. However, you may consider waiting 90 days after getting infected as it’s not common to get COVID-19 again within three months of first being infected,” said Dr. Richard Rothman, chair of hospital medicine for Cleveland Clinic Florida region. Rothman heads up Cleveland Clinic’s COVID Operations and Recover Task Force, and his advice echoes the CDC’s current guidance. READ FULL STORY


Vero boatbuilder cited for dumping oil and gasoline
week of March 18, 2021

A state environmental health inspector has issued a civil citation against MR Marine Boatworks in Vero Beach for six violations of state anti-pollution laws against discharging oil and gasoline on the ground outside the shop. David Martin, who said he worked at the boat repair facility on Old Dixie Highway for about eight months before being fired, contacted the Florida Department of Health in February to report that the shop dumped at least 150 gallons of boat fuel on the ground and allowed used oil to leak from a holding tank and soak into the ground when it rained. Martin said he reported the problems to his bosses, but they ignored him. “I told them ‘you can’t be dumping this ****,’” Martin said. “They ignored me month after month.” Martin provided photographs to Charles Vogt of the Health Department showing what appeared to be puddles of oil and gas on the property. Vogt, along with Indian River County senior stormwater inspector Todd Tardif, visited the site last month and cited business owner Ronald D’Haeseleer Sr. for discharging pollutants into surface and groundwaters; creating a public health hazard; and improper storage and disposal of used oil. READ FULL STORY


Public schools $280 million behind on maintenance
week of March 18, 2021

Indian River County’s public schools need $280 million worth of deferred improvements and $8.4 million in annual investment to keep from falling further behind. However, the school district has budgeted just $6 million for facilities in 2021-2022 and doesn’t plan to increase the annual facilities amount to $8.5 million until 2030-2031, records show. So, despite $72 million in projected spending in the next decade, the tab for deficient facilities is expected to keep getting larger – increasing by $14.5 million to $295 million by 2030-2031, records show. To avoid that eye-popping deficit, the school district must ramp up annual spending on facilities, or plan for a major building and renovation program, to keep pace with deterioration, said Tracy Richter, an educational facility planning expert. Richter, of HPM Planning Services in Dublin, Ohio, spent the past year analyzing the school district’s building data to lay the groundwork for formulating a long-range facilities master plan. A wild card in the long-range planning process is how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect birth rates and school enrollment trends in the future, said Richter. READ FULL STORY


County pushing back on $134 million in state-mandated lagoon cleanup costs
week of March 18, 2021

The county is looking at being required to spend $134 million on lagoon cleanup – more than twice the $60 million it had anticipated – after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection revised its lagoon repair plan last month. Commissioners at a meeting two weeks ago voted 4-1 to continue talks with FDEP aimed at reducing the county’s costs, with Commissioner Peter O’Bryan favoring more aggressive action such as filing a legal objection. The county had been given a deadline of March 16 to challenge the FDEP’s new Basin Management Action Plan for cleaning up the central lagoon over the next five years. Commissioners sought an extension to negotiate further with the agency, arguing that its pollution modeling is wrong and its targets unrealistic. READ FULL STORY


Replica of Hemingway’s fishing boat coming to Vero
week of March 11, 2021

A 21st century replica of Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat Pilar – almost as famous as Hemingway himself and the only boat the iconic author ever owned – is scheduled to make an overnight stop at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina on Monday, March 22, on her way down the coast. Launched in Brooklin, Maine, the 38-foot wooden vessel will occupy a slip at the Vero Marina, where it will be available for viewing, but not boarding. The original Pilar currently is on display, up on blocks, at Hemingway‘s former home, Finca la Vagia, just outside Havana, Cuba. The visit to Vero of this model of 1930s nautical elegance, appropriately named Legend, highlights Vero Beach’s connection to the Pilar saga in the person of Sea Oaks resident Eugene Wheeler Jr., a member of the Wheeler Yacht Company family which custom built the original vessel for a 34-year-old Hemingway. While Legend’s incredibly elegant outward appearance would have been familiar to Hemingway, today’s materials, systems technology and luxurious appointments – along with Legend’s top speed of 34.5 mph, more than double Pilar’s 13 mph – would have stunned the author. READ FULL STORY


New COVID cases at lowest level here since Halloween
week of March 11, 2021

As the world marks one year since declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic, the coronavirus situation here continues to improve, with new infections at the lowest level since Halloween. Only 162 people tested positive for the coronavirus in Indian River County last week – averaging 23 per day – down from an average of 34 per day the previous week. Twelve barrier island residents tested positive in the seven days leading up to Monday press time. The county’s case positivity rate remained below 5 percent nine of the past 14 days, with the highest rate being 7.41 percent. Current daily hospitalizations remained in the teens on Monday afternoon. Nearly 500 people per day were vaccinated, bringing the total of people here who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to 43,581. Of those vaccinated, 37,962 or 87 percent were age 65 and older. On Monday, people between the ages of 60 and 64 will get their chance to get their first shot as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced demand for vaccine appointments had softened enough to lower the age hurdle a bit. That means about 2 million more Floridians potentially in the queue. READ FULL STORY


School district kept principal’s COVID secret for two weeks
week of March 11, 2021

