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More minorities taking advanced classes, but how many are passing?
week of December 7, 2017

The Indian River County School District says it is making some progress in enrolling more minority students in upper level classes, but it has no idea how many are passing. The School District recently released a yearly, state-required “equity report” that lists how many minority students are signing up for advanced classes. While the report shows a small increase in the number of blacks and a slightly higher jump in the number of Hispanics taking these classes, it provides no information on how they are doing. The idea behind the report is to keep an eye on how “equitable” minority participation in advanced classes is compared to participation by white students as a way of seeing if the School District – which has labored under a federal desegregation order for decades – is helping minority students catch up in terms of educational success. But the report does not include statistics for how well minority students are doing in the upper-level classes they sign up for, rendering it meaningless for measuring the progress or success of black and Hispanic students. READ FULL STORY

Hopeful hospital suitors present acquisition plans
week of December 7, 2017

In 1932, a 29-year-old nurse from Nebraska shelled out her own cash for a hotel gone bust and turned it into Indian River County’s first hospital. By today’s standards, Garnett Radin’s gumption seems boundless. But her wildest dreams probably never envisaged the enterprise that exists today, as the Indian River Medical Center seeks a much larger partner to take over its sprawling campus. The institution Radin started with her $22,000 was appraised last year at more than $150 million. That was just the land, bricks and mortar, not equipment, machinery or furnishings. It also didn’t include intangibles like the reputation of the hospital, the devotion of its wealthy donors, and its strong position in an attractive market. Those are all desirables that four leading healthcare companies are making a pitch for in person this week in the hospital’s administration wing. Orlando Health was first up Tuesday. That company, a nonprofit, owns the well-respected Orlando Regional Medical Center. READ FULL STORY

One of county’s larger employers sues former staff who formed a rival firm
week of December 7, 2017

Two Vero Beach debt servicing firms have taken their battle over proprietary information to court. Omni Financial, one of the larger private employers in Indian River County, is suing a group of its former employees for allegedly stealing trade secrets and setting up a rival firm in violation of non-compete and non-disclosure contracts. Both companies specialize in locating people and businesses with large IRS or state tax liens and helping them settle their debts. Omni Financial, which is owned by El Dorado Financial, filed a lawsuit Nov. 17 in the 19th Judicial Circuit alleging the former employees, including Omni’s former president and CEO, took proprietary information and clients when they left the large firm to be part of a startup enterprise, ACS Financial. ACS Financial and seven former El Dorado staff members are accused of breach of contract, tortious interference, civil conspiracy, breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation. El Dorado is asking the court to stop ACS Financial from operating and award damages. READ FULL STORY

St. Paul’s Church still not quite ready
week of December 7, 2017

The new St. Paul’s Church, currently nearing completion on Flamevine Lane, will not be ready for Christmas Day services and probably won’t open its doors to worshipers until early 2018. St. Paul’s Rector Jon Robbins was planning to welcome congregants to the new sanctuary on Oct. 8, but delays in the final phases of construction – some caused by Hurricane Irma – forced him to push back the scheduled date of the first service to November. But delays continue to plague the project, located just west of Ocean Drive in the Central Beach business district. “We are working hard to get the church open,” Robbins wrote in a text to Vero Beach 32963 on Sunday night. “We hope to have a Certificate of Occupancy before Jan. 1.” Robbins refused to comment on the latest delay, other than to say it had nothing to do with parking – a now-resolved issue that prevented the church from acquiring the initial permits it needed from the building division of the county’s community development department. READ FULL STORY

Shores cell tower work begins; Vero tower will be coming down
week of December 7, 2017

Just as site-clearing work finally began last week for the long-awaited cell tower in the Town of Indian River Shores, the City of Vero Beach is facing a cellular challenge of its own – the need to relocate a cell tower on the Big Blue power plant property that must come down as part of decommissioning. A little-known, 146-foot tower atop the power plant, that extends a total of 208 feet up into the air, serves Vero Isles, the heart of the city’s commercial district and part of the barrier island. It’s been there since 1993, but was hard to see amidst the stacks and all the other utility equipment on top of the power plant. The good news is that, with FPL taking over the substation and switching equipment embedded in the plant while a new substation is constructed on the Old Postal Annex property on the southwest corner of 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard, there’s time to get a new tower planned, permitted and built before the old one comes down. READ FULL STORY

