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School District lost one teacher in six last year
week of July 20, 2017

Indian River County School District lost more than one sixth of its teachers during the 2016-2017 school year, a high rate of attrition that comes with hard-to-calculate costs to the district and its mission of educating children. Nearly 200 of the district’s 1,120 teachers left during the 2016-17 fiscal school year which ran through June 30, according to documents provided in response to a public records request by Vero Beach 32963. That number is more than double the 8 percent attrition rate cited by District Superintendent Mark Rendell in April. More teachers have left since he made that claim, but no update on attrition has been provided to the community. The nearly 200 departures also are almost double the teacher-loss rate claimed by Rendell for the 2015-2016 school year. The Florida Department of Education does not require school districts to track teacher turnover, and it’s not clear how sharp a fix Indian River County School District has on the numbers. The administration initially refused to provide teacher turnover statistics to Vero Beach 32963, saying it did not have the figures. READ FULL STORY


Dick Golden, jazz radio host:‘The music moves you’
week of July 20, 2017

Dick Golden, now 73, has begun what he calls his "transition to retirement," but it's difficult to imagine him not finding some way to remain in radio, reveling in the music to which he has devoted his life. The part-time island resident has interviewed jazz legend Count Basie, and once wrote a three-page congratulatory letter to Frank Sinatra, who responded with a handwritten note on his personal stationery and then followed up with a cassette containing the unmistakable voice of "Ol' Blue Eyes" doing a couple of unscripted promos for Golden's radio show. He continues to cherish his longtime friendship with Tony Bennett, who he affectionately and accurately describes as "the man who carried the American standards songbook into the 21st century." Then, last month, one of Golden's George Washington University-produced radio shows, which now are broadcast on Sirius/XM's Real Jazz channel, received the gold medal in the Best Music Special category at the New York Festivals International Radio Awards. READ FULL STORY


Vero finally getting serious about marina repairs
week of July 20, 2017

The City Council has finally gotten fed up with unsightly and unsafe conditions at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina that Vero Beach 32963 began reporting on more than a year ago. In a lengthy and at times intense session with Harbormaster Tim Grabenbauer and City Manager Jim O'Connor during a budget workshop, councilmembers expressed frustration with the state of the marina – which provides a first impression of the city for thousands of visitors every year – and said repairs can’t be put off any longer. "We've been putting Band-Aids on all this," councilmember Lange Sykes said. "Repairs need to be made. We have an opportunity here to make the marina a jewel of the community. Something's got to give." "We agree to have the marina as a focal point in the coming fiscal year," said Mayor Laura Moss. Longstanding complaints from boaters and live-aboard residents have focused on both cosmetic and safety issues. The aging piers are of particular concern. Some have slippery surfaces, rotting wood and cracked concrete with rusting rebar exposed. READ FULL STORY


Meg Laughlin: Reporter with a thirst for truth and justice
week of July 20, 2017

Meg Laughlin, an award-winning journalist whose reporting for Vero Beach 32963 brought the financial challenges and operational problems of Indian River Medical Center to the community’s attention, died of cancer last week. She was 70. In a 35-year career that spanned lengthy stints with the Miami Herald, the St. Petersburg Times and Vero Beach 32963, Laughlin was always focused on reporting that “made a difference.” In Vero Beach, in addition to her hospital articles, Laughlin’s reporting ranged from stories that exposed mismanagement and corruption in non-profits to a series that inspired readers of Vero Beach 32963 to contribute to a fund-raising campaign that saved the home of the widow of slain island resident Brian Simpson from foreclosure. “Meg’s reporting exemplified the very best of the type of journalism we strive for with Vero Beach 32963,” said publisher Milton R. Benjamin. “The citizens of Indian River County owe a debt of gratitude to Meg for her tireless efforts to create and focus awareness on some of the most important issues facing our community,” added Paul Nezi, a retired insurance executive who served on the IRMC Board of Directors. READ FULL STORY


Beloved cafe reopens as Frères Patisserie
week of July 20, 2017

Since the sudden death of Patisserie owner Mark Edmonds earlier this year, many Vero Beach java junkies have found themselves adrift. For most, the Patisserie was more than just a place to pick up French pastries, organic lunches and a great cup of coffee – it was a place to catch up with friends, conduct casual business meetings and just hang out. In less than five years Edmonds and his partner, Christian Garcia, developed a cult-like following at the café. While the couple will still be missed by all who were fortunate enough to cross paths with them, the buzz now is that Patisserie has reopened as Frères Patisserie Vero Beach. New owner Bennett Gomez became enamored with Edmonds’ French-style bakery while visiting the area when he and his wife were thinking about moving from the Bayside neighborhood in Queens, New York to Vero Beach so they could be closer to his mother. “When I found the Patisserie, I felt like I would be able to live here. The next time I came back for a visit I stopped by the Patisserie again, and that's when I became certain Vero Beach was a place we could be happy,” recalls Gomez as he talks about the inexplicable draw of the café. READ FULL STORY


Rising property values make it easier for governments to set budget priorities
week of July 20, 2017

The City of Vero Beach has shelved road projects for the past few years as other funding priorities and concerns over property tax hikes left elected officials with tough budget choices, but this coming year a surge in assessed property values will provide a quarter million dollars for needed road repairs. Governments across the county are benefitting from increased real estate values that translate to more property tax revenue and are weighing their options, deciding whether to spend the extra money or to hold the line on budgets and reduce tax rates. “We did have an increase in the taxable property value from last year of 7.7 percent, so based upon that increase, we have a $454,000 higher budget than we did last year,” Mayor Laura Moss said last Monday at the start of the city’s three-day budget workshops. “We kept the tax rate the same as last year, living on the assessed value, the increase in the assessed value,” City Manager Jim O’Connor said. Vero’s tax rate is expected to remain flat at $2.51 per $1,000 in assessed value, the maximum tax rate that the City Council unanimously approved last week. For comparison, that rate is up from $1.93 at the end of the real estate boom of the late 2000s. READ FULL STORY


Landlord gets rid of tenant who complained of rat infestation
week of July 20, 2017

Despite a decision in her favor in County Judge David Morgan’s courtroom last Friday, Catherine Kelly will still be forced out of her rented home by the end of August after complaining about rat infestation at the property. When Kelly’s landlord, Mark Titone, didn’t remedy the rat problem at her home after repeated complaints, she took stronger action, filing complaints with the Department of Health of Indian River County and the City of Vero Beach Department of Code Enforcement. Shortly afterward, Titone tried to evict her, claiming she had not paid her June rent and stating that he planned to sell the dilapidated house at 1833 10th Avenue where Kelly lives with her teenage son and daughter. Kelly fought the eviction attempt and at the Friday hearing her Florida Rural Legal Services Attorney, Valencia Stubbs, submitted Kelly’s rent receipts, proving she is current with her rent. Stubbs also argued Kelly’s lease required that Titone give 30-days notice before ordering her out, instead of the 15-day notice he gave. Judge Morgan dismissed Titone’s eviction case and ruled Kelly owes no rent, but Titone employed a tactic he has used frequently when renters lawyer up and fight his eviction attempts: negotiating a last-minute, out-of-court agreement with Stubbs and Kelly to evade fines or sanctions. READ FULL STORY


Purchase of defunct INEOS plant in home stretch
week of July 20, 2017

Alliance BioEnergy's offer to buy the shuttered INEOS ethanol plant has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the deal is expected to close in a couple of months. Alliance CEO Daniel de Liege told the County Commission last week that finally, after months of delays and much longer negotiations than he ever expected with the bank and the broker of the property, he's ready to start implementing his eco-fuel production plans and, not far down the road, rehiring former INEOS technical personnel to help operate the plant. “They have been reaching out to us,” de Liege said. “Certainly where appropriate we’ll bring those people on because we certainly need people who know the facility and have worked there to get it turned on easily and quickly.” De Liege said Alliance has all the funding in place, a combination of cash and loans, to close the deal. At the same time, looking ahead at expansion and development needs, Alliance continues to raise money from the public through stock offerings, de Liege said, “so I can get as close to zero debt as I can on this first round.” READ FULL STORY


Major changes for our hospital won’t come easy
week of July 13, 2017

The need of Indian River Medical Center to swiftly find a different future seemed to become clearer during the first of two public meetings last week, where a consultant and three separate committees said the financially-challenged hospital’s best chance for long-term survival is a partnership or sale to another healthcare entity. But achieving a break from an independent past, and entering into a relationship with a potential larger, better endowed suitor, will not be easy or quickly agreed to by all stakeholders – a reality made clear by one influential former Hospital District board member who declared: “The hospital will never be sold.” Two separate boards oversee the hospital’s interests, one elected by county residents – the taxpayers who owned the hospital – and the other chosen by the leadership of IRMC, which operates the hospital. A special collaborative committee representing both interests is currently exploring the hospital’s options for the future. A Seattle consultant who met with IRMC leadership in March called the hospital’s public-private hybrid leadership structure “utterly unworkable,” and said it must be dismantled for the hospital to survive. READ FULL STORY


Vero’s Grady Bunch heads off on a summer adventure
week of July 13, 2017

At last, you can sign up for a club membership that will actually take you places – if you have a Grady White boat. That’s the theory behind the Vero Beach Grady Bunch, a brand-specific boat club created nearly 30 years ago. With no apologies to the cast of the 1970s sitcom “The Brady Bunch,” this endeavor is somewhat simpler than merging two single parents with a collective six children. And Grady Bunch members have more fun. On Friday, Vero Marine owner Brian Cunningham led the way as club members took off on their latest excursion, captaining an eight-boat navy that sailed into the Indian River Lagoon, headed for the ocean and the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. Other boats joined the group as they cruised south toward Stuart. In all, 45 people were aboard the eventual dozen vessels making the trip. The Abacos are a group of islands and cays that include several dive sites with underwater caves and coral reefs. Marinas dot the coast, making it convenient to cruise the shallow, yet navigable Sea of Abaco. READ FULL STORY


Shattered stained-glass windows returning to Christ by the Sea
week of July 13, 2017

Three months after the shocking Easter Week vandalism at Christ by the Sea United Methodist Church, during which several of the church's one-of-a-kind stained glass windows were shattered, repairs finally have been completed and the windows will soon be reinstalled in the prow-like front of the church and along one side. Fortified by a new protective layer, they will replace the shutters that have darkened the sanctuary since April, when a troubled 17-year-old Vero Beach High School senior hurled rocks though the church's windows in three separate incidents during Holy Week, according to police reports. On May 2, Vero Beach Police charged Keith Andrew McFarlane III with three felony counts of criminal mischief. At that time the teen was already in detention at the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Fort Pierce "for previous crimes." He was scheduled to appear before a judge May 15, which was, ironically, his 18th birthday. No further information has been available, and, according to the Indian River County Courthouse Criminal Division, McFarlane has not entered the system as an adult. READ FULL STORY


Holiday Inn remodeling a few years off
week of July 13, 2017

Apparently, all those rumors about major renovations at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites on Ocean Drive aren't wrong. They're just a little premature. The founder and president of Mulligan's Beach House Bar & Grill, which operates a restaurant on the premises, said the hotel's owners have discussed with him their desire to embark on a remodeling project – but not "any time soon." Probably not before 2020. "They've made it clear to me that they will do something eventually, but it'll probably be three of four years before they do anything," George Hart said last week. "As far as I know, they haven't even decided what they're going to do yet." The local Holiday Inn is owned by Velogan Inc., a Delray Beach-based firm created four years ago. The company's president, Mark Walsh, could not be reached for comment, and its registered agent, attorney Richard Critchfield, did not respond to a message left at his office. Vero Beach City Manager Jim O'Connor said a Velogan attorney represented the hotel's owners during a past meeting at which the City Council welcomed public comment on zoning issues in its "vision plan." READ FULL STORY


Elite Airways’ new Vero to Asheville flights look promising
week of July 13, 2017

The early response to Elite Airways' new, non-stop commercial flights connecting Vero Beach and Asheville, N.C., has been promising, airline and city officials said. The 90-minute flights, which began May 25, are averaging 20 to 25 passengers per one-way trip on Elite's 50-seat jets. According to Vero Beach Airport Director Eric Menger, 204 passengers flew from Vero Beach to Asheville in June – the first full month of service, which is offered only on Thursdays and Sundays – and 202 flew from Asheville to Vero Beach. "The numbers thus far are good, not great, but they're improving," Menger said. "June is usually a slow month, and the numbers seem to be picking up in July. It looks to me like every flight is profitable, but we need the numbers to increase. "I think we'll see that happen as the word gets out." In March, Elite President John Pearsall visited the Vero Beach Regional Airport and announced the airline would offer non-stop service to and from Asheville from late May through early November. READ FULL STORY


Vero’s STEP sewer system ready for island hook-ups
week of July 13, 2017

It was big news back in 2015 when the City of Vero Beach began to install new sewer infrastructure on the barrier island to get homes off of aging septic systems and reduce pollution in the Indian River Lagoon, but then the topic fell off the public radar and not much has been heard about it since. Turns out that despite the low profile, a lot has happened over the past two years. According to Vero’s Water and Sewer Department Director Rob Bolton, all neighborhoods with problem septic systems now have special sewer lines installed and ready to hook up to, and nearly 100 homes on the island have connected to the system. Bolton is now preparing for a second public information campaign to complete septic-to-sewer conversions in the Bethel Creek subdivision, which is where the first black PVC pipes were installed back in March 2015. The effort will begin with a community meeting at Bethel Creek house in August. That meeting will be followed every few months with a meeting in another drainage basin in the city with the same aim of convincing residents to get off septic and connect to the sewer system. READ FULL STORY


Attorneys negotiating amount School District owes charters
week of July 13, 2017

A month after a judge ruled the School Board owes five charter schools in the county more than $2.5 million, the School Board has yet to say whether it will appeal the decision. Meanwhile, $1,000 a day in additional interest charges on the debt continues to accrue, according to one charter school official – money that will ultimately come from taxpayers. The School Board has held two inconclusive meetings to consider fighting Circuit Court Judge Paul Kanarek’s unequivocal decision in favor of the charter schools. It seems board members are waiting to see details of a proposed agreement now being hammered out that will tell them exactly how much they owe. Judy Stang, the board’s executive administrative assistant, said attorneys for both sides are negotiating a final agreement with specific numbers for interest and damages. “I think we're just waiting to hear” from the attorneys, she said. The School Board has scheduled a meeting for July 20 to discuss an appeal. The next court hearing is set for July 24. Jacksonville attorney Shawn A. Arnold, who represents the charters, said the hearing will provide an opportunity for both sides to discuss a date for a final hearing and respond to court questions and discuss damages. READ FULL STORY


Chinese bid on 32963 estate, but don’t win
week of July 6, 2017

The first real estate auction to draw Chinese bidders for 32963 luxury oceanfront estates turned out to be less than a smashing success, with bids overall lower than expected and several bidders-by-long-distance from China failing to offer enough to win the high-profile island property known variously as Palazzo Di Mare or “the barcode lady’s house.” The good news for owner Sharon Nicholson was that her south island estate finally sold at auction after nearly 10 years on and off the market. The bad news was that the spectacular 5-acre, ocean-to-river property fetched only $8,848,000, netting Nicholson less than $8 million – a fraction of the original 2007 asking price of $33.5 million and only about 40 percent of the $20 million list price in place at the time of the auction. In April 2016, Naples-based DeCaro Luxury Auctions attempted to auction the house off, setting a reserve price of $12.9 million. The highest bid was $12 million, and the bid was not accepted. READ FULL STORY


School leader’s contract extended on 3-to-2 vote
week of July 6, 2017

A divided and troubled-sounding school board extended Superintendent Mark Rendell’s contact until June 2019 last week, even though board members did not have all the data needed to evaluate his performance and despite a long list of problems at the district under his leadership. The extension seemed like a foregone conclusion in one sense – the board’s agenda for the meeting listed just two options regarding Rendell’s contract: “Take no action and allow Dr. Rendell’s employment agreement to automatically extend for one additional year to June 30,” or “Take action to extend the Superintendent’s agreement for one or more years beyond June 30, 2018.” No option for letting Rendell go was included. Despite that one-sided agenda, there was some gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands during the School Board’s discussion of the matter, and two school board members ended up voting against extending Rendell’s contract. Board Chair Charles Searcy and Board member Laura Zorc both said they could not support the extension – though for different reasons. READ FULL STORY


