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Piper profits up; Vero company is once again hiring
week of August 17, 2017

Two years after Piper Aircraft Inc. cut 115 employees from its payroll – 78 were laid off and 37 opted for early retirement – the Vero Beach-based company's workforce is now slightly larger than it was before the reductions. And Piper executives plan to continue hiring to meet an increased demand for its products. "We have been hiring 10 people a week since mid-June, and we are continuing to hire through the remainder of the year," Jackie Carlon, Piper's senior director of marketing and communications, said last week. "We are actively looking for candidates for multiple functions, but, most critically, aircraft workers, sheet-metal workers and welders," she added. "Interested individuals may apply at piper.com/careers." As of Friday, Piper employed 762 people – two more than it did in July 2015, when, citing sagging worldwide sales, the company announced plans to slash 15 percent to 20 percent of its workforce. Carlon said a larger workforce was needed because the company continues to experience an increase in the sale and delivery of its new M-Class products – particularly the M500 and top-of-the-line M600 single-engine turboprops – as well as its trainer aircraft. READ FULL STORY


Trial still not near for accused killer of nurse Diana Duve
week of August 17, 2017

More than three years after Sebastian River Medical Center nurse and Moorings resident Diana Duve was found dead in the trunk of her car, defense attorneys for accused killer Michael David Jones, her former boyfriend, are nowhere near ready to go to trial, and Judge Cynthia Cox is getting impatient. The state has released 52 batches of case evidence, thousands of pages of medical records and witness interviews, which all fall under the broad term of “discovery,” as is required by law so the defense has time to prepare its case for trial. The defense has not released a single document or the names of any potential witnesses to the state. “I have nothing to give them,” Assistant Public Defender Stanley Glenn told Judge Cox at Monday morning’s hearing on the state’s motion to compel the defense to hand over its discovery documents. “I can’t give them what I don’t have,” Glenn said. When asked for good cause, Glenn said he’d only taken over the case in February 2016. READ FULL STORY


Construction can’t keep up with island new home sales
week of August 17, 2017

Developers who took the lead in launching new home projects on the barrier island in 2015 and 2016 are now reaping rich rewards as buyers eagerly purchase townhouses and single-family homes at five luxury developments between the Wabasso Causeway and The Moorings. The projects encompass about 80 homes priced between $840,000 and $3 million, and developers can’t build them fast enough to keep up with sales. Sandy Lane, the southernmost project in this group, is a prime example of the success homebuilders who moved quickly in the early stages of the real estate recovery are now enjoying. As per normal, developer Dolf Kahle and builder Vic Lombardi have tried repeatedly to build a model home to stimulate sales at their carefully crafted one-street, seaside subdivision. So far, they have not been able to even break ground on one. “Every time we draw up plans and get a permit, the house sells before we start it,” says Kahle. One year after building began, five of nine homes in the exclusive community have been sold and are either occupied or under construction. Just four lots remain. READ FULL STORY


Do sea turtles know something we don’t about hurricanes?
week of August 17, 2017

Do sea turtles know something we don’t about what may be coming in the height of the current hurricane season? Amateur paleontologists in Colombia in 2015 found fossils of one ancient ancestor of today’s sea turtles dating back 120 million years to a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. So the idea that these mysterious, awe-inspiring, primordial creatures have adapted their nesting behavior to avoid extinction is not a huge stretch of the imagination. When residents near Aquarina Beach and Country Club, half a dozen miles north of the Sebastian Inlet, began seeing huge sea turtles tearing up the dunes and uprooting carefully planted rows of sea oats behind oceanfront homes, they wondered what was going on. Old wives’ tales say the turtles somehow sense when a hurricane is on the way and lay their precious eggs way high up in the dunes to protect their progeny from being washed away. The truth, according to scientists, is almost as fascinating as the lore. READ FULL STORY