Man charged with island murder struggles as own attorney
week of December 7, 2017

Money is just one of the many problems facing a former island resident accused of murdering his estranged wife in 2015 because, according to him, she nagged him too much and took money from a joint bank account. Asbury Perkins II, who has chosen to act as his own attorney and has been found indigent by the court, struggled Wednesday to adequately prepare his defense for trial. He won a victory when Judge Cynthia Cox granted his motion for temporary leave from jail to conduct depositions in his case, but the permission may not do him much good since he doesn’t have the ability to schedule deposition appointments from his county jail cell. Cox gave Perkins permission to question his former public defender, a prosecutor and the attorneys who represented him and his wife during previous disputes, but she wouldn’t allow his investigative team to schedule appointments on his behalf, at least not on the taxpayer dollar. “They are investigators, they are not secretaries,” Cox said. She advised Perkins that he could pay for the service himself. READ FULL STORY

School Board to take more hands-off role
week of November 30, 2017

Despite many serious challenges and pressing problems, the School Board just voted to hold business meetings only once a month, instead of twice a month as has been the practice until now. The push for fewer meetings came from Superintendent Mark Rendell, whom the board is supposed to oversee. Rendell said the move will save $22,000 a year in staff pay and legal notices out of a budget of nearly $300 million. He said he will continue holding workshops for the board the second Tuesday of the month. Only one board member, Laura Zorc, voted against cutting back the number of meetings. Zorc said, “I would like to see three or four meetings a month” in order to perform “the due diligence needed.” “One of my biggest challenges is the lack of respect for the board member’s role by the superintendent,” Zorc told Vero Beach 32963. “I work for the citizens, not the superintendent. Now that we are going to one meeting a month, it solidifies for me that the superintendent wants us to be seen but not heard. READ FULL STORY

Modernist architecture taking hold in Vero Beach
week of November 30, 2017

Modernism has arrived in Vero Beach in a big way, with a number of impressive modernist homes recently completed or underway on the island and more projects planned. Architects from London, the Hamptons and other parts of Florida are jetting in to design seven-figure oceanfront houses that brilliantly embody the clarity, functionality and drama of the style, which has emerged in retrospect as the highpoint of 20th century architecture. “The modernism you have seen for a long time in South Florida is definitely coming here now,” says island developer and builder Yane Zana, whose company Coastmark Construction recently completed a striking modernist home on Reef Road for English clients. There have always been scattered examples of modern residential design in Vero Beach, a house here and there – along with skepticism about a style many viewed as too urban or avant-garde for the community – but the trend is taking off as Vero continues to gain national and even international cache as a sophisticated but still unspoiled seaside resort. READ FULL STORY

Year after son died, Joe Graves prays for Christmas miracle
week of November 30, 2017

Nearly a year after his 15-year-old son died in a boating accident in the Indian River Lagoon, Joe Graves is praying for what he believes would be a Christmas miracle. Two new daughters. The Vero Beach attorney and his wife, Carole, have been trying since May to adopt two school-age sisters from Colombia, only to see their efforts stalled by government bureaucracy. So Graves has turned to social media in hopes of reaching someone with the political clout to answer his prayer. In a heart-tugging, six-minute video he posted last week on his Facebook page, Graves said he has been praying for weeks that “God grant a way for the right governmental official to get involved and make it possible so these girls can come and be home with us for Christmas.” Graves said the international adoption is “locked up” in an immigration system in which it is “not possible” to bring the girls to the United States in time for the holidays. READ FULL STORY