Construction set to begin soon on Ocean Drive restaurant
week of July 6, 2017

The contractor hired to build the proposed restaurant on the west side of Ocean Drive, across the street from Bobby’s Restaurant and Lounge, said he has addressed the "minor issues" cited by county officials reviewing the plans and expects to begin construction this month. Paul Parent of Parent Construction Inc. said his company would submit this week the necessary responses to questions raised in May by a county building division plan examiner and fire inspector. "We've pretty much worked through all of them," said Parent, who submitted the building plan application on behalf of Miami-based Sony Investment Real Estate Inc. "We're compliant with everything they've requested." While there still is no confirmation who will occupy the new restaurant, both letters Parent was responding to refer to the "Tides Restaurant" in the job description. Leanne Kelleher, The Tides' owner and chef, did not respond to a message left at her current restaurant last Saturday. Parent said he will begin construction as soon as he receives a building permit, and he expects the project to take "five or six months" to complete. READ FULL STORY


Shores residents still waiting for start on cell tower
week of July 6, 2017

Eight months after Indian River Shores ended years of controversy and approved construction of a cell tower on town property, residents are still waiting for wireless companies – even one provider – to sign on so construction can proceed. Town Manager Robbie Stabe each month gives the council an update on where things stand with the tower, which originally was scheduled to be completed by Easter, and then by the 4th of July. For several months, Datapath, the tower firm the Shores hired to manage the project, has been “very close” to inking a deal with one of the top two providers – Verizon or AT&T – and in talks with at least one more company. Last week, Stabe said he was hopeful because one of the providers actually sent a survey crew out to eyeball the tower site. But there’s still no long-term lease agreement for the provider to mount its transmission equipment on the tower. The Town is barred from revealing the name of the company until the deal is sealed, but it is rumored the leading prospect is Verizon. READ FULL STORY


Marine Bank planning to open new branch in Brevard County
week of July 6, 2017

Marine Bank & Trust celebrated its 20th birthday this week by continuing to expand in what its president and CEO believes is the right direction – north. In October, Bill Penney oversaw Marine's acquisition of a full-service banking center in Sebastian. Now, the only bank rooted in Vero Beach is preparing to branch out again, this time into Brevard County, and Penney doesn't believe he's going out on a limb. "The banking business, to me, is all about the people, and we've assembled a great team of local bankers ready to introduce Marine Bank's customer-first service to that community," Penney said. "So we're very excited about this." With two full-service banking centers in Vero Beach – at 571 Beachland Boulevard and 1450 U.S. 1 – and another at 1020 U.S. 1 in Sebastian, Marine plans to open its fourth full-service branch in north Melbourne or Rockledge. Marine currently has a loan production office in Rockledge. READ FULL STORY


Army Corps to pay John’s Island developer more than $10 million
week of July 6, 2017

A land dispute case that dragged on for nearly 13 years was decided last week by the United States Supreme Court in favor of John’s Island Club developer Lost Tree Village Corporation. The case pitted Lost Tree against the Army Corps of Engineers, which in 2004 denied the developer’s request for a permit to develop wetlands on Stingaree Point in Indian River Shores. On Tuesday, June 27, the Supreme Court declined to review a 2011 federal court ruling that awarded the developer $4.2 million to compensate it for value lost when the Corps blocked its development plans, but the actual award will be much larger, “well north of $10 million,” according to Jerry Stouck, an attorney with the Washington D.C. law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP who represented Lost Tree throughout its protracted legal battle with the government. “A statute says Lost Tree is entitled to interest on the $4.2 million since 2004, when the permit was denied, and legal fees, which will be hefty,” Stouck says. READ FULL STORY


Sale of Shores oceanside property closes; beach path next
week of July 6, 2017

While the town’s cell tower plans seem stalled, and the twists and turns of the Vero electric negotiations leaving utility customers in limbo, at least one controversial Indian River Shores saga is nearly concluded. The sale of the auctioned 5.2-acre oceanside property has closed, and sale proceeds are in the bank. “The $4,488,000 was deposited electronically on June 16, 2017, into an interest bearing account,” Town Manager Robbie Stabe said last Friday. The Shores Town Council decided there’s no rush to decide how to use or invest the money, since the upcoming year’s budget is balanced without touching the cash reserves. Stabe said the millions are earning 1.1 percent annually while the council takes public input and weighs its options. Next on deck is the task of clearing a 5-foot beach access pathway at the north end of the property, which the council voted to set aside for public use. The council’s action came in response to outcries from residents who live on the west side of A1A and had enjoyed casual beach access across the parcel since the 1980s when it was sold to Indian River County by Pebble Bay developer Ed Schlitt at a deep discount with the agreement that public access would be preserved. READ FULL STORY


School District trying to hide huge legal bills
week of June 29, 2017

Vero Beach 32963 has paid a $450 fee, waited three weeks, and still hasn’t got a detailed accounting of the legal fees the School District has paid outside law firms in its many and mostly futile court battles. But School Board Member Laura Zorc has waited longer. And while we still don’t know how outrageous these fees are, an internal memo Zorc obtained shows the School District has paid out more than $2.6 million – perhaps much more – over the past five years. “We (the School Board) are never given detailed spending, only subtotals. To get detailed spending it takes asking multiple times to the point it feels confrontational,” Zorc said. “I have to become forceful in my persistence. As the eyes and ears of the taxpayers, it should not be so difficult to see detailed expenditures.” When Zorc was finally given a copy of an internal memo showing the school district spent $2.6 million on legal fees over the past five years, the record was noticeably incomplete. The memo, prepared by chief financial officer Carter Morrison for School District Superintendent Mark Rendell, raises troubling questions. READ FULL STORY


Winger bid to take lead in electric talks short-circuited
week of June 29, 2017

With Vero headed toward a lawsuit with the Orlando Utilities Commission over a contract dispute that threatens to wreck the best financial deal the city has ever negotiated to sell Vero electric, a controversial plan put forth by Councilman Dick Winger to haggle with Florida Power & Light for more money was shot down last week without even a vote. Turns out Winger’s proposal “to designate a member of Council to be responsible as the point person to negotiate and keep Council informed and gain Council approval,” would have violated Florida’s open meeting or “Sunshine” laws, raising questions about where and from whom Winger gets his half-baked legal advice. Whoever advised him about his ill-fated proposal is either ignorant of the law, or knows the law and wants to bog the sale down in lengthy and expensive negotiations – or possibly a Sunshine law violation investigation. Either possibility is worrisome. Fortunately for taxpayers and ratepayers, the city’s legal team swiftly ruled out Winger’s plan, pointing out that a council designate would constitute a “board of one” which would be subject to Florida’s Sunshine laws the same as the City Council or any appointed board or commission. READ FULL STORY


Former Moorings tennis pro focusing on fishing company
week of June 29, 2017

All Robert Kowalczyk would say about his sudden departure earlier this month from The Moorings, where he had spent the previous three years as the club's tennis director, is that he wasn't expecting it. "I'm not allowed to get into it," said Kowalczyk, who spent two years as the club's head tennis pro before being promoted to the director's job in 2014. In fact, when contacted last week, neither he nor Moorings General Manager Craig Lopes offered any details as to why Kowalczyk no longer works at the barrier island club near the south end of the county. "We're a private club, so I can't discuss what happened," Lopes said, adding that the club is owned by its members. READ FULL STORY


St. Paul’s Church is expected to be ready by October
week of June 29, 2017

Pastor Jon Robbins said Monday he’s hoping to hold the first public services in the new St. Paul’s Church, currently under construction on Flamevine Lane, on Oct. 8. He said he expects the project to be completed in September, but he needs at least a couple of weeks to “let the dust settle” and put the finishing touches on the interior design. “The construction has been moving along nicely, and we’re super-happy with the way the building is coming out,” Robbins said. “I know some people aren’t thrilled with a church being built there, but we’re getting lots of positive feedback on the building. “Our goal now is for the interior of the church to be as beautiful as the exterior.” Robbins held a groundbreaking ceremony on the site – just west of Ocean Drive – in May 2016, after the church finally secured a shared-parking agreement with a neighboring business, the Amalgamated Realty Corporation. The Anglican church has room for only 20 parking spaces on its property, but the agreement provides enough parking to accommodate its 150-seat sanctuary. The 6,500-square-foot, two-story building also will include administrative offices and classrooms on the second floor. READ FULL STORY


Island racing legend Redman inducted into British Hall of Fame
week of June 29, 2017

Even at age 80, after a lifetime of driving competitively at white-knuckle speeds, Moorings resident Brian Redman still gets a thrill of getting behind the wheel of a race car. That’s why he left town Monday, returning to his native England for the second time this month. Three weeks ago – 15 years after his induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, six years after entering the International Motorsports Hall of Fame – Redman was recognized by Britain’s Motor Sport Magazine Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, which was held June 7 at the Royal Automobile Club in Surrey, the Lancashire County native eagerly embraced the opportunity to drive a Ford GT 40 sports car along Captain’s Drive to the Woodcote Park clubhouse. “That’s the car I drove and won with in 1968,” Redman said Sunday from his condominium. “It was a very nice affair, and being inducted into another Hall of Fame meant a lot to me. At this relatively advanced age, I wasn’t expecting any more racing honors. READ FULL STORY


Matilde Sorensen amazing No.104 nationally in 2016 sales
week of June 29, 2017

The exceptional nature of Vero’s island real estate market was highlighted once again last week when island broker Matilde Sorensen just missed being named one of the top 100 real estate agents in the United States, with $105,230,196 in sales in 2016. As it was, she came in at No. 104 in sales volume on the Real Trends 1000 list, an astonishing accomplishment in such a tiny market. Sorensen was No. 13 in Florida in sales and all of the agents who sold more came from much larger markets – 10 from the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area, one from Tampa/St. Petersburg and one from Naples/Marco Island. Two of those markets have millions of people and even Naples/Marco has double the population of Vero’s barrier island. Sorensen, who works out of her company’s office on Cardinal Drive with a team that includes an executive assistant, a marketing director and a licensed showing agent, says her success in 2016 came mainly in riverfront and oceanfront home sales, typically the highest-price properties on the island. READ FULL STORY


Hospital told time has come to find partner
week of June 22, 2017

The consultants looking at the finances of Indian River Medical Center didn’t make it to the final slide in their presentation. The minute the collaborative committee charged with stabilizing the hospital’s financial future saw a graph that had IRMC’s credit rating dipping into junk bond territory, they cut to the chase: Time to find a partner with deep pockets. Stroudwater Associates, the Maine-based healthcare consultancy hired after the hospital announced in January it had lost $4 million in the first quarter of its fiscal year, portrayed the status quo as nearly hopeless. Without disputing IRMC’s claims that the hospital is in sound financial shape today, Stroudwater’s analysis showed disaster just around the corner. Even with the consultants’ $3.5 million in tweaks to revenue projections, revenues are “insufficient to address IRMC’s strategic and investment needs.” The junk rating would come from adding a new bed tower and power plant, a move consultants say would mean “a significant increase” in the hospital’s financial risk profile. READ FULL STORY


Judge orders School District to pay charters
week of June 22, 2017

In another rebuke to the School Board, which is getting in the habit of losing its court cases, Circuit Court Judge Paul Kanarek ruled the School District owes its five public charter schools millions in withheld tax revenue. “The court finds that the plain language of the statue supports the plaintiffs’ position,” his June 13 order states. The charters are due about $2.55 million in withheld tax revenue, along with other money. State law allows districts to be charged penalty “interest at a rate of 1 percent per month calculated on a daily basis on the unpaid balance,” which comes to about $723,000 in the charters’ case. In addition, the district will have to pay the charter schools’ lawyer, Shawn Arnold, who said his fee was “well north of $100,000.” “I am not inclined to give up the interest,” North County Charter’s Business and Financial Director Ken Miller said. The money the district unfairly shorted the charters came from a four-year property tax that began July 1, 2013, and ends June 30, 2017. It is a 0.6-mil levy that takes 60 cents for every $1,000 assessed property value. READ FULL STORY


My Vero: School District hopes fees will discourage questions
week of June 22, 2017

Do you know how much our School Board pays Suzanne D’Agresta to serve as its attorney? I don’t. I hear it’s a staggering amount, but I’d like to know exactly how staggering. I’d also like to know how much our School Board has paid Husch Blackwell, a national law firm, to represent our schools in connection with a federal desegregation order. I’d like to know how much the School Board wasted in legal fees to unsuccessfully defend the district’s refusal to pay five charter schools in the county their fair share of local tax dollars. I’d like to know how much has been paid out to lawyers in hopes of blocking Somerset Academy from opening an elementary and middle charter school in our county. I’d also like to know how much the School Board paid to Vero Beach attorney Jason Odom to pursue Superintendent Mark Rendell's wrongheaded allegations against Sebastian River High School criminal justice teacher Joe Nathaniel, who won his termination case in a rout and was reinstated. And, eventually, I will – for a price. A hefty price. READ FULL STORY


A reminder of how Vero got stuck with $50M exit penalty
week of June 22, 2017

As news broke earlier this month that the promising deal to sell Vero electric to Florida Power & Light has hit a multimillion-dollar roadblock that may entangle Vero in a court battle with the Orlando Utilities Commission, the question people are asking is: How did we get in this mess? The immediate problem, which led to Vero to formally trigger the mediation provision in its OUC contract, is simple enough to describe. Vero’s contract to buy power from OUC includes two alternate exit penalties if the city pulls out of the deal. Under certain circumstances, the penalty is $20 million, and that is what Vero and FPL figured on in their agreement. But there is also a $50-million exit penalty that kicks in under other circumstances, and that is what OUC now says it wants. So how did a $50 million exit penalty get into the city’s contract with OUC in the first place? Well, that is a very long story, and those who haven’t followed city politics from 2007 forward may find it hard to believe. READ FULL STORY


Neighbors divided over need for sidewalk along Live Oak Road
week of June 22, 2017

Have you ever veered off Highway A1A onto Live Oak Road to avoid the seasonal traffic backups at the Beachland Boulevard intersection? If so, you're the reason for those red signs with the message “Vote Yes For The Sidewalk” that adorn the front yards of some residents along the bucolic roadway that follows the shoreline of the Indian River Lagoon. From A1A to a 90-degree bend necessitated by the shoreline, the road – one of the prettiest on the island – is called Live Oak Road. From the 90-degree bend to where it reaches Beachland Boulevard at the base of the Merrill Barber Bridge, it is called Indian River Drive East. Short stretches of sidewalk are in place at each end of the residential street, but for most of its length they are lacking, which forces walkers to use the narrow roadway. “Why do we want a sidewalk?" said Bill Gurley, a Live Oak Road resident who strongly supports the sidewalk campaign. "I invite you to walk that section of road between Greytwig and Mockingbird, especially during the season. Do that, and you'll have your answer. READ FULL STORY


New delay in sale of INEOS ethanol plant
week of June 15, 2017

West Palm Beach-based Alliance Bio Energy is still hopeful that it can purchase the defunct INEOS Bio ethanol plant west of Vero this summer, but the timeline Alliance CEO Daniel de Liege had projected for opening the doors and employing local people to make ethanol is now on hold. De Liege had upped his sealed offer for the plant twice in an effort to avoid an open bidding war, but that strategy may not have achieved its goal. Instead, ArborOne Bank, which holds title to the shuttered ethanol production facility, “decided to test the market and conduct a request for proposals that is due by close of business June 13th,” de Liege said, noting that the brokers and bank have been very gracious throughout the process and that he’s not bitter about the business decision. “We resubmitted an official offer under this RFP with details of our plan to reopen, build a technology incubator with UCF and put upwards of 150 people back to work, soon,” de Liege said. “We understand that as of last week there was interest from a few other groups that want to scrap the facility and sell off the land and assets but no hard offers had been submitted at that time.” READ FULL STORY


Time may have come for Vero to consider paid parking
week of June 15, 2017

The planned construction of a new, 143-seat restaurant along Ocean Drive has made the Central Beach business district's parking shortage the talk of the town. "It's definitely brought a lot more attention to the issue," Vero Beach City Manager Jim O'Connor said. "We're certainly looking to address it, and we're exploring our options." One of those options is paid parking – a suggestion that has been rejected by city leaders for years but, ultimately, might be the only way to ensure the necessary turnover of available spaces, especially along Ocean Drive. It likely will be the last option considered, however. "That's the feeling I get," Vero Beach Vice Mayor Harry Howle said. "There are still a lot of people who believe that to 'Keep Vero, Vero' you need to keep everything the same. But Vero is changing. People keep coming here," he continued. "We're seeing more people every winter, and that's not going to change. We're also seeing more houses built out west in the county. Those people are moving here to be close to the beach, and they're coming to Ocean Drive, too. READ FULL STORY


Island seeing uptick in California buyers; one wins Moorings auction
week of June 15, 2017

