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Hospital exec who departed paid $782K
week of September 22, 2016

Newly released records show that a former Indian River Medical Center executive, who departed in 2013 ostensibly as a cost-saving move, was subsequently paid more than three-quarters of a million dollars after she left. Former Chief Operating Officer Cindy Vanek, a longtime registered nurse at the hospital who served five years as COO, resigned her position at Indian River Medical Center in August 2013, according to a memo put out by CEO Jeff Susi at the time, who called her departure “a mutual decision“ to save money. Now, newly released tax records show that Vanek actually remained on the hospital payroll until Oct. 1, 2015 – more than two years after she stopped working there – grossing close to $800,000 in compensation after her departure, at a time when the hospital was struggling with dramatic cuts in staff. A year ago, Susi said the $568,000 Vanek collected the first year after she left was “no more or no less than she deserved.” He also called her “an invaluable member of IRMC’s executive team” – even though he played a significant role in the decision to let her go. READ FULL STORY

Building that served Vero for seven decades demolished
week of September 22, 2016

A building that played a key role in 20th century Vero Beach will be nothing but a memory by the end of the month. Thousands of locals – from teachers and school officials to doctors, nurses, county workers and people seeking to renew their driver’s licenses – passed through the doors of the worn-out structure at the corner of 26th Street and 20th Avenue. Built in 1950 as the third version of the county hospital, the concrete block building later served as the county government center and school district headquarters. “Our county commission offices were in the operating room, and the school offices were in the old maternity wing,” said Indian River County historian Ruth Stanbridge, who was a county commissioner from 1998-2002. “The building served the county’s needs.” On a site visit earlier this month, County Administrator Jason Brown watched as two massive backhoes smashed into rubble the building where he was born and later worked as county finance director. READ FULL STORY

School District manager overspent on private janitors, then tried to cover up
week of September 22, 2016

School District Director of Physical Plant John Earman is in hot water for spending money that he had not been authorized to spend. At a recent School Board meeting it was revealed that he exceeded his $50,000 purchasing authority and tried to cover the expenditure with a second purchase order. The district’s new procurement officer Jeff Carver refused to issue the rogue P.O., reporting the infraction to the board. Chief Financial Officer Carter Morrison played down the mistake, saying it was a “rare instance when the rules were not followed.” He said district department heads and the vendors Earman hired both were responsible for making sure there was a purchase order with sufficient funds, and “we’ve put the vendors on notice.” But school board members Shawn Frost and Charles Searcy said it’s not the vendors’ job to track how the school spends its money, “It’s their job to sell stuff,” Searcy said. “It is unacceptable to have processes out of control,” Frost said. “There is no reason to punish business owners and their employees for work done.” READ FULL STORY

Local battle over tax sharing with charters may shape state law
week of September 22, 2016

An Indian River County court case before Judge Paul Kanarek of the 19th Judicial Circuit is the first case of its kind in Florida, and the outcome may determine how school districts throughout the state share property tax dollars with charter schools. The five charter schools in the county school district brought the case more than a year ago, and it has been working its way up through judicial venues, first going to mediation, then to the Division of Administrative Hearings and now to circuit court. Kanarek first heard the charters’ request for immediate action, in which they sought a temporary injunction that would have forced the school district to at once start sharing property tax revenue on an equal, per-student basis, claiming that a delay in the additional funding would cause irreparable harm. The school board’s attorney, Vivian Cocotas, argued the charters had not proved irreparable harm, which by legal definition, cannot be fixed by money. Yet the charters are asking for money, she said, as a solution to their teacher-retention and other problems. READ FULL STORY

Island brokerage remodeling office, on track for $700-million year
week of September 22, 2016

In August, Matilde Sorensen, co-owner/broker of Dale Sorensen Real Estate, got the idea to have a little painting done to spruce up the company’s office at 5065 North A1A. Before she knew it, a full cosmetic remodel was underway, with new flooring, furniture, windows, doors, bathrooms and landscaping going in at the building where company co-founder Dale Sorensen Sr. and 20 agents have their offices. “One thing led to another,” she says with a slightly rueful smile. “They blame it on me,” says Sally Woods, one of the company’s top producers, who has had her headquarters at the A1A office for years. “When Matilde said they were going to paint, I said they might as well replace the window, too, and then . . . you can see what happened.” Sorensen hired Indian River Project management to remodel the 3,000-square-foot building, which they own and have occupied since 2004. “The building has great bones,” says Indian River Project Management owner Steve Kovaleski. “We didn’t have to do anything from an engineering standpoint. It is a purely cosmetic upgrade but will definitely make a big difference and be much nicer when we are done.” READ FULL STORY