Negligence suits piling up against Vero nursing home
week of November 30, 2017

Severe skin infection. Malnourishment. Poor hygiene. Wrongful death. All charges made against Consulate Health Care of Vero Beach, a 159-bed nursing home on 37th Street. The large nursing and rehabilitation facility diagonally across from the hospital has been sued for some type of negligence 23 times in Indian River County Circuit Court since 2008. Eighteen of the suits involved allegations arising from patient deaths. Twelve of the 23 suits ended in confidential settlements. The most recent complaint was filed in May by the family of Lewis Reich. The lawsuit alleges Reich died after developing decubitus ulcers, or bed sores, pneumonia and sepsis while in the nursing home. The family isn’t alone in their grief-stricken fight for legal recourse. Five cases like Reich’s are still being litigated. Both an attorney and the general manager at the Vero Beach facility did not respond to requests for information about conditions at the nursing home. A spokesperson for the Maitland, Florida, parent company also declined comment. In court filings for Reich’s case, the company has claimed no wrongdoing. READ FULL STORY

Sewage spill into lagoon worse than early reports
week of November 30, 2017

The amount of sewage that poured from a pressurized pipe into the Indian River Lagoon was more than 30 times greater than first estimated, totaling more than 3 million gallons, according to the City of Vero Beach and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As first reported by Vero Beach 32963 last week, a 12-inch sewer main that carries waste water from most of Indian River Shores and a number of Vero neighborhoods to the city sewage treatment plant ruptured near Jaycee Park at the spot where it intersects a major storm water drain that empties into the lagoon. The spill came to light on Thursday, Nov. 16 when residents complained of a foul odor along Bethel Creek, an inlet that connects to the lagoon near the city marina north of the Barber Bridge. After a reporter called the city to check on the cause of the smell, Water and Sewer Department chief Rob Bolton investigated and discovered the broken line. READ FULL STORY

Night council meetings: Possibly a good move, but badly done
week of November 30, 2017

Four Vero Beach City Council members decided last week to move all regular business meetings to 6 p.m. to increase public participation, but they are going to have to revisit the matter this coming Tuesday because they took action without notifying the public. Councilman Val Zudans called for the change so more young people and those with full-time jobs can fully participate in city business. Retirees, he said, are free to attend meetings anytime. Vice Mayor Lange Sykes wholeheartedly agreed about making meetings more accessible to residents who work during the day. The council for some years has been alternating between day meetings and night meetings. The rationale for holding all meetings in the evening may be a very good one that results in more robust attendance by young professionals, business owners and students. But the goal should have been accomplished differently. READ FULL STORY

Island retailer Jay McLaughlin launching mainland pizza spot
week of November 30, 2017

Like their J. McLaughlin resort wear line that reinterpreted traditional clothing’s heraldic patches and school-tie nostalgia, husband and wife Joan and Jay McLaughlin are opening a restaurant that reinterprets humble food favorites with the aim of taking them to new culinary heights. The restaurant, the couple’s third eatery and the second in this area, is called Station 49. It slated to open this week in a neighborhood that also is reinterpreting itself. Located in a remodeled gas station on Old Dixie Highway, it is near trendy antique and design stores and not far from the recently opened American Icon Brewery. The abandoned gas station was originally leased and turned into a pizza place known as The Garage in 2014. Earlier this year, a real estate agent who knew the McLaughlins were looking for a spot tipped them that the restaurateur was interested in moving on. READ FULL STORY

Indian River Medical Center’s four suitors
week of November 23, 2017

The dance card of potential partners for Indian River Medical Center was narrowed to four suitors last week, and to the governing boards of the stand-alone, cash-strapped hospital, they were a good-looking lot. The contenders are the Cleveland Clinic, ranked second in the country by U.S. News and World Report; faith-based Adventist Health System, which owns Orlando’s Florida Hospital among its 44 hospitals nationally; Orlando Health, a nine-hospital Florida chain that includes Orlando Regional Medical Center; and HCA, largest hospital chain in the U.S and owner of Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce. All will have a chance to visit and be visited by IRMC officials in the coming weeks with an eye toward taking over the hospital. Whether that takeover is in the form of a purchase, a lease or some hybrid of the two, the goal is to put the hospital’s future into the hands of a much larger operation, one healthy enough to fund a $270 million renovation while withstanding ongoing turmoil in healthcare industry. READ FULL STORY