Island realtors say they are seeing more California buyers nowadays, as the relatively low cost of Vero Beach real estate and lack of state income tax in Florida lure retirees and others cashing out of their high-priced homes in the Golden State. That trend was in play on June 3 when a California buyer bidding by phone was the winner in the auction of waterfront condo in The Moorings, paying $449,900 for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath, 1,800-square-foot unit in the Nor’ West Passage complex. The selling price of $449,900, less than 10 percent below the recent list price of $490,000, continued another island trend of absolute auctions – sales with no reserve price – yielding decent results for sellers. When there is no minimum acceptable bid, more buyers tend to show up, hoping to get a desirable property for a bargain price. “It was a very competitive auction,” says Ron Rennick, who handled the sale. “We had about 50 people show up and four more bidding by phone, with their agents holding up their paddles.” READ FULL STORY


Andy Capak recovering from Grove bar shooting
week of June 15, 2017

Janet Capak said her brother’s recovery is progressing well – which is saying plenty, considering that just 2 1/2 months have passed since he was shot four times outside his downtown pub. “Physically, Andy is doing fine,” Capak said last week. “He was in the hospital for about a week, then he stayed with my parents for three weeks before going home. He’s been through a lot and he’s still got some work to do, but he’s getting there,” she added. “He’s limping a little, but he’s up and about, doing stuff at the bar again. He chose not to go to physical therapy. He said he wanted to do it on his own. He’s actually doing it right now.” Capak said her brother, a 2003 St. Edward’s School graduate, spent last week fishing with friends in the Bahamas. As for her brother’s psyche, however, Capak said he’s still traumatized by the shooting, which occurred minutes before 2 a.m. March 31, when he tried to break up a fight just outside The Grove, the 14th Avenue bar he co-owns. READ FULL STORY


Vero police chief defends Grove shooting investigation
week of June 15, 2017

Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey stands behind his officers’ handling of The Grove Bar crime scene in the hours and weeks after gunshots left 31-year-old bar owner Andy Capak lying severely wounded in the northbound lane of 14th Avenue. “From my view, there was no confusion,” Currey said in response to public records showing that two different black men were identified by witnesses and 911 callers as the shooter, and that be on the lookout alerts sent out to area law enforcement conflated the two men’s descriptions. Records from police on-board computers show that officers on patrol around the city and county were told to look for a man with dreadlocks, who was actually still on scene at The Grove Bar. A BOLO was sent out for that man driving a Honda with the bumper off – a car that actually belonged to a second suspect. The alert was later corrected so police could look for the second suspect, a man three inches shorter with short cropped hair, but dispatch tapes show the Sheriff’s Office was told Vero police already had the suspect in hand. Currey said he has not listened to the recordings from the incident, which occurred just before 2 a.m. on March 31. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff and deputy are cleared in 2015 death of a prisoner
week of June 15, 2017

A federal judge has ruled there was not enough evidence to support allegations of negligence or insufficient training in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the ex-wife of a 37-year-old Vero Beach man who died in police custody two years ago. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks, who previously dismissed three of the seven counts in the lawsuit, issued a summary judgment order in favor of the defendants – Sheriff Deryl Loar and Deputy Christopher Sharkey – on the remaining counts last week. That means the case is closed and will not go to trial, unless Middlebrooks' rulings are successfully appealed. The lawsuit was brought by Jill Alexander as representative of the estate of Mitchell Brad Martinez, who was found unconscious and unresponsive after being transported from the County Courthouse to the County Jail in a van driven by Sharkey on May 29, 2015. He died four days later at the Indian River Medical Center. Kevin Smith, Alexander's West Palm Beach-based attorney, said Monday he will file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals 11th Circuit in Atlanta. READ FULL STORY


Educator who knows Gifford Middle returning to the school as principal
week of June 15, 2017

Gifford Middle, the troubled mainland school where many island 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade children are educated, has a new leader. Indian River County School District Superintendent Dr. Mark Rendell said he “personally went and asked” Tosha Jones to be the next principal of Gifford Middle School because she fit his “ideal requirements.” Teachers are the most important factor in a child’s learning environment, Rendell said, but the principal is the second most important factor. Rendell introduced Jones and five other new-principal hires to the School Board at a special meeting last week. He said he wanted someone with experience as a principal who knew the school, including its staff, as well as the Gifford community. Jones said she started her teaching career at Gifford, teaching for five years and serving as assistant principal for 10 years. For the past two years she was principal of Storm Grove Middle School, which she said “has been a true, hit-the-ground-running learning experience, which will be invaluable when I return to Gifford.” READ FULL STORY


FPL purchase of Vero Electric hits roadblock
week of June 8, 2017

Orlando Utilities Commission’s slogan is “The Reliable One” and the utility seems intent on once again demonstrating that it can reliably thwart Vero’s every effort to get out of the electric business – this time landing the city in yet another sticky legal dispute. In May 2014, three years into complex sale negotiations to sell Vero electric to Florida Power & Light, Orlando Utilities surprisingly objected to the plan for it to take over Vero’s stake in three power generation projects in exchange for $34 million, belatedly saying its lawyers had decided the deal would violate OUC’s covenants with its bondholders. Now, nearly a month after FPL presented a $185 million offer to Vero, which included $20 million to pay off OUC for letting Vero exit its wholesale power contract, it suddenly comes out that OUC wants $50 million – not $20 million. This presents a major, $30 million hurdle to the carefully crafted $185 million deal currently on the table. While city officials, including Mayor Laura Moss, assured the public that OUC had been looped into the talks with FPL and the Florida Municipal Power Agency as FPL developed its latest offer, OUC announced the $50 million demand only after the FPL offer was made public. READ FULL STORY


Simpson’s convicted killer to be held here pending a new trial
week of June 8, 2017

The Fourth District Court of Appeals has finalized its ruling overturning the conviction of Henry Lee Jones for the November 2011 murder of Central Beach husband and father of two Brian Simpson. Jones, 30, had been serving a life sentence, most recently in a state prison in Calhoun County near Tallahassee. As of Monday, Jones was being returned to Indian River County, where he was to be held in the local jail until a new trial. He is scheduled for a court appearance on July 6, but Public Defender Diamond Litty said her attorneys will not be prepared to go to trial at that time. “I think we will be asking for a continuance," Litty said, adding that her office had made both the court and prosecutors aware of the intention to seek more time. The appeals court reversed Jones’ 2014 conviction, saying the trial court erred in not permitting Jones’ defense attorney to tell potential jurors that Simpson, the 41-year-old murder victim, was white, or to question jurors about their attitudes about interracial violence to ferret out any bias or prejudice. READ FULL STORY


Summer storm clouds form over Grand Harbor
week of June 8, 2017

Grand Harbor residents are up in arms after the club’s development company and managers canceled popular summer reciprocal agreements with other area clubs and halted golf course improvements without consulting club members. They are also concerned about the loss of key club employees and the developer’s failure to follow through on other community improvements. Grand Harbor is one of the largest and most popular country club communities on the mainland and has long been seen as a jewel in Vero’s residential development crown, but now members say things are going downhill. The presidents of Grand Harbor's four golf associations, which represent nearly 550 active golf members, wrote a May 25 letter to the developer to express "dismay and disappointment" over the decision to cease Harbor Course improvements and suspend plans to expand the adjacent practice facility. "Having terminated the Harbor Course projects in such an abrupt manner amid other recent developments of great concern to members has only served to suggest that the developer is uncaring, unreliable and unresponsive to the concerns of members who already have invested considerable resources in Grand Harbor," the letter reads. READ FULL STORY


Police response to Grove bar shooting saw total confusion
week of June 8, 2017

While tapes of 911 calls revealed police received conflicting eyewitness reports about who shot 31-year-old bar owner Stephan Capak outside the The Grove in the wee hours of March 31, a 32963 review of radio transmissions shows that Vero police compounded the confusion in the hours after the shooting by conflating the suspects. The two conflicting eyewitness accounts were (1) that a black male with short-cropped hair shot Capak and sped away in a gray or black Honda, or (2) that another black male with dreadlocks who arrived at the bar a half-hour before closing time in a dark-colored Chevy SUV was the shooter. But police dispatch communication records received in response to a public records request from the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office show that a BOLO (be on the lookout) notice was sent out at 1:58 a.m. that included the first name of the man with the dreadlocks, and said he was in the Honda, which witnesses said was apparently missing a bumper. READ FULL STORY


‘Barcode lady’s house’ at south end of island to be sold in new auction
week of June 8, 2017

After more than 10 years on and off the market at prices ranging as high as $33 million, the grand south island estate commonly referred to as “the barcode lady’s house” will finally be sold at the end of month in an absolute, no-reserve auction. Concierge Auctions, which has successfully auctioned off eight homes in Vero in the past several years, including two this year that sold for more than $10 million each, will sell the 23,000-square-foot house at 2150 S. A1A on June 28. A new wrinkle in the marketing is a special focus on attracting the participation of Chinese buyers in the auction. That same day, Concierge will auction off a second, more modest home at 1880 S. A1A. The larger home, which is also known as Palazzo Di Mare or simply the Nicholson estate, is currently listed on the MLS for $20 million, while the house and long narrow strip of land at 1880 S. A1A are now offered for $4,995,000. READ FULL STORY


Dick Winger substitutes his opinion for city code
week of June 8, 2017

The most troublesome aspect of the Vero Beach City Council's 4-1 vote last week affirming approval of plans for a new restaurant to be built on Ocean Drive wasn't the project's potential impact on an already-challenging parking shortage in the Central Beach business district. It was the man who voted "No" – and the disturbing remarks he made throughout the quasi-judicial hearing last Wednesday at City Hall. Dick Winger, the Council's most vocal critic of the project, somehow managed to include in his sometimes-bizarre questions and often-rambling arguments references to the Ten Commandments, slavery, women's suffrage, a two-hour motel, illegal immigrants and lifeboats on the Titanic. At times, his contributions to the conversation provided the lengthy session with some much-needed entertainment. There were other times, though, when Winger's words were cause for serious concern – because they expressed a dangerous, wrongheaded sentiment. On multiple occasions during the meeting, which should've been a slam-dunk approval of a site plan that both City Attorney Wayne Coment and Planning Director Tim McGarry said met all requirements of the city code, Winger openly challenged the wisdom of obeying laws he disagrees with. READ FULL STORY


Financial accountability may be coming to School District
week of June 8, 2017

After several years of questionable school district expenditures and financial shortfalls, the School Board has finally brought in a group of outside financial experts to analyze and improve financial management and spending practices. The board last month named five highly-qualified individuals to its audit committee, inactive since 2012, in reaction to problems such as the $7 million deficit in the self-insured health insurance fund that School District administrators never could clearly explain. Each School Board member appointed one person to the audit committee. School Board Vice Chairman Shawn Frost appointed Robert Auwaerter, who retired in 2014 as principal and head of the Vanguard Fixed Income Group, overseeing $750 billion in bonds, money markets and stable-value funds. Auwaerter, who was elected chairman of the audit committee, is a member of the Indian River Shores Town Council and is the town’s representative on the Vero Beach Utility Commission. READ FULL STORY


No reason for ouster of Beachland Elementary principal
week of June 1, 2017

It wasn't too long ago that Schools Superintendent Mark Rendell tried to fire a successful, respected and beloved teacher at Sebastian River High for doing exactly what his job required him to do. Fortunately, a state administrative law judge stopped him, mocking Rendell's wrongheaded allegations in what most of us saw was a trumped-up case, and strongly recommending that the School Board return the teacher to the classroom. Now, Rendell is at it again, this time firing Caroline Barker, the successful, respected and beloved Beachland Elementary School principal who, throughout her two decades as an educator in this district, has done exactly what her job required her to do. And, again, somebody needs to stop him. The School Board, thus far, has shown no inclination to do so. For some inexplicable reason, the people elected to represent us have chosen to stand by their man instead of standing up for what's right. Maybe it's a lack of conviction. Maybe it's a lack of courage. Either way, it's now up to us. It's up to the people of this community to remind board members that we put them there. It's up to you to change their minds and correct Rendell's mind-boggling mistake. READ FULL STORY


Plans of new owners of Sebastian River hospital a concern for IRMC
week of June 1, 2017

It was probably not the offer of a free salmon dinner that drew such a large crowd to Costa D’Este Resort on a recent Wednesday night. What packed the hotel’s chandelier-lit Crystal Ballroom was curiosity about Steward Health Care Systems, the rapidly expanding Massachusetts-based chain that recently bought Sebastian River Medical Center. What attendees may not have learned was that the new hometown hospital chain was poised to become the largest privately-held for-profit hospital system in the nation. Just two days after the Costa event, Steward signed a deal to acquire IASIS, a Franklin, Tenn.-based chain of 17 hospitals in five states spanning Louisiana to Utah. That total, added to the eight hospitals added in the Sebastian hospital deal, brings Steward’s total to 36 hospitals in 10 states. Revenues for the consolidated group are projected at $8 billion in 2018, according to the company. The deal is expected to close this summer or early fall. At Costa d’Este, doctors did hear about Steward’s healthcare model of delivering affordable quality care through ACOs, or Accountable Care Organizations, and sharing the savings with physicians. READ FULL STORY


School District cleans house at Gifford Middle
week of June 1, 2017

Four months after Vero Beach 32963 began reporting on problems at Gifford Middle School, both the principal and assistant principal have been fired. At the time the articles were written, School District Superintendent Mark Rendell and School Board members Tiffany Justice and Dale Simchick staunchly defended Principal Roxanne Decker, denying there were problems at the school. But district documents released on May 23 show that employment contracts for Decker and Assistant Principal James Monds Smith were not renewed, and Rendell has since confirmed the firings, saying “it is time for new leadership” at Gifford Middle School. Vero Beach 32963 reported problems at the school in a series of three articles, documenting serious discipline problems, dangerous conditions and exceptionally high teacher turnover. READ FULL STORY


Premier Estate Properties team on track for record year amid changes
week of June 1, 2017

The barrier island real estate community is both close-knit and fiercely competitive, and when news leaked out recently that Clark French, a high-profile island agent, had “suddenly” taken a job with Concierge Auctions, the rumors began to fly. Along with his partner Cindy O’Dare and their associate Richard Boga, French has been a leader in luxury sales in Vero for a decade. In 2015, the French & O’Dare team at Premier Estate Properties sold $168 million in real estate and ranked 79th among all teams in the country. This year, the team is on pace for an even stronger year with $42 million in closed sales by mid-May and another $59 million under contract. “This is the best year we have ever had – so far!” says O’Dare. That level of success fueled the questions surrounding French’s acceptance of a job with Concierge. What was behind the seemingly abrupt “departure”? READ FULL STORY


Regulars turn out for Seaside Grill’s 25th anniversary
week of June 1, 2017

On a sun-splashed, postcard-perfect Friday afternoon at the east end of Jaycee Park, a festive crowd gathered to reminisce and share stories as the Seaside Grill celebrated its 25th anniversary. "They're all regulars," said Rose Culumber, who, along with her husband, Dan, co-owns the popular, oceanfront eatery that sits on city-owned property. "These people have been coming here for years. "It's like 'Cheers,'" she added, "where everybody knows your name." Among those who attended last week's surprise party – the Culumbers had returned from a 10-day vacation in Ireland two nights earlier – was Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss, who read a proclamation before congratulating the owners, mingling with guests and enjoying a cupcake. Moss said she had been a Seaside Grill regular, stopping at the casual restaurant during her morning walks, before she embarked on her campaign for the City Council. "Politics is bad for your health," she quipped. "Now I get here only once a week. I miss it." READ FULL STORY


Fall vote possible on proposals for electric property
week of May 25, 2017

Now that the sale of Vero Electric seems back on track with the City Council voting 4-1 to pursue Florida Power & Light’s $185 million offer for the utility, officials have begun discussing in earnest what to do with the city’s last remaining buildable acreage on the Indian River Lagoon – and Vero Beach may hold a referendum on various options in November. According to David Gay, the city’s chief surveyor, Big Blue sits on 17.4 acres with 620 feet of waterfront. The substation and switching equipment that will need to remain there take up about 1.1 acres on the northwest corner. The wastewater treatment plant across 17th Street sits on 16.3 acres with 500 feet of waterfront, not including the canal at the south. Across the street from the wastewater plant is the parcel referred to as the “old postal annex” – another 4.6 acres on the southwest corner of 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard. Together, these three parcels are being looked at as a whole, though they may be cleared for development years apart. The city’s Marine Commission and Recreation Commission have been looking at options for more than a year, hosting workshops and taking input from more than 300 members of the public. READ FULL STORY