Electric utility again top issue in Vero election
week of September 15, 2016

Vero Mayor Jay Kramer and Councilwoman Pilar Turner, who are not running for re-election, may have grown weary of leading their oft-opposing factions in the utility wars these past six years, but those who win their seats in November will inherit the burden of resolving the longstanding dispute over whether or not to sell the city’s electric utility. Past Vero elections have divided the field into “pro-sale” and “anti-sale” contingents, and since the matter is still unsettled, those hopeful of gaining or retaining office this year also will be judged by their stance on the electric issue. This time around, the litmus test appears to be whether or not candidates would approve a resuscitated $30 million offer from Florida Power & Light to purchase Vero Electric’s 3,000 customers in Indian River Shores. Positions can be fluid as candidates debate and get their marching orders from voters while canvassing neighborhoods and campaigning around town, but it seems three people vying for three seats are staunchly in favor of letting the Shores customers go, while three others lean toward defending the status quo and keeping Vero electric whole.

Summer doldrums? John’s Island reports record sales
week of September 15, 2016

The myth of a summer slowdown in the Vero Beach housing market was put to rest last week when John’s Island Real Estate reported it had closed more than $32 million in sales in July, an all-time sales record for the month. A steady influx of British buyers, friends and family of existing club members, and “a tremendous increase” in buyers from California are driving sales, according to Bob Gibb, owner/broker of John’s Island Real Estate Company. July sales included 10 single-family houses and 1 condominium that ranged in price from $850,000 to more than $6 million. The $32 million in closed deals far surpassed the previous July sales record of $20 million set in 2008. “In spite of everything going on in the world, economically and politically, and political uncertainty here, we have a market that has continued to surprise me,” Gibb said. “I think it is a case of clients seeing that John’s Island Club is proactive in making sure programs and facilities here are second to none. With that approach, I think buyers sense, consciously or subconsciously, that JI is one of a kind and offers the broadest range of amenities and best lifestyle.” READ FULL STORY

Shores picks up influential backing in electric battle
week of September 15, 2016

In the absence of any real help from legislators representing Indian River County, Florida Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater wrote a forceful letter Monday morning supporting the Town of Indian River Shores on the eve of its big day before the Florida Public Service Commission. Latvala, an influential senior senator who holds key positions on several major committees, including general government oversight, regulated industries and appropriations, weighed in on behalf of the Shores’ petition to open up Vero’s electric service territory. While the Public Service Commission once again this week rebuffed the Shores’ request for freedom from Vero electric, the fact that more heavy-hitter state lawmakers from outside the Vero Beach area are now weighing in on this matter suggests that the battle against Vero electric is gaining traction. Along with Latvala’s letter, which was added to the docket records on Monday, dozens of Indian River Shores residents lodged their concerns in writing over the past two weeks, as urged to by town officials. READ FULL STORY

Marine Bank acquires a Sebastian branch
week of September 15, 2016

Marine Bank & Trust, the only locally-owned bank on the island, is continuing its expansion into Sebastian with the acquisition of the Valley National Bank branch at 1020 U.S. 1. It will re-brand the branch into a Marine Bank location after the close of business on Oct. 21. Marine will assume a majority of customer deposits in the transaction, though some will be transferred to Valley branches in Vero and Barefoot Bay. Valley National Bank customers will receive details on any changes to their accounts before the transition is complete. The three Valley Bank employees at the branch will become Marine Bank employees. Marine Bank, which is based in Vero Beach and has $206 million in assets, made the deal in order to beef up its services for customers in north Indian River County, said Bill Penney, Marine Bank CEO and president. The bank has 200 customers with Sebastian mailing addresses for whom the new branch will come in handy. READ FULL STORY

$286 million school district budget ‘not based on reality’
week of September 15, 2016

While the Indian River School District’s $286 million budget for the coming year was approved by a four-to-one vote last Thursday, the School Board member who voted against it said it was “not based on reality.” School Board member Shawn Frost cited three major problems having to do with the deficit in the district’s healthcare costs, unknown legal fees, and the lack of budget transparency. First, Frost said he “foretold the hole in the healthcare fund, but no one listened.” The school district is “self-insured” and its insurance plan is $7 million in the hole. The budget shows a $2.33 million transfer out of the district general fund into the healthcare fund to begin paying down the deficit. That figure is based on the hope that the School District will be allowed make up the deficit over a three-year period, but a three-year plan has yet to be accepted by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, which could order immediate repayment. This brings an element of uncertainty or unreality to the budget, in Frost’s estimation. READ FULL STORY

Mixed reviews for School District’s FOCUS student tracking system
week of September 15, 2016