Small consulting firm leading hospital merger effort
week of August 17, 2017

The consultant hired to lead Indian River Medical Center’s efforts to partner with another nonprofit healthcare system faces a daunting task. It’s dealing with a hospital that’s part public and part private, meaning it serves two masters, deriving part of its funding from property taxes while also courting donors willing to make large gifts. What consulting group was judged to be up to the task? Apparently it’s the smallest of those who contended for the job, Chicago-based Juniper Advisory. The firm has just 10 employees and is currently juggling a half-dozen or so projects. Can it possibly work? If you believe Jamie Burgdorfer, Juniper’s founder and principal, the answer is yes. “Juniper specializes in advising nonprofit hospitals,” Burgdorfer said in an interview. “We’ve been doing mergers and acquisitions for 25 years, from Alaska to Florida.” The most recent of those projects was completed just over a month ago when University Health Care System acquired Georgia-based Trinity Hospital of Augusta. Like IRMC, Trinity sought a partner with cash to invest in capital improvements. University Health Care provided the capital, but it also rebranded its new acquisition, dropping Trinity from the name. READ FULL STORY


Electric sale moving forward; substation to be moved
week of August 17, 2017

Vero Beach officials expected to have an executed, written agreement with the Orlando Utilities Commission by last Friday stipulating that it would cost the city “only” $20 million to get out of their wholesale power deal, but as of Monday afternoon City Manager Jim O’Connor only had an agreement “in concept.” On Aug. 10, OUC Vice President Jan Aspuru wrote to O’Connor, “OUC has reached agreement in concept with the City of Vero Beach on the terms of a Termination and Settlement Agreement for the existing Power Purchase Agreement.” Up until last week, it looked like Vero and Orlando were headed into formal mediation over OUC’s demand that the city pay $50 million to exit the deal, which would leave OUC stuck with the power Vero would have purchased. It seems FPL applied a little grease to OUC’s squeaky wheel. “OUC has agreed in concept on an energy sale agreement with Florida Power & Light, which will partially mitigate OUC’s damages from the termination of the Power Purchase Agreement with Vero Beach,” Aspuru said. READ FULL STORY


South Florida fraud scheme comes to Vero
week of August 10, 2017

In the early morning hours one Saturday in June, detectives watched as Erick Alberto Gonzalez Rosario left a Vero Beach convenience and check-cashing store on U.S. 1 near Wabasso carrying a Corona box. It didn’t contain Mexican beer. When the detectives pulled over Rosario’s car a few minutes later, police discovered the Corona box was stuffed with $143,000 in cash – just-laundered money, they say, that was partial proceeds from a multimillion-dollar workers’ comp and insurance fraud scheme. Rosario, 33, was arrested and is now in the Indian River County jail with his bond set at $300,000. He is charged with multiple counts of fraud and money laundering. An associate, Maynor Hernandez, 29, was arrested later and faces similar charges, in addition to allegations of racketeering. Both men have pled “not guilty” and requested a jury trial. They face maximum penalties of 30 years if convicted. The men will be tried at the Indian River County Courthouse but no trial date has been set. READ FULL STORY


Changes needed in how School Board gets info on budget
week of August 10, 2017

Indian River County School Board member Laura Zorc thinks the school district budget process should be much more transparent, but she did not get much backing from her fellow members. “We’re voting blind” on the nearly $280 million budget, Zorc said. Some $120 million of the budget comes from local property taxes. Superintendent Mark Rendell conducted four workshops on the budget, but Zorc said they “were so rushed there was no time for suggestions.” She noted that department heads did not give reports on how and why money for their departments is to be spent. Zorc said she met weekly with Assistant Superintendent of Finances Carter Morrison to try to fill in gaps and learn what she could, but said the meetings were mainly an exercise in frustration. “If I wanted more detail, Mr. Morrison said (he would have to ) ask Dr. Rendell if I can ask him (Morrison) that question. Then I would have to wait three weeks to get the information. It’s very unproductive. By the time I get it, I haven’t had time to look at it [before meetings where the budget is discussed or voted on]. It should not be this difficult, especially if we’re elected officials.” READ FULL STORY