What’s the story on the Grove Bar shooting?
week of May 25, 2017

Nearly two months after a closing-time bar shooting in the heart of Downtown Vero Beach left a 31-year-old owner collapsed on the pavement outside bleeding from multiple wounds, no arrest has been made and Vero Beach Police Department Capt. Kevin Martin on the record will only say that police are “waiting for information to come back.” When asked for a copy of a sketch or description of the shooter outside the Grove Bar on 14th Avenue, or the model and color of his getaway vehicle, to disseminate to the public to help solve the case, the department shared nothing. But public records requests by Vero Beach 32963 for a record of 911 calls and the incident report on the shooting raise a number of questions about what actually happened, why no public help has been sought, and why no arrest has been made. After a scuffle in the bar escalated and shots were fired just before 2 a.m. on Friday, March 31, frantic 911 calls came in to Vero’s dispatchers – not from bar staff reporting the fight or the shooting of their boss, Stephan Andrew Capak, but from bar patrons who heard gunfire, and saw and described the man they thought was the shooter. READ FULL STORY


Restaurant rumors rife in Central Beach ahead of Council vote
week of May 25, 2017

That buzz you’re hearing in the Central Beach area? It’s the local rumor mill, churning out all kinds of gossip connected to the proposed construction of a fine-dining restaurant on Ocean Drive, whether The Tides will move there, and how longtime island restaurateur Bobby McCarthy will react if the City Council allows the controversial project to go forward. “It’s a small town,” said McCarthy, owner of Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge, which opened in 1981 and immediately became the spring-training hangout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “There are always rumors.” Maybe you’ve heard a few of them, particularly about this. The first to get traction was that Leanne Kelleher, The Tides’ owner and chef, had made a deal to move her popular restaurant from its Cardinal Drive location to a yet-to-be-built, 2,685-square-foot, 143-seat structure on Ocean Drive north of Beachland Boulevard, directly across the street from Bobby’s. She quickly clarified the rumor, saying that although she was engaged in discussions with representatives of the Coral Gables-based investment firm that plans to build the new restaurant, nothing had been finalized. READ FULL STORY


American Icon Brewery launch now delayed until Labor Day
week of May 25, 2017

If you were hoping to celebrate the 4th of July at the new American Icon Brewery, you are going to have to hoist your toast to the good old U.S.A. at some other location. The fun is now not scheduled to start at developer Michael Rechter’s new dining and drinking establishment until Labor Day, or later. His building permit had a slower-than-anticipated slog through the county’s permitting process, and that caused a delay of more than a month in starting the massive renovation of the old diesel power plant. Even more impenetrable was the six-foot concrete slab crews encountered when demolition got underway. It was twice the thickness they anticipated, and extended under what was believed to be a dirt floor in one corner of the hulking brick shell. While it proved expensive to break up and haul away – amounting to more than a million pounds of rubble, according to Rechter – it was a silver lining, literally, in the case of another intransigent problem. The concrete served as a barrier to the EPA-monitored contamination that resulted from decades of spilled diesel fuel. That fuel, brought in on tanker cars running on the adjacent railroad tracks, ran the huge generators that produced Vero Beach’s electricity for nearly 50 years. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian Inlet jetty reopens for fishing despite objections
week of May 25, 2017

The Sebastian Inlet North Jetty, considered by some the best shore-accessed ocean fishery in the entire country, is open again, from end to end – apparently against the wishes of the Sebastian Inlet District Commission, which owns and maintains the jetty. The commission planned to close the jetty at night last fall because of increasingly violent confrontations between fishermen on the jetty and those in boats entering or leaving the inlet. Aggressive fishermen on the jetty fought over prime locations, usually after dark, and cast lines with lead weights and hooks onto passing boats. They also reportedly threw objects at boats, a violation of state law. A heavy metal gate was fabricated and installed at the base of the jetty, and the nighttime closure was set to begin at sunset on Oct. 7, according to District Administrator Marty Smithson. Before that could happen, though, Hurricane Matthew came along. On Oct. 6, a mandatory evacuation order went into effect, causing not just the jetty but the entire park to be closed. READ FULL STORY


Marine Bank first quarter earnings up 20 percent
week of May 25, 2017

Marine Bank & Trust continued to show strong earnings and asset growth through the first three months of 2017. The only community bank headquartered in Vero Beach, Marine saw its total assets grow $10 million – to $216 million – from the end of the first quarter of 2016 to the end of the first quarter of this year. The 4.9 percent gain in assets was accompanied by year-over-year increases in earnings, money loaned and total deposits. First-quarter earnings in 2017 climbed to $261,000, compared to $216,000 last year, an increase of more than 20 percent. Meanwhile, outstanding loans totaled $163.5 million, an increase of $7.7 million from March 31, 2016. Total deposits through the first quarter of this year were at $197.9 million, a 5.4 percent jump from 2016. That $10.2 million increase in deposits not only enhanced the bank's financial standing, but it also helped Marine maintain its five-star "superior" rating from Bauer Financial – the highest rating available from the nation's premier bank-rating firm. READ FULL STORY


School Board member calls teachers union leaders ‘thugs’
week of May 25, 2017

Open hostility has broken out between Indian River County School Board Member Shawn Frost and teachers union President Liz Cannon after Frost called teachers union leaders “thugs” in a recent Twitter posting. Cannon fired back at a school board meeting, criticizing Frost’s inflammatory post and accusing him of “cheering on bogus legislation designed to cripple our schools.” Frost is a founding member and current president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, a group formed in 2015 to promote charter-school funding and other educational-reform measures. He recently returned from Tallahassee where he lobbied for several education bills, including the 278-page House Bill 7069, which is now on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk. Frost said the teacher bonuses in the bill would far exceed the $900 a year Cannon negotiated for them through the Indian River County Education Association, with some teachers qualifying for up to $7,200 a year. Frost also claimed the bill would improve the testing climate, moving the Florida Standards Assessment to the end of the year, “so teachers have more time to teach and don’t have to cram a year’s worth of teaching in before a testing window that opened on February 28 this year.” READ FULL STORY


Piper’s revenue up more than 60 percent in 1st quarter
week of May 25, 2017

Business is thriving at Piper Aircraft Inc., which enjoyed a 26 percent growth in billings in 2016 and has followed up with increases in both new aircraft deliveries and sales revenue during the first quarter of this year. Despite that success, however, the Vero Beach-based company – the largest private employer in Indian River County – has no immediate plans to hire additional workers or expand its local manufacturing facilities. "At present, we are staffed accordingly to support the 2017 planned production," Piper spokeswoman Jackie Carlon wrote last weekend in an email from Switzerland. "As such, we don't envision a need for a significant increase in the work force. "Additionally, our current facilities are capable of handling the current production rate and can handle growth beyond that which we are currently building." Last week, Piper released its first-quarter performance numbers, which included 25 airplane deliveries through March 31. That's up 13 percent from the 22 deliveries during the first three months of 2016. The most dramatic increase, though, was in new aircraft sales revenue, which jumped more than 60 percent from $14.3 million during the first quarter of 2016 to $23.4 million during that same period this year. READ FULL STORY


Burt Reynolds coming to Vero film festival
week of May 25, 2017

Add Burt Reynolds to the growing list of big names coming to the Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival June 9. Reynolds, a longtime Palm Beach County resident, is best known for movies like “Smokey and the Bandit,” “The Cannonball Run,” “Deliverance” and “The Longest Yard.” “Yes, he’s definitely coming,” gushed a breathless Jerusha Stewart, the three-day festival’s founder. “He’s doing the Friday opening night awards ceremony bash at our newest venue, the ‘WOW!’ tent in Riverside Park.” Before that party, Reynolds’ latest movie, “Dog Years,” will be make its Florida debut at nearby Riverside Theatre. Tickets to both events are $30. Joining Reynolds at the Vero festival are the film’s writer and director, Adam Rifkin; and Neil Mandt, “Dog Years” producer. The new work, which premiered last month at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, also stars Chevy Chase as Reynolds’ character’s best friend. The film begins with an actual clip of Reynolds appearing on a TV talk show – with his current character’s name dubbed over his own. As he broods over his faded fame, Chase convinces him to go to Nashville to personally accept a lifetime achievement award. From there, he detours to Knoxville to visit his childhood home. READ FULL STORY


Council votes to move forward with FPL offer for Vero electric
week of May 18, 2017

While the Vero Beach City Council was still under a self-imposed gag order at press time regarding Florida Power & Light’s latest $185 million offer to purchase the entire Vero electric system, key players in the electric saga weighed in, all saying the city should go for it. The City Council on Tuesday then voted to move forward with the offer and negotiate a contract. The deal on the table would pay off Vero’s $20 million in outstanding electric utility bonds, relieve the city of $6.6 million in pension liability, provide job opportunities for electric utility workers, and pay exit penalties of $20 million to the Orlando Utilities Commission and $108 million to the Florida Municipal Power Agency co-op to extricate Vero from bad deals entered into by past City Councils. At the end of the day, the proceeds would leave the city with approximately $20 million in unrestricted cash, plus $10 million in lease payments from FPL for use of the land under the substation in front of the old power plant. That money could be used to pave roads or construct stormwater projects to benefit the lagoon – or it could be invested to offset the loss of millions in electric transfers into the general fund. READ FULL STORY


Troubled youth behind vandalism at Christ by the Sea
week of May 18, 2017

The parents of a teenager Vero Beach Police have identified as a suspect in the vandalism at Christ by the Sea Methodist Church during Holy Week said he somehow went off track in recent months after being sexually targeted by an older man and having difficulties with a girl, becoming bitter, angry and combative. Vero residents Tara and Keith Andrew McFarlane Jr. said their son Keith Andrew McFarlane III, who was 17 at the time of the vandalism, had always been “an awesome kid” who enjoyed baseball, had a girlfriend, was headed toward high school graduation and had a new a job with an aerospace machining company in Port St. Lucie. Then, over the past several months, the teen began to change. He started “acting out,” and developed dangerous behaviors, continuing to spiral downward in spite of his parents’ efforts to get help for him. In the midst of the problems, the McFarlanes discovered that an older co-worker had been inappropriately communicating with their son at work and online. The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office was contacted, and the individual was arrested and charged with six counts related to sending obscene materials to minors. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian principal cleared of sexual harassment charge
week of May 18, 2017

A School District investigation found “no evidence” to support an allegation made in March that Sebastian River High School Principal Todd Racine sexually harassed the school’s first-year athletic director, according to a report made public Monday afternoon. The district’s investigative report states that Racine made only a single remark that not even the athletic director, Jessica Upchurch, considered to be sexual harassment, and that the principal merely used the same term that she had used in a previous conversation, the report said. The remark in question referred to Upchurch’s “expanding” rear end. “Ms. Upchurch was very clear in my interview with her that she did not feel that Mr. Racine had sexually harassed her, and that she did not wish to pursue a complaint for sexual harassment,” wrote Shannon Kelly, an attorney for Allen, Norton & Blue, the statewide law firm retained by the School District to investigate the allegation. “In her view, at most, Mr. Racine had made a couple of comments in passing that she described as ‘probably inappropriate in a professional setting,’” Kelly continued. “However, it should be noted that these comments appear not to be instigated by Mr. Racine, but appear to be topics – primarily health and weight topics – that Ms. Upchurch discussed with Mr. Racine and other employees on several occasions.” READ FULL STORY


Orchid may double property tax rate
week of May 18, 2017

Homeowners in the affluent Town of Orchid may see their property taxes almost double, from $1,250 per $1 million assessed value to $2,400, unless the Town Council retreats from a resolution it adopted at its May meeting. The big proposed increase was prompted by the Council’s desire to establish a reserve fund for emergency beach renourishment so that the Town will not have to borrow money for storm repairs, as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. When Matthew passed by offshore, a stretch of shoreline between Sanderling and Wabasso suffered an extensive dune wash-out, and the Town was forced to take out a $350,000 loan from the Orchid Island Community Association to fund repairs. Over the years, previous Town Councils frequently discussed ways to fund emergency beach renourishment but never took any decisive action. The Town of Orchid is a unique residential community in that it has a relatively small population, almost all of whom reside within the gated community of Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club. It has only two full time charter officers, the town manager and the town clerk, who carry out administrative tasks, plus a part-time police chief and a part-time building clerk. The Town largely relies on the property owners association and the club to provide municipal services. READ FULL STORY


Shores to hold line on property taxes
week of May 18, 2017

Unlike Orchid, its neighbor to the north that is proposing a huge increase in the property tax rate, the Town of Indian River Shores released a preliminary budget last week that maintains last year’s tax rate, while investing in a major new amenity and beefing up clerical staff to handle growing demands. The stable property tax rate of $1.71 per thousand dollars of non-homestead, taxable property value is expected to bring in $4.56 million in property tax receipts, to be supplemented by the Town’s slice of revenue sharing from various statewide imposed taxes and fees for a total of $5.65 million in anticipated town revenues. The Shores’ biggest operating expense is the triple-trained Public Safety Department, which provides police, fire and emergency medical services. That department is budgeted for $4.1 million in the coming year. Revenues from traffic tickets and insurance reimbursements offset that by $128,000, with the balance coming mostly from property taxes. One major downward trend reflected in the budget is in the area of legal expenses. In the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, at the height of the legal and regulatory battle over Vero’s electric franchise with the Shores, the Town spent $631,000 and $492,000 respectively in legal fees with the Tallahassee firm of Holland and Knight and its rate consultants. READ FULL STORY


What’s new in FPL offer for Vero electric?
week of May 11, 2017

The latest cliffhanger in the nearly decade-long Vero electric saga will have to hang a few more days as the Vero City Council voted 3-2 last week to extend a controversial, self-imposed gag order until a May 16 council meeting. The order prohibits discussion of an eagerly anticipated Florida Power & Light offer – valued at $185 million – to purchase the city’s entire electric utility. Will those eager to sabotage the sale observe the gag order? That was the mega-million question as we went to press. FPL’s earlier $100 million cash offer, which included nearly $80 million in additional considerations, expired Dec. 31, requiring the parties to enter into new negotiations that reflect changed conditions. Those changes include the shuttering of the Big Blue power plant and new information received from the Florida Municipal Power Agency citing a $108 million exit penalty for Vero to buy its way out of the statewide electric co-ops membership contracts. The fact that FPL offered Vero $30 million for only a sliver of its system – the 8.5 percent of the customer base in Indian River Shores – is another key factor that will influence these negotiations. READ FULL STORY


School District: No comment on harassment probe
week of May 11, 2017

The School District has completed its investigation into a sexual harassment allegation made in March against Sebastian River High School Principal Todd Racine, but the findings won't be released to the public until next week. According to an email sent Monday by School Superintendent Mark Rendell's administrative assistant, Brenda Davis, Racine received a copy of the investigative report last Wednesday. "Per statute, it is not subject to public record requests for 10 days," Davis wrote. "It will be available on May 15." Davis' email did not include any comment from Rendell on the incident or investigation, though one was requested. Similarly, Racine did not respond to a request for comment emailed to his office Monday and previously through the district’s public information officer. Multiple sources familiar with the situation said the incident that prompted the investigation involved Sebastian River's first-year athletic director, Jessica Upchurch, and occurred during a casual conversation at a school sports event the week before spring break. According to sources – who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution from the district – Upchurch told a small number of faculty and staff members that Racine had made a derisive remark about the size of her rear end, which he allegedly encouraged her to "work on" during spring break. READ FULL STORY


Funding for Old Vero Man dig site in question
week of May 11, 2017

The Old Vero Man Ice Age archeological site is closing down for the season amid serious concern whether sponsorships, grants and fundraising goals will be met in a manner that allows work at the world-renowned dig to resume next winter. Because of the uncertainty, this season’s close-down is being done with extra care, “in case we don’t come back next year,” said Dr. Andy Hemmings, lead archeologist at the site. “I hate not knowing what’s on the other side of where we found the camp fire,” he added, referring to a find made this season. Since 2013, Hemmings has been lead archeologist at the site, which has changed scientific understanding of human life in the Ice Age. For the first two years, he and principal investigator Dr. James Adovasio worked under the aegis of Mercyhurst Archaeology Institute of Erie, Pennsylvania. When Mercyhurst pulled out, Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch and Department of Anthropology took over sponsorship of the site in partnership with the Old Vero Ice Age Site Committee. READ FULL STORY


Another big sale in Vero’s estate section
week of May 11, 2017

When the Barbados-inspired estate once known as Sandy Lane was auctioned off for $10.3 million at the end of April, the sale confirmed a couple of notable trends in the barrier island real estate market, including the growing role of auctions as a means of moving high-end properties. It also highlighted the continued emergence of the Estate Section as a premier location where many of the biggest real estate deals routinely take place. The top five residential property sales in Vero since 2015 have all been in the Estate Section, and four of those have been auction sales. Indeed, prior to the sale in April, the last time the 8-bedroom, 11.5-bath, 15,000-square-foot home located at 2070 S. A1A was sold – for $9.25 million in March 2015 – was also in connection with an auction. At that time, Concierge Auctions offered two large side-by-side oceanfront homes built by Beachlen Development in a no-reserve, bidder’s-choice auction. The winning bidder picked the estate known as Splendida Dimora, paying $10.2 million, including a 10 percent buyer’s premium, but the other house went under contract within a few days, sold to one of the unsuccessful bidders who participated in the auction. READ FULL STORY