A half-million-dollar student information tracking system called FOCUS put in place a year ago by the Indian River School District so far has gotten mixed reviews. With the new system, information showing student progression and teacher adherence to the Florida Standards is available in real time to administrators, teachers and families. Nightly, parents can see if a teacher assigned homework, and if their child did yesterday’s assignments. If your child skipped school, expect a robo-call from FOCUS. The parent portal shows good activity, with as many as 6,400 parents logging into it monthly. Some parents checked their child’s classes 50 times a month, said Technology and Assessment Assistant Superintendent Bruce Green, who recently updated the school board on how the district is adapting to the new system. When FOCUS launched, hardware-heavy servers only a few people could access loaded with 20 years of data were replaced with a web-based system that stores information in the cloud. Green said the savings on hardware alone is about $25,000 a year, and the increased efficiency of information transfer is incalculable. READ FULL STORY

Hospital District race to watch on November ballot
week of September 8, 2016

Voters in November will decide whether the county Hospital District board acts as a careful steward of taxpayer money, or serves as a rubber stamp for Indian River Medical Center management, when they chose among a crowded field of candidates vying to serve as board members. Three incumbents and eight newbies are running for five seats on the Hospital District board in an election that attracted very few candidates and voters before 32963 began covering the District and its sometimes rocky relationship with its hospital in 2013. Since that time, however, the Hospital District election has attracted more and more candidates and voters, making the number of people likely to be involved in the November District election unprecedented. The main difference of opinion between candidates for the Hospital District, which consists of seven trustees who reimburse county healthcare providers for indigent care expenses with taxpayer dollars, is whether or not Indian River Medical Center – where most of the money goes – is transparent enough and managed well enough. READ FULL STORY

Pilot project would pump sea water into Bethel Creek
week of Sep8, 2016

If County Commissioner Tim Zorc gets his way, fresh Atlantic Ocean water may soon flow through large pipes under Jaycee Park into Bethel Creek, refreshing a particularly stagnant part of the Indian River lagoon in a way that will benefit marine life and the local ecology. Zorc presented details of the pilot project he has in mind at a public meeting he organized at Bethel Creek house shortly before last week’s election. In that balloting, Zorc won another four-year term on the County Commission. The goal of the 89-day pilot project he is proposing would be to determine whether flushing Bethel Creek with sea water, before it drains into the endangered Indian River Lagoon, might improve water quality enough to justify a full-scale, long-term project. Zorc said Bethel Creek is in “a slow decline because of the stormwater runoff and drainage from parking lots and buildings along a mile-plus stretch of highway A1A.” The creek also receives groundwater contaminated by leaking septic systems in surrounding neighborhoods, although many of those are being replaced with a new sewer system being installed by the city. READ FULL STORY

Dr. Gary M. Weiss, neurologist who practices in Sebastian, under a cloud
week of September 8, 2016

A locally practicing neurologist said his decision to surrender his medical license in Colorado two years ago was not connected to malpractice lawsuits accusing him of mistakenly diagnosing and treating nearly two dozen patients for multiple sclerosis, even though they did not have the incurable disease. Dr. Dr. Gary M. Weiss, who has offices in Sebastian, Palm Bay, Melbourne and Merritt Island, has said the lawsuits contained "many false allegations" and that he "chose not to renew" his Colorado medical license for health reasons. Weiss, 62, said he had been diagnosed with a medical condition that doesn't allow him to live at high altitude and limits the type of airplanes on which he can fly. He did not divulge the name of the condition. That diagnosis, however, along with what Weiss called a "difficult decision" to move back to Florida, where he previously had legal problems, came at about the time he was confronted with a Colorado Medical Board complaint accusing him of providing substandard care that led to a patient’s death. READ FULL STORY

Amendment 4 adds impetus to local push for solar
week of September 8, 2016

The overwhelming passage of Amendment 4 by Florida voters last Tuesday may add new impetus to a push for more solar energy underway in the City of Vero Beach. Nearly 2 million people statewide voted in favor of the measure, which eliminates personal property tax on solar equipment, passing it by a 72-percent to 28-percent margin. The 20,991 pro-solar votes in Indian River County were more than the combined total of votes cast here for Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy in their respective Senate primary victories. Vero Beach officials want to capitalize on solar energy opportunities in Vero’s sunny environment, but aren’t sure how to go about it. For that reason, they recently tasked Utilities Commission Vice Chair Bob Auwaerter to help develop a survey to find out how local electric ratepayers feel about solar as a part of their energy future. Judging by the landslide vote for Amendment 4, it is likely the survey will find strong support for more solar power in Vero’s energy mix. READ FULL STORY

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