Hopes rising over outlook for Vero Electric sale
week of August 10, 2017

A series of meetings over the past two weeks, including one executive-level session in Orlando involving the Florida Municipal Power Agency, have improved the chances of closing a sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light. According to Vero Beach City Manager Jim O’Connor, the city may even wind up avoiding costly litigation over the disputed $50 million exit penalty demanded by Orlando Utilities Commission. “Based on recent conversations, I think a solution is achievable without court,” O’Connor said. He confirmed that a productive meeting took place on July 25 involving the city, FPL and FMPA, and added, “Bottom line we feel that positive progress is being made to close the deal by the fourth quarter of 2018.” FPL Regional Manager for External Affairs Amy Brunjes said last Friday that FPL expects a formal sale and purchase agreement to be executed next month. “We are optimistic about closing the full sale in late 2018 pending three key milestones and barring any issues that are unforeseen at this time,” Brunjes said. “First is the execution of the Purchase and Sale agreement. Our goal for this is early September. READ FULL STORY


Executive turnstile spins once again at IR Medical Center
week of August 10, 2017

For the fourth time in as many years, Indian River Medical Center is in the market for a chief operating officer. Camie Patterson’s resignation was officially announced last Thursday. She spent just 13 months in the position. After Cindy Vanek resigned in August 2013, her successor, Dan Janicak, was ousted a month after doubling his workload by adding COO duties to his role as Chief Financial Officer. Then Janicak’s successor, Steve Salyer, was pushed out in December 2015 after 19 months at IRMC. According to a statement on the hospital’s website, Patterson, 46, has accepted a similar position at Manatee Hospital in Bradenton. IRMC CEO Jeffrey Susi was on vacation when the resignation was made public and unavailable for comment. “I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of IRMC and the support I received here which allowed me to make a difference,” Patterson said in a prepared statement. The announcement also included a comment from Susi: “For all her work and dedication, we thank her and wish her and her family well.” READ FULL STORY


Sale of FIT Marine Lab property has potential to be big win-win
week of August 10, 2017

The County Commission has submitted a proposal to purchase the defunct Florida Institute of Technology Vero Marine Lab property to expand Tracking Station Beach Park, but the parcel and an adjacent sliver of valuable oceanfront land the county already owns might end up being part of a bigger deal. In addition to more parking, grills, pavilions, playground equipment and direct access for emergency vehicles, the county’s proposal includes the idea of public outreach and environmental education, “similar to the previous Florida Institute of Technology use for the Marine Laboratory property.” There were no details about who would operate or staff this facility, which would “display and exhibit educational materials and other resources related to sea turtles, oceanfront lighting, beach renourishment, coastal ecology, etc,” but Brown said the facility could also “provide a permanent central site for the countywide sea turtle program that monitors thousands of nesting sites daily during nesting season.” Conditioned upon two appraisals and some environmental assessments, the county offered $1.5 million for the 4-acre FIT parcel, appealing to any desire that Florida Tech might have for the land to return to public hands – hoping that aim might outweigh the goal of greater economic gain. READ FULL STORY


Emergency room doctor Dudley Teel seeks full inquiry into wife’s death
week of August 10, 2017

Former Riomar resident Dr. Dudley Teel has hired an attorney to investigate the death of his wife Susan Teel, 62, who was shot by Indian River County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Lozada July 26 at the couple’s home in the 600 block of Carriage Lake Way, Vero Beach. Teel and his attorney Guy Rubin held a press conference at the St. Lucie County Courthouse on Friday to announce the investigation. Rubin said there was never any indication Susan Teel, who was 5-feet-2 inches and 118 pounds, was a threat to anyone other than herself. Officials said at the time that Susan Teel, who was depressed and threatening suicide, lunged at Lozada with a butcher knife. “We’re not here today asking for criminal charges against the deputy,” Rubin said at the Aug. 4 news conference. “What we’re asking for is fairness, transparency and integrity.” He said he and his client don’t know yet if a civil lawsuit is coming. “We’re not going to put the cart before the horse,” Rubin said. “We’ll let the facts play out, see what the evidence is and make a determination.” READ FULL STORY