Less-than-hoped in the Shores
week of May 11, 2017

When the Indian River Shores Town Council voted 3-2 on Monday to accept a $4.84 million winning bid – far less than a recent $7.7 million appraisal – for a 5.2-acre oceanside parcel owned by the town, it marked the culmination of a three-year effort by luxury developer and home builder Howard Gutman and The Lutgert Companies. The Naples-based firm, with high-end communities up and down the west coast of Florida and in North Carolina, has long wanted to acquire a foothold in the Vero Beach barrier island market. “We had an interest in the Surf Club property, but we were still in our due diligence phase when that came up. The timing just wasn’t right,” said Megan Raasveldt, a sales associate with Dale Sorensen Real Estate who represented The Lutgert Companies in the Shores purchase. “Indian River Shores is exactly the type of community we were looking for.” “We’re excited for the opportunity we have here in Indian River Shores and look forward to developing a project the community and The Lutgert Companies can be proud of,” Gutman said after the council’s affirmation of the auction results. READ FULL STORY


Sale of INEOS plant expected to close in summer
week of May 11, 2017

West Palm Beach-based Alliance BioEnergy is proceeding with plans to purchase and convert the former INEOS plant to its own technique of turning yard waste into ethanol. Alliance CEO Daniel de Liege said that by establishing a relationship with county solid waste officials and securing an option on the yard waste or “feedstock” Alliance needs to fuel its patented process, the company positioned itself as the only one that can get the facility up and running and employing local workers again. De Liege said he met with property owner Arbor One Bank and the broker tasked with handling the transaction in late April and that everything is on-track for a closing this summer. “The process is really different than a typical real estate transaction, [but] we knew that going in,” de Liege said, referring to the involvement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture which backed INEOS in getting the mortgage that the bank now holds. The bank and broker “are working with us very closely and very graciously at this point.” A small company like Alliance taking over an ethanol facility is not the standard way these deals work, de Liege said. “They like the big guys, the companies with a bundle of cash to put into an offer, but in this case, the Shells and the BPs are not interested in this facility.” READ FULL STORY


Tracey Zudans is named to Hospital District
week of May 11, 2017

At what appears to be a critical juncture in the 85-year history of Indian River Medical Center, Gov. Rick Scott has appointed Tracey Zudans to the Indian River County Hospital District Board. She will fill the seat vacated in March by the surprise resignation of Dr. Omar Hussamy, who had been elected to the Hospital District board only four months earlier. Zudans is the wife of ophthalmologist Val Zudans, who lost his seat on the board in the same election after being appointed by the governor in late 2015. Val Zudans, who lost to Karen Deigl in the November vote, has been a vocal advocate for the hospital giving up its independent status. He has suggested that it should join a non-profit hospital group like Orlando’s Florida Hospital, which is operated by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. “I have mustered up enough courage to do this,” said Tracey Zudans, with a smile. “I’ve been really present in everything that Val has done when he was appointed by the governor. I’ve seen the process and I’ve just become really passionate about it.” READ FULL STORY


Hundreds pack Vero Beach Book Center to meet Bush
week of May 4, 2017

The line inside the Vero Beach Book Center last week weaved throughout both levels of the building, where more than 700 people waited patiently for the opportunity to meet the 43rd president of the United States. Outside, in the sun-baked parking lot, a second wave stood dutifully in an equally long line, enduring some of the warmest, most humid conditions of the season and waiting to clear a Secret Service security checkpoint. All of them wore wristbands that cost $37.50 apiece and guaranteed wearers an autographed copy of George W. Bush’s new book – “Profiles of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors” – and a face-to-face moment with the former president. Bush made his local book-signing event worth the price ... and the wait. Though the line moved quickly, he made the effort to establish eye contact and engage in a mini-conversation with each person that appeared in front of him. He made sure everyone there could say they had met him. READ FULL STORY


Controversial school official’s post eliminated
week of May 4, 2017

Assistant School Superintendent William Fritz, the central figure in a variety of high-profile controversies, will be gone under unclear circumstances at the end of the current school year and his position is being abolished, according to sources. The position of Fritz – who had been head of human resources, risk management, and busing since July 1, 2013 – was written out of the organization chart that School Superintendent Mark Rendell presented to the School Board last week, and School Board Laura Zorc subsequently confirmed that Fritz would be gone by July 1. Neither Rendell nor any of the School Board members, besides Zorc, responded to a direct question about the circumstances of Fritz’s departure. Fritz himself did not reply to an email. School District spokesman Flynn Fidgeon said, “Dr. Fritz has neither resigned nor been terminated from employment with the School District of Indian River County,” but he had no answer as to what Fritz would be doing after July 1 since his position has been eliminated. READ FULL STORY


Target date for new Shores cell tower slips to Labor Day
week of May 4, 2017

The Easter target date for the highly anticipated Indian River Shores cell tower has come and gone, and seeing it rise next to the Town Hall by the Fourth of July is a fading dream as well. But hopefully, by Labor Day, the Monopine stealth tree-tower will finally be finished. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said the Town Council has done everything it is required to do, the building department is ready to issue a construction permit, and a general contractor has been hired to perform the construction work. The holdup now is in the final design of the monopine stealth tower. The builder, Tampa-based E.M. Enterprises, needs more detail to do the job to carrier specifications. “DataPath is working with a major carrier on their leasing documents and their actual site layout and tower antenna configuration on the monopine,” Town Manager Robbie Stabe said. “These stealth towers require a lot more attention to detail to ensure maximum stealth and maximum signal.” READ FULL STORY


Rehearing sought on reversal of Jones’ murder conviction
week of May 4, 2017

Attorneys for the state of Florida are exhausting all avenues in a West Palm Beach appeals court after a three-judge panel overturned the conviction of Henry Lee Jones for the November 2011 shooting death of Central Beach resident Brian Simpson. Last Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Mark Hamel filed a motion for rehearing in response to an April 12 opinion which concluded that Judge Robert Pegg erred in shutting down a public defender’s line of questioning during jury selection that would have polled jurors about the case involving a white victim and a black defendant. Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said he objected to the questions because the case was not about race, arguing that because Simpson was shot and killed after interrupting a burglary of his home in progress and fighting back against the intruders, there were no racial overtones in what was a “crime of opportunity.” Hamel contended in his motion for a rehearing that the appeals court misunderstood what actually happened, and that the defense attorney was not, in fact, barred from pursuing a line of questioning that might uncover juror prejudice or bias related to interracial violence. READ FULL STORY


Shores parcel to be auctioned Saturday
week of May 4, 2017

It’s been the topic of protestations, debate and even some haggling, but a 5.2-acre oceanside parcel in the Shores will finally (hopefully) be sold by high noon on Saturday. Former County Commissioner Wesley Davis’ company, Indian River Auctions and Appraisals, says final preparations are underway for the 11 a.m. auction to be held on-site at the parcel across from the Pebble Bay subdivision. Whether the property fetches the $7.7 million or less, or fails to sell at all, the event itself will surely be a curiosity – both to those who want it sold and placed on the tax rolls, and to those who wanted it turned into a park. The Town tidied up the property and a platform was briefly erected so buyers could see what the view would be from a second-story unit or bedroom. “The platform was there, but it’s down now. We took it down after a complaint from a neighbor,” Davis said. “But you can go to the corner of the property and see the view.” READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival clarifies structure
week of May 4, 2017

When a new event comes to Vero and it’s wildly successful, attracting major sponsors, more than 100 volunteers, but with a board made up largely of out-of-towners, there are bound to be skeptics – especially when the festival’s corporate structure seems fuzzy. Several readers reached out to Vero Beach 32963 with questions after finding a statement in the volunteer handbook of the Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival stating that the event, featuring more than 70 independent films shown at 11 venues over a four-day period, is a nonprofit charitable organization. “We are not a nonprofit. The festival is a traditional corporation,” Finance Director Kelly Kite said last week. “The board is very careful to make this clear to any potential sponsors, but the volunteer handbook was written by a volunteer and it’s been corrected. We appreciate you bringing it to our attention.” Kite said all printed and online materials have been reviewed to make sure there’s nothing that might mislead potential sponsors, volunteers or festival attendees. He said the festival also plans on sending out an “email blast” to everyone on its list to clarify the matter. READ FULL STORY


The Islander Inn has dibs on disputed parking spots
week of May 4, 2017

You know those parking spaces on Camelia Lane, along the south side of The Islander Inn? The angled, on-street pull-in slots with the words “ISLANDER MOTEL PARKING ONLY” painted on the curb? The ones with the “TOW AWAY ZONE” signs posted along the sidewalk? They really do belong to The Islander. Actually, Vero Beach owns the ground, but the seaside motel has had the rights to those spaces for nearly 30 years. “Back in 1986, when the city made street improvements in the area, re-paving and putting in curbs and sidewalks, The Islander lost a portion of its parking area,” City Manager Jim O’Connor said. “So in exchange for taking that property, the city granted the motel exclusive rights to 12 parking spaces on Camelia Lane. “So in essence,” he added, “the spaces are theirs.” And as long as the property continues to operate as an inn, the business will retain the rights to the parking slots, which do not include the two easternmost spaces. READ FULL STORY


No public bids sought for $1M school contract
week of April 27, 2017

The Indian River County School District is not soliciting open public bids for health insurance services worth about $1.2 million. Instead, the district had its insurance consultant, Aon Hewitt, write a “request for proposals” and hand pick which companies would be allowed to pitch their services to the district. Aon Hewitt will be paid commissions from the insurance company that is chosen, making its involvement in the selection process dubious, although the School Board theoretically will make the final decision about who is hired. The School Board, however, was not even aware that Aon Hewitt had issued a “Request for Proposals” on the district’s behalf until Homestead Insurance agent Bob Galbraith came to the last board meeting to complain about the selection process. What the school district is looking for is a third-party administrator to process claims for those covered by its health self-insurance fund. The last time the service was bid in 2002, Blue Cross Blue Shield was hired. Currently Blue Cross Blue Shield charges $50.50 for each member-employee per month for this service, for a total of about $1.2 million a year. READ FULL STORY


Prosecutor: Reversal of Simpson murder conviction ‘inconceivable’
week of April 27, 2017

The reversal of a 2014 conviction in the shooting death of 41-year-old Central Beach resident Brian Simpson shocked prosecutors and police who worked the case, but they say they’re ready to try Henry Lee Jones again for the November 2011 killing. In 2011, Simpson encountered a burglary in progress when he returned to the Fiddlewood Drive home he shared with his wife and children. After a struggle, Simpson was shot through the door of the bathroom where the armed intruders had retreated. Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said he had no idea the Jan. 31 appeal hearing in West Palm Beach before a panel of three judges would end in a reversal because the merits of the criminal case were so airtight. “We were under the impression that we had a very strong position. It’s heartbreaking, again. It’s inconceivable that a case with the strength that this case had could be overturned on this minor issue,” Bakkedahl said. The appeals court found that Circuit Court Judge Robert Pegg made an error when he barred Jones’ attorney “from questioning prospective jurors regarding their attitudes on interracial crime.” READ FULL STORY


No suspects yet in brazen island condo burglaries
week of April 27, 2017

Vero police are still sifting through clues in hopes of catching the burglar or burglars who broke into four beachside condominiums, entering bedrooms while the residents slept and stealing phones, wallets, checkbooks, credit cards, cash and other valuables. Lt. John Pedersen, who heads up Vero’s detective division, said Monday, “We have had no similar burglaries [before these]. We currently do not have any suspects or any vehicle descriptions. I would as always, urge all residents citywide to always lock their doors and windows.” Details of the four cases in the Ocean Club Condominiums, which are located in the 4400 block of A1A just north or Jaycee Park, point to a stealthy and bold thief, with police finding “gloved hand marks” on sliding glass doors and mysterious entry through supposedly locked doors and windows. In all four cases, residents only discovered they had been victimized when they woke up and found property missing or belongings not where they should be. After the first three reports last Tuesday morning, police sent out an alert to the area neighborhood watch email list asking residents to check to see if anything was missing or askew. READ FULL STORY


Church vandalism mystery deepens
week of April 27, 2017

It was a strange and shocking event for the island when valuable stained glass windows at Christ by the Sea Methodist Church were smashed in three separate incidents during Holy Week by an unknown person or persons. Now, the mystery surrounding the vandalism has deepened, with conflicting accounts about whether someone has been apprehended for the crimes. During a phone interview last week with Vero Beach 32963, Rev. Cliff Melvin, pastor of the 335-member congregation, said the perpetrator “has been caught and is incarcerated.” He said he shared that information with his congregation the prior Sunday, telling them, “We will be in prayer for the young man – a minor – and for his family. It is a sad experience for all of you.” But on Monday, Vero Beach Police contradicted Melvin’s account. When asked about the pastor’s statement, and specifically whether there has been an arrest, Lt. John Pedersen, head of Vero’s detective division, said in no uncertain terms, “That is not true. When there is an arrest, we will let you know.” READ FULL STORY


Crashes, near misses prompt push to close northern section of Jungle Trail to cars
week of April 27, 2017

The days of joyriding along the northern section of the Jungle Trail could soon be over. Following a fatal crash last year on the trail and countless near misses between vehicles and people walking or riding bikes, island resident Matt Lechowicz has crafted a petition to the County Commission asking it to shut down the 3 1/4-mile portion of the trail north of route 510 – allowing only non-motorized traffic on the sand and shell road. The idea has garnered interest from County Commission Chairman Joe Flescher and Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Phil Matson. “I do have some concerns about leaving [Jungle Trail] as it is,” Flescher said, adding that he would support closing the historic road to traffic to improve safety only if emergency responders would still have unfettered access. Matson said he has not yet reviewed Lechowicz’s plan in detail, but is “certainly in favor of anything that will improve Jungle Trail.” “No one really sees a need for vehicular traffic,” Lechowicz told Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY


Council tries to tamp down Vero electric sale speculation
week of April 27, 2017

Sometime in the next 10 days, Florida Power & Light is due to bring Vero a brand-new letter of intent to purchase the city’s entire electric system. In the meantime, the majority of the City Council has voted to squelch discussion of the yet-unknown terms. Councilmen Dick Winger and Tony Young voted against the measure, urging that any offer from FPL be fully vetted through the city’s volunteer advisory commissions. Mayor Laura Moss brought the issue up at the last Council meeting, taking Winger to task for tossing around large, seemingly random numbers related to what it will cost the city to exit its long-term power supply contracts. Vero’s inability to exit those contracts killed previous efforts to get out of the electric business, but over the past few months, city officials appear to have made inroads on that front. Moss said the Florida Municipal Power Agency and the Orlando Utilities Commission, the two entities that would have to sign off on a sale of Vero electric, intently watch and listen to Vero’s proceedings, and argued that city officials shouldn’t give away strategy or cite dollar figures for anything that’s currently under active negotiation. READ FULL STORY


Trial of George Heaton in bank fraud case set for next February
week of April 27, 2017

The federal court in West Palm Beach has agreed to give legal teams for George Heaton and his co-defendants another 10 months to prepare a defense in the complex case involving alleged bank fraud arising from closings on condo units at the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa nearly a decade ago. Heaton, who developed the hotel with business partners, is accused of not accurately reporting millions of dollars in buyers’ incentives that he is said to have refunded to buyers after the real estate closings on the condos, using different bank accounts and a West Palm Beach law firm to handle those “cash to close” paybacks. Charging documents say four different banks relied upon allegedly false information when making up to nine separate mortgage decisions. Heaton’s closing agent and his former bookkeeper are also charged with conspiracy and fraud and, if convicted, each faces up to 30-year prison sentences and millions in fines and restitution to the banks for losses. READ FULL STORY


Vandals desecrate island church
week of April 20, 2017

In the worst outbreak of vandalism to strike the barrier island in recent memory, Christ by the Sea Methodist Church was struck by persons unknown in three separate attacks during Holy Week. Large rocks were hurled through the stained-glass windows in the front of the house of worship on A1A, causing more than $10,000 in damage. The initial act of vandalism occurred sometime between April 7 and April 9, when the damage was first reported, according to Vero Beach Police Lt. John Pedersen. More windows were smashed on April 10, and again on either the 11th or 12th. While Pedersen said a criminal mischief investigation was now underway, police provided no immediate information on whether they had any suspects, a motive, or whether any protection had been provided to the church before the second and third attacks. "It is disconcerting when an incident like this happens," Pedersen said, "let alone, to a church." First word of the vandalism came on Holy Wednesday, April 12, when Pastor Rev. Cliff Melvin posted on the church's Facebook page: "Feeling sad at Christ by the Sea. READ FULL STORY