Raw sewage pours into lagoon from major pipe break
week of November 23, 2017

At least 100,000 gallons of raw sewage poured into the Indian River Lagoon at Bethel Creek last week after a pressurized sewer main ruptured near Jaycee Park. And the volume may have been much higher than that. The 12-inch pipe, which carries waste water from Indian River Shores and Vero neighborhoods to the city sewage treatment plant, broke where it intersects a major stormwater drain that empties into the lagoon. The spill came to light on Thursday when readers contacted Vero Beach 32963 to complain of a foul odor along Bethel Creek, an inlet that connects to the lagoon near the city marina north of the Merrill Barber Bridge. After a reporter called the city to check on the cause of the smell, Water and Sewer Department chief Rob Bolton investigated and discovered the broken line. “We are grateful for the call,” Bolton said on Friday. “We found a heck of force-main break that we were unaware of.” He said he did not know how much sewage had been released but estimated it was more than 100,000 gallons. READ FULL STORY

Sticker shock on mainland from new home prices
week of November 23, 2017

Island buyers are used to homes priced at half a million dollars or more, but mainland buyers are now seeing those kinds of prices too. If you're wondering how high new-home prices have gone around town, take a drive to the western – particularly the southwestern – sector of the Vero Beach area. And be prepared for sticker shock. You'll find new homes selling from $400,000 to $600,000 in gated communities under construction west of 43rd Avenue. "I know people would like to see lower-cost housing, but it's getting harder to do that," said Bill Handler, president of GHO Homes, the county's most prolific builder. "We're trying to provide homes for people in a variety of price ranges, but it's difficult to find the $200,000s. "The $300,000s has become the norm," he added. "The $400,000s is the next tier up." And the $500,000s? Those homes are available, too, as are a few priced at $600,000 and up – all of them loaded with options and upgrades, most of them built on oversized and/or waterfront lots. READ FULL STORY

Vietnam vets reach out to homeless vets rousted from camps by sheriff’s deputies
week of November 23, 2017

Tim Nightingale and Vic Diaz, co-founders of Vietnam Veterans of Indian River County, went into the woods last week looking for homeless vets to get them signed up for services and into housing. They did not find any. The homeless “point-in-time” count last January identified 29 homeless veterans in the county, but sheriff’s deputies recently rousted the vets and other homeless people out of their camps, making them more difficult to locate. “They’re cracking down more because real estate is at a premium again,” said Diaz. Two weeks ago, Diaz and Nightingale had better luck, locating and bringing in fellow Vietnam veteran Danny Wagoner, signing him up for medical services and a pension, and giving him a bed in one of the three houses they have built for homeless vets with the help of Every Dream Has a Price. He had been living in wooded areas around Vero for 30 years. READ FULL STORY

Shores cell tower still on track, but soil needs to be stabilized
week of November 23, 2017

Just as work was about to get underway digging the hole for the foundation of the Shores’ eagerly-awaited cell tower, engineers discovered the soil behind Town Hall will have to be reinforced with a special clay compound – one more hitch in the long-drawn-out effort to get a decent phone signal for residents of the island community. But there is good news, too. While the problem will cost the town an additional $40,000, it turns out that stabilizing soil at the site that was saturated by this summer’s historic rainfall should not significantly delay completion of the project. With Verizon contracted to use the tower and negotiations moving forward with AT&T, barrier island residents should see much-improved cell service in and around the Shores by this coming spring. Crews are still expected to begin clearing the site this week, with construction scheduled to begin Dec. 11. Even better news is that the chances of getting a second major carrier on the tower are “highly likely,” according to Curt Jones, president of Datapath Tower, the firm in charge of the tower project. READ FULL STORY

Judge says drug and mental health courts are highly effective
week of November 23, 2017

Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Cox says problem-solving courts here are some of the best in the state, providing an important part of the solution to many of society’s most pressing problems. Statistics back her up: Recidivism rates in problem-solving courts range from 7 percent to 11 percent as compared to 70 percent in a traditional court setting, said Cox, who handles almost all of the felony cases in Indian River County. “For every dollar you spend on a problem – substance abuse and mental health – you get $7.14 cents back.” “People come from all over the state to observe our mental health court,” Cox said. There are 16 specialty court programs in the 19th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties. Services include drug court, veterans court and mental health court. Unlike traditional court proceedings, problem-solving courts focus on rehabilitation, Cox told a crowd of nearly 100 last Friday at United Against Poverty’s Symposium on Poverty and Justice Reform. “It’s totally different from the regular court where you are punishing someone – you are encouraging them to do well, providing them with incentives and or sanctions,” Cox said. “It’s an opportunity to help make the person independent.” READ FULL STORY