New student code of conduct vetoed as too complex
week of August 3, 2017

The School Board has bowed to pressure from a Gifford community group and rejected the latest version of the student code of conduct penned by school district staff as too long and complex. Parents and others in the district have long complained that the code is a booby trap of sorts. According to critics, even though the 78-page code is too complicated and unclear for students to understand, it is used to justify punishing them for infractions they may not have been aware of. LaDonna Williams, a lawyer with five children in local schools, said, “It took me four hours to get to page 31 and I’m in a Ph.D. program.” What punishments can be meted out for what offenses is equally unclear, according to board member Laura Zorc. She said she pored over the code after a serious incident at a local school to make sure proper procedure was followed, but “could not understand what consequence the principal should impose. READ FULL STORY


Schools give no raises to lowest-paid workers
week of August 3, 2017

The largest employer in the area, the county School District, froze the pay scale for its lowest-paid workers in 2010, and the budget for the coming fiscal year doesn’t do anything to stem these workers’ gradual descent into poverty. The wages of the 700 secretaries, teaching assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and janitors represented by the Communication Workers of America union have not kept up with increases in the cost of living since the end of the recession, and the workers no longer receive raises based on length of service or good job performance. The workers, whose average yearly wage is about $22,000, asked for a modest 2.8 percent raise for this coming year, but no raise was included in next year’s budget. Instead, the School Board plans to give them a one-time lump-sum payment of $222 this year and another $222 “salary enhancement” next year, according to Assistant Superintendent Bruce Green. Those payments will cost the School District $344,000 over two years – less than half what it would have cost to give the workers their requested raise. READ FULL STORY


Being late to party slowing construction of Shores cell tower
week of August 3, 2017

Speculation spread like wildfire through Indian River Shores last week that the much-anticipated cell tower project behind the town complex was dead. In response, clearly frustrated, Town Manager Robbie Stabe blasted the long-paralyzed Town Council and the pack of naysayers who slowed progress on the project for the pickle the Shores now finds itself in. For more than a decade, Shores residents have muddled through daily life with weak, spotty cell service, but the “not in my back yard” folks repeatedly blocked efforts to build a tower back when the market for smartphones was exploding and carriers were fighting hard for customers by touting better coverage, and faster Internet and data streaming. Every time town residents who feared the sight of a tower would destroy their quality of life hired a lawyer and the town received a letter threatening litigation, the council lost its nerve and the project was shelved. Faced with lost police and medical calls over computers in patrol cars, the Shores Public Safety Department invested in signal boosters for all its vehicles, just to be able to function. Many residents also purchased signal boosters to be able to use cellphones inside their homes. READ FULL STORY


Driftwood sued for negligence over fall from deck
week of August 3, 2017

Summit Hotel Management, which operates Vero’s historic Driftwood Resort, has yet to counter punch in a mounting legal battle with a former guest. Florida resident Michael Buttress sued the hotel for negligence last year, alleging he fell from the property’s oceanfront deck in May 2014 while attempting to rescue his toddler son who tumbled through a gap in the railing. Judge Paul Kanarek last Wednesday granted Buttress’ motion for a default judgment after Driftwood’s management company failed to respond to the December 2016 filing. Brevard County Sheriff’s Office served the Indialantic-based company with the civil action summons March 17, 2017, according to an affidavit filed with the court. Yet, the management firm made no legal response to the complaint or a July 5 hearing notice, leaving Buttress’ lawyer to advocate for his client in front of a judge last week alone and without dissent. The defendants now have a small window of time to obtain a relief from judgment and regain the opportunity to litigate the case. READ FULL STORY