Graduation rate here improved (by lowering the bar)
week of April 20, 2017

School District Superintendent Mark Rendell led off his presentation to the Taxpayers’ Association of Indian River County last week by touting improved graduation rates without mentioning that state requirements for graduation have been lowered. Rendell said the best measure of the district’s success is the graduation rate, which he said increased 6 percent in 2015-2016, from 81 percent to 87 percent. He said the graduation rate for black students went up more than 9 percent, from 64.6 percent to 74.2 percent. What Rendell didn’t say is that the state has lowered the bar for what is considered passing on key tests that help determine whether students graduate. Test standards are tied to National Assessment of Educational Progress benchmarks. The NAEP delineates five levels of achievement and a student who achieves level-four test results is considered “proficient” by the national organization. But Florida, dismayed by the high failure rate in state high schools, decided to make level three a passing mark. The state also lowered the bar for other end-of-course tests for algebra, biology and other subjects by beginning to grade them on a curve. READ FULL STORY


Wabasso Bridge tops state list for danger to cyclists
week of April 20, 2017

Everyone involved agrees that the Wabasso Bridge is dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians, mainly because of its short barrier walls, narrow shoulders and visibility limitations as vehicles approach the crest. Lots of traffic traveling at high speeds adds to the peril. "Something definitely needs to be done,” said Andy Sobczak, the county's senior planner whose duties include bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Even a Florida Department of Transportation engineer who, at the request of a Vero Beach cycling group, conducted a safety study in October 2015 has recommended multiple improvements. Yet FDOT has shown no sense of urgency in making the bridge safer. In fact, Bike Walk Indian River County president Hugh Aaron has accused FDOT District 4 officials of deliberately delaying the release of the engineer's report, which was completed in January 2016 but not released to the public until February 2017. "It was more than a delay," Aaron said, adding that his Freedom of Information requests were ignored until he brought the matter to FDOT's Office of General Counsel. READ FULL STORY


Indian River Shores police seek bigger, faster patrol boat
week of April 20, 2017

Chief Rich Rosell is asking for a new police boat because the 18-foot Boston Whaler the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department relies on for water patrols and rescues is so worn out it has had to be towed back to shore more than once after engine failure. Its aluminum fuel tank is corroded in spots, allowing fuel to leak into the bilge, which could affect electrical systems and cause a fire. “That could be catastrophic,” said Shores Police Sgt. Shawn Hoyt. Shores Public Safety regularly patrols the stretch of lagoon within the town – mostly idling in and out of the waterfront subdivisions several times a week looking for problems and making sure boaters and jet skiers follow the posted No Wake zone signs – and about once a month ventures out into the Atlantic on patrol or to answer distress calls. Shores Public Safety has received a grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District that would cover 50 percent of the cost for a new boat – a maximum of $60,000 – and Rosell recently asked the Town council to provide a matching amount. READ FULL STORY


South Beach Property Owners group wants to be player again
week of April 20, 2017

South Beach Property Owners’ Association meetings once were a place where neighbors who live south of 17th Street gathered to discuss utility issues, road projects and other matters important to their communities. Then a bitter dispute broke out among members of the board, and the core of the organization all but collapsed. Last March, then-SBPOA President George Lamborn filed a lawsuit against four other board members in circuit court in Indian River County. He said at that time he was taking the "unprecedented measure" to prevent the "illegal takeover" of the association by a "group of dissident directors who are acting at the behest and with the active collaboration of a public official." Though he was not named in the lawsuit, the public official was County Commissioner Bob Solari, who represents the south island on the Board of County Commissioners and who is reported to have met with the dissident directors after clashing with Lamborn’s faction over short-term rental regulation. The lawsuit was eventually dropped, but in the meantime, many members bailed out. READ FULL STORY


Vero rises in tennis world; considered for Fed Cup
week of April 20, 2017

Scrambling to find a site for this weekend's Fed Cup semifinal between the U.S. and Czech Republic, a high-ranking United States Tennis Association official briefly explored the possibility of playing the matches in Vero Beach before the event was awarded to the Saddlebrook Resort, located outside Tampa. USTA Team Events Senior Director Jeff Ryan confirmed that he contacted Randy Walker, a Moorings winter resident who serves as co-director of the Mardy Fish Children's Foundation Tennis Championships, in February to inquire about Vero Beach's ability to play host to the matches. Walker said he told Ryan the Fed Cup event could be held at Grand Harbor, where main-draw matches at a different tournament – the Mardy Fish Foundation-run, $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit men's tournament – are scheduled to begin Tuesday. Ryan said the USTA opted for Tampa because it would have been difficult to convince International Tennis Federation officials who oversee the annual team competition – often referred to as the "Women's World Cup of Tennis" – to put a Fed Cup semifinal in such a small market, particularly one that lacked a suitable stadium. READ FULL STORY


Student code of conduct is bewildering
week of April 13, 2017

Student behavior problems were the number one concern parents and teachers raised in a recent five-year strategic plan meeting, but dealing with those concerns is complicated by the School District’s unclear and confusing student code of conduct. How confusing is the lengthy written document that parents are required to sign when enrolling their children in school? Well, when School Board Member Laura Zorc studied the code to see how it had been applied in what she called “a serious school incident,” she admitted “it was Greek” to her. And that was last year’s version. This year’s 72-page revised code is even more dense and incomprehensible to the average reader, larded with charts, appendixes, acronyms and jargon. Problems with the document start with the fact it violates state rules that require school boards to adopt separate elementary, middle and high school codes of conduct, written in language students and parents can understand. The School District is offering up only one code for all grades, the so-called “Positive Climate and Discipline Code of Student Conduct.” READ FULL STORY


Condo residents fret about drones off their balcony
week of April 13, 2017

Over the past six months, 10 Sea Quay residents have filed complaints with the oceanfront condominium's property manager, saying they've seen drones flying too close to the building – sometimes just outside their windows. "Our owners said they've seen them outside their sliding-glass doors, which is a real problem this time of year because, when you live on the ocean, you sometimes leave the door open," said Sea Quay property manager Charity Gruwell. "Some of them say it's potentially dangerous. Others say they feel it's an invasion of their privacy." But is it illegal? The Vero Beach Police Department is aware of the problem, spokeswoman Officer Anna Carden said, but only because it monitors the Nextdoor.com neighborhood social-media site. She said no formal complaints have been filed. "There were posts about drones flying over the beach and coming a little too close to the property there," Carden said. "We've done some research on the laws, but it's new territory and it's really outside our domain." Drones, once they're airborne, fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates their use under its Unmanned Aircraft Systems rules and guidelines. READ FULL STORY


Fundraiser for wounded pub owner draws huge crowd
week of April 13, 2017

The street scene on Bougainvillea Lane last Saturday night was off the charts: upbeat and festive, with loud live music, a cornucopia of food and drink, and a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 people – all of which was pretty extraordinary considering that the event was an ad hoc response to a traumatic near-fatal shooting. When 31-year-old St. Ed’s graduate and pub owner Andy Capak was gravely wounded on March 31 on the eve of his wedding, his friends quickly mobilized and turned what was supposed to be a nuptial celebration into a huge fundraiser to help pay the well-liked local businessman’s medical bills. Capak and business partner Jared Smith have owned The Grove, a pub on 14th Avenue in downtown Vero Beach, since 2012. Early on the morning of March 31, Capak reportedly intervened in an altercation outside his bar and was shot multiple times. He remains in Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce. Lifelong pal and St. Ed’s high school classmate Ryan Wykoff, who was one of the first to get to the hospital, immediately realized his friend faced a long and costly road to recovery. In short order he set up a Go Fund Me page with $250,000 goal and started organizing a beachside fundraiser. READ FULL STORY


Harbor Branch sues FAU in bid to block a ‘hostile takeover’
week of April 13, 2017

The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation has gone to court to prevent what it describes as a “hostile takeover” of its $68 million endowment fund by Florida Atlantic University, which it accuses of attempting to breach a contract signed nearly a decade ago. In a lawsuit filed March 30 in St. Lucie County Circuit Court, the foundation alleges that FAU’s Board of Trustees intends to seize control of the foundation’s grant-making function, “thus eliminating any oversight, transparency and accountability for the funds” the independent foundation provides to the Boca Raton-based university. “We don’t know what FAU would do if they got control of the endowment fund,” said Joe Galardi, a West Palm Beach attorney representing the foundation, “so we’re asking a court to look at the contract, examine the facts and tell the parties what they’re allowed – and not allowed – to do.” Galardi said the foundation is concerned that, under FAU’s control, endowment funds could be redirected away from Harbor Branch’s charter mission of marine research to pay other university expenses. It also is concerned that the university might use state money from four specialty “Save Our Seas” license plates created to fund marine research for purposes other than those mandated by the Florida Legislature. READ FULL STORY


Dale Sorensen Real Estate ranks among top 500 U. S. brokerages
week of April 13, 2017

Of the more than 86,000 residential real estate brokerages in the United States, a firm based in tiny Vero Beach, Dale Sorensen Real Estate Inc., was one of the country’s top 500 realty businesses last year with more than $600 million in sales. Sorensen was the only Vero-based company that made it onto the widely-respected Real Trends 500 list released last week, coming in at No. 404, and it will almost certainly rank higher in 2017 as the company continues to expand, with plans to open three new offices by the end of summer. The only other Vero-connected company to appear on the list was Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Florida Realty, the brokerage that entered the local market in 2015 when it bought Norris & Company. Berkshire Hathaway HSFR, a Fortune 500 subsidiary headquartered in Sunrise, Florida, did over $3 billion in sales in 2016 but that was through more than 40 offices scattered across the state. Founded in Vero in 1978, Dale Sorensen Real Estate has achieved phenomenal growth in recent years, increasing sales by more than 500 percent since 2009. READ FULL STORY


Seagrapes could still trip up Shores auction of beachside lot
week of April 13, 2017

The long-debated issue of whether residents should continue to have beach access through a town-owned lot in Indian River Shores has finally been decided, but another issue has cropped up that might interfere with plans to auction off the vacant land for development. The County Commission last week approved a single dune crossover for the property in exchange for a 5-foot wide public pedestrian path on the south end of the 5.2-acre parcel nestled between Pebble Bay Villas and Surf Lane. However, the commission rebuffed proposals to trim back 20-foot-tall seagrapes that block the parcel’s view of the ocean. Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot spoke at the county commission meeting, and hinted that if the county didn't approve the trimming, the auction of the 5.2-acre site might not move forward. “I don't know why they would buy it if they can't see the ocean,” Mayor Barefoot said. “We have pretty strict building codes in Indian River Shores,” he said, explaining that the tree-like shrubs are so tall the homes that would be allowed on the site wouldn't rise high enough to get above them. READ FULL STORY


Neighbors file to block construction of Ocean Drive restaurant
week of April 13, 2017

Longtime island restaurateur Bobby McCarthy wants the Vero Beach City Council to block, at least temporarily, a South Florida investor’s plan to build a 143-seat, Ocean Drive restaurant that would become the new home of The Tides. Two weeks after the city's Planning & Zoning Board approved the proposed construction on a 4-1 vote, McCarthy filed an appeal, asking the council to overturn the decision – or at least delay the project – until the Central Beach parking shortage is addressed. Six of the seven reasons cited in McCarthy's appeal were directly or indirectly related to parking issues along Ocean Drive, where Sony Investments Real Estate Inc. hopes to build a 2,685-square-foot restaurant, across from Bobby's, in what is now a parking lot. "The additional parking needs will cause total chaos for the existing tenants," the appeal states, "as well as surrounding businesses and residents." Though his name is on the appeal, McCarthy said he's appealing the P&Z Board's decision on behalf of all the Ocean Drive business owners who would be negatively affected by the restaurant's impact on parking in the area. READ FULL STORY


Hospital puts plan to build $100M tower on shelf
week of April 6, 2017

A preliminary proposal to build a $100 million tower containing upgraded patient rooms at Indian River Medical Center has been put on hold indefinitely, according to sources – an apparent casualty of the financial and leadership upheaval at the hospital and a newly mounted strategic look at its fundamental ownership structure. News of the shelving of the proposed hospital addition, which would have contained larger state-of-the-art patient rooms, emerged during a presentation a week ago by consultants hired to study IRMC’s future. Hospital CEO Jeff Susi had hired an architect last year to draw up preliminary plans for an in-patient tower, and the architect made an initial presentation to the IRMC board in November. The board agreed to focus on designs of five and six stories. Susi first talked publicly of the five-year, $100 million plan at the December Hospital District board meeting. He said at the time that expansion plans were at an early stage, but that the need for new and larger rooms was clear. READ FULL STORY


School District’s planner champions Common Core
week of April 6, 2017

Common Core State Standards are not popular with many in Indian River County. At least two School Board members are anti-Common Core, and board member Shawn Frost made elimination of the standards one of his planks while running for office in 2014. Despite that, School Superintendent Mark Rendell last month hired Battelle for Kids, a company known as a Common Core advocate, to author the School District’s five-year strategic plan. He took the action without School Board approval or revealing the company’s Common Core affiliations. “This five-year plan is extremely important to me, but as co-founder of Florida Parents Against Common Core and FreedomWorks’ national adviser on eliminating Common Core, I would never have approved hiring this group,” said board member Laura Zorc. “Battelle for Kids has deep ties to the Gates Foundation [which supports Common Core] . . . and they created a teacher evaluation method tied to Common Core assessments. The Common Core Standards, assessments and teacher evaluation method have stifled education across the country.” READ FULL STORY


Heaton adds star attorney to defense team
week of April 6, 2017

A federal judge in West Palm Beach last Wednesday agreed to give Vero Beach Hotel and Spa developer George Heaton’s attorneys more time to analyze evidence and prepare a defense to nine felony counts of defrauding and conspiring to defraud four banks – charges carrying 30-year prison sentences and millions in fines, if Heaton and his two co-defendants are convicted. Also last week, Heaton added a third criminal defense attorney to his team. Top-rated criminal attorney Bruce Zimet of Fort Lauderdale joins two West Palm Beach-based attorneys, Jack Goldberger of Atterbury Goldberger & Weiss, P.A. and David Roth of Roth & Duncan, P.A. on Heaton’s legal team. Zimet made national headlines in 2012 defending a Jacksonville woman who used Florida’s stand your ground law as a defense for shooting her husband, but more pertinent to the Heaton case, Zimet defended three people in the Daytona area who were eventually convicted in a very complex $10 million mortgage-fraud scheme involving “straw buyers,” no-money-down closings, falsified loan documents and flipping properties. READ FULL STORY


Pier collapse dumps woman into lagoon at Vero City Marina
week of April 6, 2017

On Saturday afternoon, a woman who lives aboard her boat at the Vero Beach City Marina and her dog were dumped into the lagoon when the concrete “finger pier” on which they were standing collapsed. The woman suffered bruises on her arm in the fall, but was able to make it out of the water and onto the dock. Her dog was also rescued. Another resident boater stated that numerous people were present when the incident occurred, including a large crowd of men, women and children who had come to tour the Columbus Foundation Nina and Pinta replica ships docked at the marina. Marina staff, fellow boaters and crew members from the two tall ships all came running to help. The “finger piers” are narrow concrete – and sometimes wood – structures extending out perpendicular to the main docks, in-between the docked boats, allowing boaters access to their vessels. About half the pier next to the slip where the woman's boat had been docked was gone – sunk to the bottom of the lagoon, in about 7 feet off water. There was nothing left to be seen but a small broken chunk of concrete with rusty re-bar embedded in it, hanging from the rotting pier post. READ FULL STORY


Wounded bar owner was scheduled to wed this weekend
week of April 6, 2017

Andy Capak should be spending Saturday night celebrating with his new bride, Tiffani, at their wedding. Instead, the 2003 St. Edward's School graduate and local pub owner will remain in an area hospital, recovering from multiple gunshot wounds while his friends gather at a beachside coffee, desert and wine bar to raise money to help pay his medical bills. "Now that it looks like he's doing well and will be able to recover, we're organizing a huge fundraiser at Grind & Grape," said Ryan Wykoff, a lifelong friend who launched a Go Fund Me campaign for Capak on Sunday. "We're already getting items to auction off," he added. "We'll have a place where you can throw money into a jar. And we'll have something set up to show people how to use the Go Fund Me site. "We'll also have East Harbor, the band that was supposed to play at Andy's wedding reception." The wedding, though, was postponed after Capak, 31, one of The Grove Bar's owners, was shot outside the downtown Vero Beach night spot shortly before 2 a.m. Friday. READ FULL STORY