Major setback in deal for troubled INEOS bio plant
week of November 16, 2017

The green energy firm that has been working for nearly two years to purchase the defunct INEOS bio plant west of Vero has rescinded its last offer and is in the process of renegotiating a price, based upon costly discoveries made during on-site inspections of the property. The good news, said Alliance BioEnergy CEO Daniel de Liege, is that he hasn’t found any major environmental contamination that would require cleanup before the plant is converted to Alliance’s cellulosic ethanol production process. “It doesn’t appear [that there is a problem] . . . there was a Phase 1 environmental done in May,” de Liege said. “But the piles of feedstock sitting there are deteriorating badly; it’s just sitting there rotting away.” De Liege hoped to have the conversion well underway if not completed by the end of 2017 so he could begin turning those piles of yard waste into ethanol. But with the delays, he says the material being stockpiled on the site will be of no value to him by the time he takes ownership. “At this point all timelines are off the table,” he said. READ FULL STORY

Harbor Branch Foundation fights for its endowment
week of November 16, 2017

Just weeks before a mediator seeks to resolve a high-stakes financial dispute with Florida Atlantic University, the leaders of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation maintain they are the best stewards of a $72 million endowment that was intended to fund marine research – not pay for new computers or software on a distant FAU campus. The university disagrees about who should manage the money. The Foundation came to be in 2007 when the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution’s laboratories and research realm were acquired by FAU. John Seward Johnson Sr., the son of Robert Wood Johnson, one of three founders of the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, had launched the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in 1971 with the help of inventor Edwin Link. READ FULL STORY

Federal judge orders School Board to mediation before hearing deseg lawsuit
week of November 16, 2017

The School Board jumped the gun when it filed a petition in U.S. District Court this summer, claiming it had met some of the requirements of a desegregation order first imposed on Indian River County schools in the 1960s and seeking partial relief from federal oversight. Last Thursday, Nov. 9, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams ordered the School Board’s petition for “partial unitary status” held in abeyance, agreeing with the NAACP that mediation is required before the two parties argue their case in court. Williams also rejected the School Board’s bid to hand-pick a mediator and granted the NAACP’s request that she appoint a federal judge to fill that role. Senior U.S. District Judge Donald Graham was assigned to “enter a separate order regarding the time, place and procedures governing mediation.” READ FULL STORY

Work underway on luxury Conn Beach oceanfront condos
week of November 16, 2017

Developer Yane Zana isn’t wasting any time getting work underway at his luxury condominium project known as 4091 Ocean. The day after he got his permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, a bulldozer was moving dirt at the site on Ocean Drive, across from Conn Beach Boardwalk, and a few days later 40-foot-deep foundation piling holes were being augured out and filled with concrete and steel. Zana, a St. Ed’s graduate who has lived on the island for more than 30 years and developed a number of large projects here, needed three permits to build the condo: a stamped site plan from the City of Vero Beach, a building permit from the county and the FDEP permit, required because the building is classified as oceanfront. With those in place and two units sold, the developer hopes to complete the condominium – which will have either five or six units – in about 14 months. READ FULL STORY

Martin County schools cost less, and results are better
week of November 16, 2017

Indian River County School District taxpayers are not getting great value for their money, according to budgets submitted to the state for the current school year. According to the budgets, the slightly larger Martin County School District will spend about $18 million less than Indian River County School District while achieving dramatically better academic results. Martin County, which has 18,915 students, will spend $269 million this fiscal year, while Indian River, with 17,541 students, will go through nearly $287 million during the same period. Despite spending less per student, Martin County was No. 8 out of 67 districts in Florida in the state Department of Education rankings in the 2016-17 school year, while Indian River County was mired in a tie for 32nd place. The teacher-student ratio was 1-to-15 at both counties, according to 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports submitted to the state, so Indian River’s higher spending is not the result of hiring more teachers than Martin. Instead, the difference is mainly related to how much the two counties spend on debt service, purchased services and instruction-related technology. READ FULL STORY