Few places locally to be allowed to sell medical marijuana
week of August 3, 2017

Even though medical marijuana has a wide range of proven therapeutic benefits and its use was overwhelmingly approved by Florida voters last November, dispensaries will be banned in most of Indian River County. If officials proceed as planned, there will be no dispensaries in the unincorporated areas that make up the vast majority of the county. Likewise there will be none in Fellsmere. Dispensaries will also be banned within the Vero Beach city limits, except for one that was grandfathered in. The only place dispensaries will be allowed in accordance with state law is in the city of Sebastian. “We considered the issue very carefully,” Sebastian Vice Mayor Andrea Coy said. “The voters overwhelmingly voted for marijuana. Why would politicians try to deny the voters’ will?” Vero, Fellsmere and county officials say a lack of local control over dispensary locations is the main factor pushing them to ban the sale of medical marijuana in their jurisdictions. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff’s office faces multiple civil lawsuits
week of August 3, 2017

Indian River County’s top lawman has been sued and is headed to trial next week for an automobile accident involving one of his deputies that happened three years ago. Defending himself, his employees and his department in court is not that uncommon for Sheriff Deryl Loar, who is currently involved in three civil suits. More often than not, for a case to go forward, the sheriff himself has to be named. Brown v. Loar is set to go to trial Aug. 8 in the courtroom of Circuit 19 Judge Paul Kanarek. Olivia Brown, the plaintiff in the case, was sitting in the passenger seat of a black Nissan Altima when a deputy in an SUV-style Chevrolet Tahoe shifted into reverse and smashed into the car. Timothy Felice, of Felice & Ehrlich in Palm Beach Gardens, said Brown and an acquaintance went to the location to attend a child’s birthday party and parked in a line of cars on the side of a residential street. At the time of the accident, the deputy told the responding officers that he didn’t see the Nissan. He had been searching for a fugitive at a nearby residence when Brown and her acquaintance pulled up behind his vehicle. READ FULL STORY


Buggy Bunch renovating old building in Vero’s downtown
week of August 3, 2017

The Buggy Bunch, which promotes itself as “the fastest growing mom’s group in the State of Florida,” has taken over the old Vero Furniture Mart at the corner of 21st Street and 15th Avenue with plans to renovate the building, transforming it into a community center with designated stroller parking. The popular mother’s club bought the Art Deco-inspired building, which was erected downtown during the post-WWII building boom, for $530,000. Interior demolition of the 9,000-square-foot space is set to begin this week with construction of new office and activity space following soon after. The club, which was founded in 2009, offers a wide range of classes, activities, trips and support services for island and mainland mothers, said Executive Director Kelly Sartain. There are picnics, camping trips, cooking classes, exercise groups, play groups, financial literacy events, Bible studies and guest speakers. There are mom mentors, free diapers and teenage mother support groups. “It’s moms from all walks of life, from the island, from the mainland, from Fellsmere, Gifford, the Highlands and Sebastian,” Sartain said. “[There are] old moms, young moms, grandmas, 13-year-olds with babies.” The one thing everyone has is common is motherhood. READ FULL STORY


Shores residents to get $2 million in tax rebates
week of August 3, 2017

The Indian River Shores Town Council last week took first steps to return $2 million of the $4.4 million proceeds from a recent land sale to residents via a temporary property tax reduction. In the first round of budget talks, the staff had recommended approving a tax rate for the next fiscal year of $1.56 per $1,000 of taxable value. That would have been a slight decrease from the existing rate but would have produced approximately the same amount of tax dollars because of increased property values in the Town. If the proposed “tax rebate” is approved, the Shores rate for 2017-18 would be 86 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, about half the current year’s rate of $1.71 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The savings to the owner of a non-homesteaded residence with an assessed value of $1 million would be about $850 on the Shores municipal tax portion of the bill. Nothing would change on the county, school board or special taxing district portions of the tax bill. READ FULL STORY


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