Hospital consultants: ‘We trust what you say, but we verify the data’
week of April 6, 2017

Softened up by some sobering talk from nationally known consultant Jamie Orlikoff last month, leaders of Indian River Medical Center seemed more united than they have in the past as they gathered to hear from a second set of consultants last week about whether the struggling non-profit hospital should remain independent or affiliate with another healthcare system. Scott Goodspeed, a director of Maine-based Stroudwater Associates, was struck by the cooperation of the three boards seated around him at Indian River State College’s Richardson Center – the hospital’s board of directors, the board of the hospital’s foundation, and the Hospital District board, which oversees the hospital as a taxpayer-owned asset. Goodspeed said he was happy to see the boards “had come together in a positive way,” and noted that for another of his client hospitals run by a county authority, getting all sides to talk together had taken two weeks. For the IRMC leaders, some unhappiness might have been understandable. The Hospital District Board was told bluntly by Orlikoff that it may need to give up its authority over the hospital because the hospital’s mandate to operate under Sunshine laws could scare away potential partners. READ FULL STORY


Taxpayers to get no say on $285M school budget
week of April 6, 2017

Last year the Indian River County School District didn’t post its $285 million budget to the district website until 24 hours before the one and only public hearing on the massive spending plan, and the same non-transparent budget process is scheduled for this year – meaning county taxpayers who put up $141 million of the total will get no say in how it is spent. Even when the budget finally was posted last year, it had huge holes in it, making it an inaccurate picture of district spending. The $10 million in federal funding for exceptional student education, migrant workers, English language learners, parental engagement and other programs wasn’t explained or included. The .60 millage voters approved for teacher positions, technology and vocational training, totaling nearly $10 million, was also left out of the budget. How the District’s $7 million credit card that is used to pay for – and sometimes obscure – certain expenses figures into the budget is a mystery as well. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Hotel developer Heaton facing felony charges
week of March 30, 2017

The developer and owner of the island’s finest hotel, 73-year-old George Heaton, is facing a 30-year federal prison sentence plus millions in fines and restitution payments if convicted on nine felony charges that he, his accountant and his title agent made false statements on mortgage loan applications for buyers of condominium units at his Vero Beach Hotel & Spa. Court documents allege those deceptive documents led four banks to fund loans of more than $20 million “based upon materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises and material omissions,” and that, as the seller of the condos, Heaton made millions in profits from those transactions. A U.S. Department of Justice statement said that, from 2006 through 2009, the defendants “conspired to perpetrate a complex mortgage fraud scheme against various FDIC-insured lenders by concealing incentives offered and paid to buyers of condominium units at the Vero Beach Hotel and Club,” as the hotel was originally known. Heaton has pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial. His defense attorney denies that any wrongdoing occurred. READ FULL STORY


School leaders turn strategic planning into farce
week of March 30, 2017

School Superintendent Mark Rendell says the five-year strategic planning process underway at the district is “transparent,” but it does not seem that way. In a typical move, without consulting the School Board, he hired an outside team of “experts” to develop the plan, leaving it to people not familiar with the community to gather input from parents, students, teachers and other “stakeholders” over a brief three-day period. The outside consultant, Battelle for Kids, held a grand total of one meeting open to the public – which lasted one hour – to get input from the community in order to come up with a plan for the next half-decade of educating children in Indian River County. The last strategic plan expired in 2010 and the need for a new one came up while the School Board discussed whether it should purchase the 16th Street ball fields from the county. Rendell and four school board members said the district didn’t need the land, but board member Laura Zorc said, “We don’t know what we need because we don’t have a strategic plan.” READ FULL STORY


After big home auction sale, new estate up for bid
week of March 30, 2017

The sale at auction last week of an oceanfront estate in Indian River Shores for just over $10 million has now motivated the owner of a $12.9 million home on the southern stretch of Vero’s barrier island to try to sell his beachfront property the same way, according to Premier Estate broker associate Clark French. “After the successful sale last week of 10 Ocean Lane, we now have a new seller offering another significant oceanfront estate for auction immediately with no reserve,” French said. “The property located at 2470 S. A1A in the Vero Beach Estate Section is a spectacular Barbados-inspired estate with a bright and open transitional beach house design.” Premier and Concierge Auctions, the company that conducted last week’s sale, will began advertising and marketing the property immediately for an auction on Friday, April 28. READ FULL STORY


End of an era for Ellie McCabe, driving force for philanthropy
week of March 30, 2017

Eleonora McCabe, the driving force behind philanthropy in Indian River County, has decided at age 82 to begin winding down the direct and indirect support she has provided over the decades to what has become one of the most generous clusters of charitable organizations in the country. At a Luncheon and Legacies celebration last Friday at the John’s Island Club, McCabe shared that her board will meet on April 11 with one final item on the agenda – to approve the dissolution of the Robert F. and Eleonora W. McCabe Foundation. “Today is one more step in winding down the McCabe Foundation and acknowledging the impact our family’s strategic and heartfelt giving has had on countless lives over the past 61 years,” McCabe told guests. “It’s the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter; one that will always include charitable giving, but through a different venue.” READ FULL STORY


Indian River Medical Center reports financial turnaround
week of March 30, 2017

It’s been a while since the management of Indian River Medical Center has gotten public pats on the back. Last week, though, they were plentiful as CEO Jeff Susi and CFO George Eighmy trotted out the latest financial numbers that show improvement from a disastrous start to the fiscal year. After a first-quarter loss of $4 million dollars, the non-profit hospital system appears to have reversed course, dredging up enough profit in January and February to fill in half of that hole. Even more reassuring, CFO Eighmy is projecting the organization will end the year in the black. That outlook is based on numbers from not only the hospital, but the IRMC-owned doctor’s practices, known as Indian River Medical Associates, and Vero Radiology. The hospital’s debt stands at $36 million, said CEO Jeff Susi, adding that it is being paid off on a “very short amortization schedule.” The hospital has one of the lowest debt loads in the state, Eighmy said. In January, the hospital came out ahead by just over $1 million. February piled on another $812,000, leaving the hospital only $2.1 million in the red for the first five months of the year. READ FULL STORY


Orchid hit-and-run victim to be honored at West Point
week of March 30, 2017

After Peter Meyer was tragically taken from them by a hit-and-run driver in January 2015, his friends and former co-workers have made sure he won’t be forgotten – especially at a place that was very special to him. They're donating to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point – where Meyer played football before graduating and being commissioned as an Army officer in 1964 – the $100,000-plus they raised as a reward for the arrest and conviction of the Orchid Island winter resident's killer. In return for the donation, which will benefit West Point athletic programs, the academy will name the Kimsey Athletic Center's training room in Meyer's honor later this year. "It's a beautiful and fitting tribute to my dad, and one that would make him very proud and leave him feeling very humbled," said Sue Ross, one of Meyer's daughter. "He loved West Point, so it's the perfect choice. "I'm absolutely thrilled," she added, "and I know my mom is very pleased." Pat Walsh, one of Meyer's neighbors at the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club, launched the campaign to raise the reward money that ultimately went unclaimed. He contacted West Point about the donation after consulting with donors. READ FULL STORY


Shores rejects bid to switch auctioneers for town parcel
week of March 30, 2017

In the latest plot twist in the saga of the 5.3-acre oceanfront parcel owned by the Town of Indian River Shores, the Shores Town Council rejected a move to scrap a contract with former County Commissioner Wesley Davis and go with another auction broker to sell the property. Councilman Dick Haverland proposed the town make a fair settlement with Davis to exit the contract, which would pay Davis an 8 percent commission to market and auction the parcel on A1A across from the Pebble Bay development, and negotiate a better deal with another broker. Haverland’s motion died for lack of a second. Vice Mayor Mike Ochsner, who presided at the meeting in Barefoot’s absence, said he agreed with Haverland that the council had made a hasty decision signing a deal with Davis that could net him more than half a million dollars, but he was not prepared to scrap it and start over. Haverland noted that the most recent proposal by Ron Rennick would cost 37 percent less that the deal with Davis, and that the Shores could make a “termination agreement” with a small payment to Davis and still come out way ahead. He said the Finance Commission, which has “at least two real estate experts,” could be tasked with vetting a broker or auctioneer to recommend to the Town Council. READ FULL STORY


Omar Hussamy resigns from Hospital District board
week of March 30, 2017

Orthopedic surgeon Omar Hussamy has resigned his seat on the Indian River County Hospital District Board of Trustees just four months after being elected to a four-year term. His resignation leaves Gov. Rick Scott to name a replacement within six weeks. Hussamy, 54, emailed his resignation to the District office last Wednesday, citing a more intensive schedule than anticipated for the volunteer position, due to the new initiative to consider selling the hospital or otherwise change its existing structure. There was no hint of discord in his letter of resignation, which simply said he could not devote the time the post required. “It has been a pleasure to serve the District in the short time I have been on the board,” he wrote. “Unfortunately I am unable to meet the time commitment necessary to perform my responsibilities during this critical time for health care in Indian River County.” “He has taken on some other things besides just his employment, and so has the district since he joined,” says the Hospital District’s executive director, Ann Marie Suriano. “He’s really conscientious, and you have to be able to commit your time.” READ FULL STORY


Ay Jalisco owners plan Caribbean cantina for old Long Branch
week of March 30, 2017

Gloria Huitron and Pedro Nevarez, the couple who own the popular Ay Jalisco Mexican restaurants, have purchased the Miracle Mile building that long housed the Long Branch Saloon and plan to turn it into a Caribbean-themed restaurant with live music and dancing tentatively called “Tahinos.” Huitron and Nevarez purchased the Long Branch building on March 6 for $600,000, and are already at work remodeling it. “We’re still working on a name, but the furnishings will definitely have a Caribbean theme,” Nevarez said. The new place will offer an international menu, all from hot climates. “We would like to bring a fusion of Peruvian, Columbian, Spanish, Cuban and Italian Mediterranean food,” said Nevarez, who is a chef. “We’ll serve a few Mexican dishes too. Why not?” Live country and other types of music will be offered, as well as Karaoke, continuing the Long Branch’s tradition of having one of the few dance spots in Vero Beach and the only one in Miracle Mile. “We’re going to make the dance floor look real nice,” Nevarez said. READ FULL STORY


Local voters to get yet another voting system
week of March 30, 2017

When Vero Beach residents vote in this fall’s municipal election, it will be on paper ballots using a fill-in-the-bubble system instead of connecting the dots by a line. The Indian River Board of County Commissioners Tuesday voted 4-to-0 to approve a contract to purchase a new, state-law compliant optical-scanner voting and tabulation system with funds that have been set aside over the past three years. “I hope to have them in May,” Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said, allowing her time to fully test out the equipment, to order the most practical writing implements to fill out the ballots, and finally to conduct public outreach to familiarize the voters with the system before the November municipal elections. The system will be used by all county voters in the 2018 primaries and general election. READ FULL STORY


Time to get serious about parking problems
week of March 23, 2017

What happened across four hours at the Vero Beach Planning & Zoning Board meeting last week was an embarrassment to our community, and city leaders should be ashamed of themselves for putting us in such an unseemly predicament. The often-hostile, sometimes-condescending tone, feelings of mistrust and sense of desperation that filled the room was unbecoming of a place that prides itself on its small-town charm, old-school manners and neighborly demeanor. We’re supposed to be better than that, especially in how we treat each other. The proposed construction of a new restaurant on Ocean Drive, where in-season parking is already scarce, seems to have brought out the worst in some of us, though. And the bulk of the blame lies with our elected officials, who've done nothing to address the parking problem. How many more incarnations of our City Council are going to continue to punt this problem – a parking shortage in the Central Beach business district, particularly along Ocean Drive, especially during our busy season – to the next bunch, hoping we'll not notice or at least grin and bear it? READ FULL STORY


School employees have data disclosed in security breach
week of March 23, 2017

The Indian River County School District is blaming PlanSource, a third-part vendor, for a security breach that revealed Social Security numbers of some school employees to other employees in the course of mailing out tax forms for the district’s self-insured health insurance plan. PlanSource was hired to generate Internal Revenue Service 1095-C forms, a required document that verifies employee health insurance and reports if other family members are covered on the plan. A School District email to employees sent March 10 states, “On March 3, 2017, the School District of Indian River County was notified that the Vendor that was contracted to produce the Form 1095-C for District employees made some errors (about 3.5 percent of the forms) regarding the information contained on those forms. “This included the release of some Social Security numbers. ... It appears that the error was caused by a misapplication of information that was provided to the Vendor by Florida Blue. This does represent a security breach on their part. READ FULL STORY


He’s baaack! Bobby returns to his restaurant on St. Patrick’s
week of March 23, 2017

St. Patrick’s Day is a festive occasion at Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge, where the bar area again this year was decorated with shamrocks, leprechaun hats, and green, white and orange balloons. Last week’s celebration, though, was particularly memorable. “This was my target date,” said Bobby McCarthy, who opened his popular, beachside eatery 36 years ago. “It’s been tough going the past three months, but I got through it. I’m about 90-percent back. “My balance is still out of whack, but I’m working out three days a week and I’m getting there,” he added. “It was important to me to be here today.” It also was important to dozens of his green-clad customers, many of whom hadn’t seen McCarthy since he suffered a seizure and collapsed at the restaurant on Dec. 13. When McCarthy, wearing a Kelly-green golf shirt and khaki shorts, walked into the bar shortly after noon last Thursday, a standing-room-only gathering filled the room with applause and welcomed him back with handshakes, hugs and kisses. READ FULL STORY


New shelter set to open its doors for homeless single women April 1
week of March 23, 2017

Sixteen single women facing homelessness will be housed and helped until they can get back on their feet, thanks to fast, effective work by volunteers and non-profit organization workers and the generosity of local donors. The new facility will begin operation April 1. The women will live at a quadplex purchased by churches, a Jewish temple, private donors and the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council. “It came together in 90 days,” Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council Executive Director Louise Hubbard said. “There was no contention about who would be served. The faith-based community saw a need, recognized what needed to be done and made it happen in three months,” Hubbard said. “It was amazing.” Other shelters in the area, such as Hope for Families Center and the Samaritan Center, take homeless families, but not single women. The coordinator of the effort was the Sand & Land Real Estate Team at the barrier island brokerage Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, comprised of Beth Livers, Maria Caldarone and Ashley Harris. READ FULL STORY


Acupuncturist who questioned billing practices gets hate mail
week of March 23, 2017

Three weeks after a local acupuncturist questioned a competitor's billing practices during the December County Commission meeting at which the county put a cap on future insurance payments for such treatment by its employees, she received an ugly letter allegedly sent by several dozen employees. Angela King, who owns Indian River Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine, said the typed, one-page piece of hate mail – unsigned, but bearing 40 hand-written initials – was mailed to both her office and her barrier island home in envelopes bearing a "fake" return address. Alarmed by its contents, King forwarded the letter to County Administrator Jason Brown, who turned it over to the Sheriff's Office. "It's something I take very seriously," Brown said. "If this was done by county employees, that is highly inappropriate conduct and something we won't tolerate. "We tried to track it down by checking to see if it was created on one of our computers, but we couldn't find it," he added. "So we then sent it to the Sheriff's Office, but, as far as I know, they still haven't been able to tie it to anyone in particular." READ FULL STORY


O’Malley: Dodgertown golf course would make ‘terrific’ park
week of March 23, 2017

The man whose father designed and built the now-defunct, long-abandoned Dodgertown Golf Club more than 50 years ago would like to see the property become a city park. He didn't come right out and say it, of course – at least not initially. He publicly shared his opinion only after some prodding. Despite his lifelong connection to the community, Peter O'Malley wouldn't dare to presume he knows more about what's best for Vero Beach than the people who live here. "The city owns the land, and it's more important to listen to what the community wants to do with it," the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner said last week from his Southern California office. "As I understand it, a large number of people cared enough to take time to attend the City Council meeting and share their thoughts and feelings. "And they were heard." In fact, the council unanimously rejected a $2.7 million offer from a Palm Beach Gardens-based developer who wanted to build a 280-home community on the 35-acre parcel adjacent to Historic Dodgertown. READ FULL STORY


Rail safety bill a nightmare for All Aboard Florida
week of March 23, 2017

Vero’s legislators are hoping to get the state to impose safety regulations on the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail project to protect local communities in the train’s path, and shelter taxpayers from funding needed safety upgrades. Florida Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Florida House Rep. Erin Grall are pushing bills in their respective chambers that would assign more of the burden of rail crossing safety equipment, fencing, disaster preparedness and reporting accountability to All Aboard Florida operators. The bill would expand the Florida Department of Transportation’s authority over companies that run trains over the same freight tracks that carry hazardous cargo such as natural gas and chemicals. Currently, Vero Beach and Indian River County face tough decisions about whether or not to create “quiet zones,” plus address numerous unanswered questions about rail crossing plans, potential costs and impacts on public safety and the environment from a train that would thunder past an archaeological site, delicate historic structures, wildlife habitat and through a business and entertainment district. READ FULL STORY