Vero Beach High School Principal Shawn O’Keefe’s COVID-19 hospitalization was kept a secret from the public for more than two weeks despite his potential to have been an asymptomatic super-spreader as leader of Indian River County’s most populous public institution. O’Keefe’s diagnosis wasn’t reflected in the school district’s routine press releases reporting COVID-19 cases in the public schools until Feb. 24, after repeated inquiries by Vero Beach 32963. After the paper was prepared to report on his condition, O’Keefe issued a statement alluding to a stay at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital and announcing his intention to return to work last week at Vero Beach High School – making no mention of his diagnosis. Neither O’Keefe nor School Superintendent David Moore responded to telephone and email messages Friday asking whether he had returned to work and why his diagnosis was kept secret for so long. School district officials earlier invoked the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as the reason for keeping O’Keefe’s diagnosis secret even though the law doesn’t apply to employers, schools, or school districts. READ FULL STORY


Grand Harbor: A tangible sense of resurgence and community pride
week of March 11, 2021

Grand Harbor members are feeling good about the future of their club. Just three and a half months after negotiating the purchase of the country club’s facilities and the takeover of its operations from New York-based Icahn Enterprises, there is a tangible sense of resurgence and community pride. “There’s a real renaissance going on here,” newly hired General Manager Michael Gibson said last week. “It’s too bad the members had to go through what they went through, but that’s all in the past now. We’re changing the culture, changing attitudes and moving forward with our vision. “This is a wonderful community with outstanding amenities and a bunch of people who want to make Grand Harbor great again.” Gibson, who was hired to replace Icahn’s Chris Hull when the members took control of the club on Dec. 1, previously worked as the GM at the Old Marsh Club in Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Grove Golf & Tennis Club in Boca Raton prior to holding the same position at The Golf Club at Turner Hill in Ipswich, Mass. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Regional Airport thriving; launching ad campaign to raise profile
week of March 11, 2021

Despite the pandemic, Vero Beach Regional Airport is visibly thriving, with private jet traffic up, more than $12 million in construction underway or about to begin, and a customs facility that will open the field to international flights moving forward. An ad agency has been hired to market the airport to additional tenants – even as space is being created for them – and a British pilot training organization is taking over the faltering FlightSafety Academy, with a promise to build “the No. 1 flight training school” in the United States. Elite Airways had to shut down for a time and had fewer flights over the past year, but it survived and currently is flying from Vero to Newark, New Jersey, and Portland, Maine, with some upcoming flights to Newark sold out well ahead of time. “The airport is financially sound, and we are working hard to make sure it stays that way,” says Todd Scher, who took over as airport director in January after decades working in a range of positions at the city-owned airport, most recently as assistant airport director. READ FULL STORY


C-section rates improve dramatically at Cleveland Clinic
week of March 11, 2021

The improvement couldn’t have come at a more welcome time. As Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital was doing all it could to prevent unnecessary hospital stays during COVID-19, a dedicated team in maternal health managed to reduce by a third the number of C-sections in first-time, low-risk deliveries. The 10-point reduction – from 31 percent in 2019 to 21 percent in 2020 – earned the hospital recognition at a statewide conference. The good news was reported by Megan McFall, director of women’s health at the hospital, at last month’s Indian River County Hospital District board meeting. The rate bested the target of 23.9 percent set by the Healthy People 2020 national initiative. So far, only a fifth of Florida’s hospitals have achieved that goal. The goal was surpassed here through a year-long collaborative effort led by McFall and a team she assembled that included obstetricians from both private practice as well as the hospital’s Partners in Women’s Health clinic, which gets support for prenatal care from the hospital district. The team had the guidance of the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative, part of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. READ FULL STORY


New project underway at south end of county
week of March 11, 2021

A long-delayed island subdivision is finally getting underway with a flurry of home sales in recent weeks. Vero Beach Ocean Club sold two luxury condos and eight estate homes worth nearly $20 million in the past two weeks in the ocean-to-river subdivision just south of the Indian River County line. A tunnel beneath A1A that can accommodate golf carts is a key selling point of the project because it allows residents to travel back and forth between the ocean and river sides of the subdivision without worrying about traffic, said Fredric Bernstein, a principal with Vero Beach Ocean Club LLC of Stuart. “I’m giving a golf cart with each house and each condo,” Bernstein said. “It makes it easy for people to enjoy the beach or the intracoastal, wherever they live in the community.” The developer anticipates starting construction shortly on 31 estate homes on a 43.5-acre tract on the west side of A1A, just south of the Indian River County line. READ FULL STORY


Longtime island banker and nonprofit leader Scott Alexander retiring from Northern Trust
week of March 11, 2021

After five decades in banking, including 13 years in Vero Beach, Scott Alexander is retiring as regional president of Northern Trust, effective March 31. Besides managing money, during his time here Alexander has been deeply engaged with the community, serving multiple terms on the boards of high-profile nonprofits including Riverside Theatre, the Vero Beach Museum of Art, the Indian River Community Foundation, the United Way of Indian River County, Indian River Medical Center Foundation and the Gifford Youth Achievement Center. He is quick to credit the team at Northern Trust for enabling him to be so involved with the nonprofits, beginning, he said, on day one, when his predecessor, Bob Bauchman, introduced him to the late Richard Stark. Alexander recalled that during that meeting, Stark told him, “You need to be on the board of Riverside Theatre.” When Alexander acquiesced, Stark picked up the phone, called someone and said, “Put Alexander on the board.” “And so, they did. That was so Dick,” said Alexander, who served six years on that board. “He was one of my mentors here in town. We would talk with some frequency and he looked out for me in a lovely way. What a great guy.” READ FULL STORY