Consultant tells IRMC it must change to survive
week of March 16, 2017

The accelerated time frame of Indian River Medical Center’s examination of its own future made for some painful moments last week as the collaborative committee charged with that study endured two rigorous public critiques in a 48-hour time span. The admonitions ranged from hyperlocal, as when Hospital District trustee Michael Weiss told a taxpayer group’s luncheon on Wednesday that the emergency room on his last two visits was “dirty”; to the assessment of nationally-known healthcare consultant Jamie Orlikoff, who flew in from Seattle to speak to IRMC leaders on Friday. Orlikoff said IRMC was in no-man’s-land now, under taxpayer ownership through the Hospital District but leased to a private not-for-profit corporation, and warned that this public-private hybrid is utterly unworkable and must be dismantled immediately for the hospital to survive. Through both meetings, the collaborative committee held its collective head up high, soldiering on through what could well become an even harsher, more polarizing assessment. READ FULL STORY


Lagoon loses its devoted champion in Paul Dritenbas
week of March 16, 2017

The death of Paul Dritenbas last week, at age 65, has left the Indian River Lagoon without one of its most devoted and outspoken champions. The architect, fishing guide and former FIND commissioner died at his home in Vero Beach, with his family by his side, following an extended illness. “Paul had a big heart for the Indian River Lagoon and he will be missed,” County Commissioner Tim Zorc wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963. Dritenbas was a true environmentalist, who walked the talk when it came to issues he believed in. This was the thread that ran though virtually every aspect of his life: a passion for the local environment coupled with a broad knowledge of the lagoon and its fragile ecosystem, and a deep concern that the loss of seagrass in the lagoon, if not stopped, would lead to the ecological collapse of the waterway that is the economic and aesthetic lifeblood of the Treasure Coast. READ FULL STORY


Reckless driving seen in Shores car fatality
week of March 16, 2017

Before a classic Corvette struck a cement light pole Thursday morning on A1A, killing the driver who was the lone occupant of the car, witnesses told police they noticed the victim driving recklessly through Indian River Shores. The crash has been turned over to the Florida Highway Patrol for investigation, and forensic evidence typically takes many weeks to process. But initially, Shores Public Safety officers are chalking this one up to the driver losing control of his car on the highway. The deceased 51-year-old white male, John Pierce Keller Jr., lived in the Bethel Isle community just west of the Village Beach Market. The incident report released by the Shores Public Safety Department in response to a public records request said the first person to spot the black 1972 Corvette slammed into the base of the electric pole was David Albury, a security guard from Sea Colony who called in the crash at 7:40 a.m. Albury attempted to get the car door open but could not. Richard Dent, an off-duty paramedic with Indian River County Fire Rescue, was the first medical responder to arrive and conclude the subject had been killed on impact. READ FULL STORY


Bill would strip power from Vero and county
week of March 16, 2017

A bill filed that would prevent local governments from passing any new business regulations after July 1, and that would wipe clean all but state-approved regulations in 2020, has sailed through its first legislative committee hearing in Tallahassee. The City of Vero Beach, City of Sebastian and Members of the Board of County Commissioners have all taken issue with the bill, saying it would threaten their ability to shape regulation to the types of commerce and industry local communities want – or more importantly, don’t want. The Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties have put this threat to home rule, and its originator Rep. Randy Fine from Brevard County, squarely in their crosshairs, taking to social media and encouraging constituents to flood Tallahassee with pleas to stop the bill from advancing. House Bill 17 proposes two things. The first is a deadline of July 1 for local governments and agencies to pass or strengthen ordinances regulating businesses operating within their jurisdictions – unless a state law already grants those specific powers to the local government. After July 1, the state preempts all power to regulate businesses, unless expressly granted via state law. READ FULL STORY


Shores Town Council flip-flops on density, affirms beach access
week of March 16, 2017

In what has become a heated saga over selling off a 5.3-acre vacant parcel of ocean-view land acquired by Indian River Shores from the county in 1993, the Town Council last week decided at a special meeting that, instead of limiting density to three units per acre, it would stick with the original six-units-per-acre zoning. This reversed a council decision taken just two weeks ago that cut density to the three-per-acre limit. Also at that meeting, the council, before an occasionally raucous, packed house of nearly 65 residents arguing for and against higher density, voted once again to dedicate a 5-foot strip of right of way owned by the Town to a public beach access. That vote was handled in a confusing way, as a motion to reverse the previous vote to allow the beach access. That motion failed 3-2, leaving some advocates of the beach access grumbling as they exited the meeting, thinking they’d lost, when they actually won the battle. A post-meeting memo sent out by Town Clerk Laura Aldrich provided some clarity on the decision. READ FULL STORY


New restaurant building proposed for Ocean Drive would compound parking woes
week of March 16, 2017

The Vero Beach Planning and Zone Board on Thursday approved a site plan submitted by a local construction company on behalf of a Miami-area investment group for an upscale restaurant with outdoor seating on Ocean Drive. Sounds at first blush like a great addition to Ocean Drive, right? But then you learn they are proposing to build this restaurant in what is now the street-front parking lot sandwiched between the Cooper & Company and M Maison boutiques, across from Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge. According to the schematic drawing presented to neighboring merchants by Parent Construction, the 2,685-square-foot restaurant would seat 143 customers, 42 of them on a covered outdoor patio that runs along Ocean Drive. And the restaurant is not going to be an addition to the local dining scene but a new location for long-time island favorite The Tides. Despite the fact that Vero Beach officials still have no answer for Ocean Drive's existing parking challenges, which seem to increase each year, and despite the fact the restaurant would eliminate a dozen and a half parking places, city planners had recommended the board approve the project – and it did on a 4 to 1 vote. READ FULL STORY


Unlivable rentals seen factor in slide into homelessness
week of March 9, 2017

The lack of low- to-moderate-income housing in Indian River County creates a desperate situation for many low-income renters, and some landlords exploit the situation, demanding big up-front deposits and then keeping the money when tenants move out because of unlivable conditions – a process that too often leads to homelessness. Mark Titone of Titone Properties LLC, who lives in Central Beach, appears to be one of those landlords, according to non-profits that assist the homeless and county records. His company owns 44 rental properties in the county and has brought nearly 70 eviction actions against tenants since 2010. Court documents reveal a common thread. Many of the defendants claimed Titone promised to make a rental property livable, but never did. When they complained, he filed an eviction notice. Most of the evictions were successful, the tenants fleeing instead of “answering” the eviction summons. With cash depleted and ‘evicted’ stamped on their record, finding housing becomes more difficult and the slide into homelessness closer. READ FULL STORY


Hospital reports progress in negotiations with insurers
week of March 9, 2017

In Indian River County, where around a thousand babies are born each year, couples may endlessly debate names and pore over paint swatches for the nursery. More than likely, though, they will not have to think about which hospital to go to: only one does labor and delivery, Indian River Medical Center. The only other hospital, Sebastian River Medical Center, stopped performing deliveries years ago. That’s why last month, when IRMC quietly put one of its four largest insurance companies on notice of termination, for some county residents, a trip to the hospital to have a baby started to look a lot longer and a lot more expensive. Termination would have meant the hospital was no longer an in-network provider for those insured by that unnamed company, forcing patients to pay much higher out-of-network costs, or search for another hospital – for labor and delivery, that would mean Fort Pierce or Melbourne. The notice of termination strategy is a common one in negotiations for higher reimbursement rates, the amount insurers reimburse hospitals for their services. IRMC would not say which insurer had balked, or when notice would expire, but odds are excellent it was less than nine months. READ FULL STORY


Surge in private jet traffic leads to new construction at Vero airport
week of March 9, 2017

Corporate Air, one of two flight service companies catering to Vero’s jet set, has bet big on the Vero Beach Regional Airport as an increasingly popular destination for business and leisure travel – probably a good bet since the airport handled more than 200,000 takeoffs and landings last year. While much of that traffic was accounted for by flight school students practicing takeoffs and landings, Corporate Air CEO Rodger Pridgeon said he’s seen an 18 percent increase in jet traffic into and out of the airport over last year – a trend that shows no signs of abating. Nearly all of those disembarking are headed for Vero’s barrier island communities, he added. Pridgeon said traffic has been so heavy he has been turning away pilots radioing to come in for fuel, maintenance or hangar space. As a result, he is building a second private terminal at the airport and has worked a deal with the federal Department of Transportation to expand ramp space adjacent to his hangers. READ FULL STORY


School Board to act as judge in ‘testing irregularities’ case
week of March 9, 2017

The Indian River County School District investigation into cheating on industry certification tests at Vero Beach High School reeled in a few of the small and medium fish, but let the big ones get away, according to recently released documents. Despite evidence of broader culpability, Superintendent Mark Rendell was satisfied to lay the blame on two teachers for “testing irregularities” that went on for years with the department head’s approval and participation. Now, after the teachers refused to be the scapegoats and accept suspensions proposed by Rendell, the School Board has decided to conduct a follow-up investigation and render a judgment on its own instead of referring the cases to the state Division of Administrative Hearings. The School Board’s decision came despite protests from the teachers’ lawyer and one board member who questioned the board’s expertise and impartiality, and wanted the two cases referred to the state court. “I think you intend to do due process,” said Mark Wilensky, who represents both teachers, “but I don’t think you have a good grasp on what it takes to provide it.” Motions on evidence, discovery, disputed facts, document requests and problems with witnesses would be better handled if DOAH took the cases, he said. READ FULL STORY


Shores reverses decision it just made on beach property
week of March 9, 2017

The Indian River Shores Town Council met Thursday morning and voted to reverse its decision made two weeks ago to limit development on a 5.4-acre oceanside parcel to 15 units, and revert back to the original zoning that would allow approximately 30 units in total. Rather than ask the Town staff to make a recommendation beforehand, the council, in front of a packed chambers, last month listened to comments from the public and real estate agents, weighed its options on the fly, and settled on the maximum of 15 units for the prime development property. After the vote, however, the council asked Town Manager Robbie Stabe and building official Jose Guanch to review what had been done to make sure it was in the Town’s best interest and to report back. Guanch “sent me a memo that included a staff recommendation that Council should basically let the Land Development Code do what it is designed to do,” Stabe said Monday. Based upon that memo, Mayor Brian Barefoot called a meeting of the council for 9 a.m. Thursday. A notice was sent by email to residents about the meeting, but with no backup information about what action was being considered, only saying the council intended to “revisit” the density issue. READ FULL STORY


Charters’ bid for more tax money seen nearing verdict
week of March 9, 2017

A lawsuit filed by public charter schools against the Indian River County School Board over the distribution of property taxes has simmered for a year and a half, but a judge’s ruling will soon settle it. District Judge Paul Kanarek gave a final hearing to the parties last week and then instructed their lawyers to prepare draft orders by March 27. He did not state when he plans to write the final order. Both sides agree the case revolves around an interpretation of law. “If the law were clear, we wouldn’t be here,” Kanarek said last week. This is the first case in the state brought by any public charter school over distribution of property taxes. The tax in question is earmarked for operations and the imminent ruling will establish how the money gets divided between the charter and regular public schools in the county. The charters say the law mandates all students get an equal portion of operations taxes, but they’re getting only 5 percent, not the 13 percent that matches their share of students in the district. The School Board’s interpretation of the law is different. It maintains the voter-approved special tax can be distributed at its “discretion,” while other taxes set by the legislature are distributed equally among charter and traditional public schools. READ FULL STORY


Holy Cross Church gets a big surprise: ‘No Parking’signs
week of March 2, 2017

Two Mondays ago, Father Richard Murphy met with Vero Beach code enforcement officials to discuss safety issues Iris Lane residents say are caused by Holy Cross Catholic Church attendees parking on their street. “The city officials sent me away with the impression that we could work out a compromise that would address the problem,” the Holy Cross pastor said, “then they pulled the rug out from under our feet.” Two days after the meeting, city workers installed “No Parking” signs along the south side of Iris Lane, adjacent to the church – a move that sparked outrage from Holy Cross parishioners and left Murphy questioning the integrity of Vero Beach officials. Murphy also was puzzled by the timing: Not only were the signs posted without warning during the height of Vero Beach’s busy season, but the city installed them only days before the start of Lent, a 40-day, pre-Easter period when even many less-devout Catholics attend Mass. “People have been parking there for 30 years, and it has never been an issue,” Murphy said. “Now, all of a sudden, it’s a problem? Two days after we meet, they put up signs? Without a warning? READ FULL STORY


Complications galore as hospital options weighed
week of March 2, 2017

When consultant Jamie Orlikoff speaks to the new collaborative committee studying the future of Indian River Medical Center, his expert advice and analysis will be eagerly awaited. The last time Orlikoff came to Vero two years ago, he kept an audience of 40 hospital leaders riveted for seven long hours. Some of them heard him speak again last month in Seattle, when a group from IRMC visited Virginia Mason Health System; Orlikoff is vice-chair of the board. Orlikoff, national adviser on governance and leadership for the American Hospital Association, was listed among the 100 most powerful people in healthcare in Modern Healthcare magazine. This time, he’ll be tasked with giving local hospital leaders advice of a more existential nature: how to approach the stupefyingly complex issue of whether to remain a stand-alone taxpayer-owned hospital or somehow become part of larger system. It’ll be another long day for Orlikoff and his listeners; the committee expects to schedule him for morning and afternoon sessions. READ FULL STORY


$9.9 million spec home being built on South Beach
week of March 2, 2017

Developer Mariann Casarella went on what she calls an “intergalactic search” to find the perfect spot to build her next luxury spec home – starting in Wilmington, North Carolina, and driving her Mercedes all the way down the coast to South Florida, checking out likely sites. She found what she was looking for when Premier Estate Properties broker/associate Clark French showed her a rolling 2.3-acre lot in the estate section of Vero’s barrier island. “Clark took us to the right place at the right time,” says Casarella. “We had an offer written up within 15 minutes after arriving at the property that the owner accepted.” She closed on the land in October 2015, paying the bargain price of $1,975,000 for the 1,000-foot-deep lot with 100 feet of frontage on the Atlantic Ocean where there is a wide, accreting beach. Nine months later, in August 2016, permits were issued and work began at the site, with massive retaining walls going up to hold in place more than 10,000 cubic yards of fill used to raise the level of the lot 20 feet above sea level. READ FULL STORY


Gifford principal sharply criticized in teacher survey
week of March 2, 2017

After Vero Beach 32963 revealed serious problems with student discipline and teacher turnover at Gifford Middle School, District Superintendent Mark Rendell rushed to the defense of Gifford Principal Roxanne Decker, providing the School Board with copies of a survey he said showed teacher support for her. Rendell said there was a 66-percent response rate to the survey, which was sent out by Decker, with 36 out of 55 teachers participating. But there were noticeable problems with the undated, 6-question survey. While it was supposed to be anonymous, teachers had to enter an identifying code to get online to fill out the document. There were no questions that asked specifically about Decker’s performance. And no space was provided for written comments. Rendell did not supply the School Board with the results of another, more comprehensive survey that paint a devastating picture of conditions at Gifford Middle School, and constitute a serious indictment of Decker. Conducted at the end of the last school year by the Indian River County Education Association, this survey included 16 questions and was specifically designed to elicit feedback from teachers on their principals. Thirty out of 55 teachers at Gifford responded, many of them slamming Decker in harsh terms. READ FULL STORY


Shores approves beach access next to parcel to be auctioned
week of March 2, 2017

After deciding on density and agreeing to provide a five-foot public walkway to the beach, the Indian River Shores Town Council is ready to auction off a five-acre parcel of ocean-view land just north of the Tracking Station Beach Park in early May. The beach access right-of-way, which residents of Pebble Bay, Vera Cruz and other west-of-A1A communities had clamored to protect, passed by a narrow 3-2 margin. Councilman Dick Haverland and Councilwoman Debbi Penniston opposed the idea on the principle that each Shores resident holds a stake in the property and the council is the steward of that asset. Putting the parcel up for sale with a public access walkway attached would reduce the price it fetches in exchange for an amenity only enjoyed by a few, Haverland said. Vice Mayor Michael Ochsner strongly advocated for the beach access and Councilman Bob Auwaerter supported it, making Mayor Brian Barefoot the swing vote. After attending the previous week’s Planning Zoning and Variance Board meeting as an observer and listening to dozens of residents speak passionately about their need for beach access, Barefoot said, “We definitely got the gist. READ FULL STORY


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