‘Final’ power contract was not so final
The Vero Man site is not the only mysterious and important archaeological dig in Vero Beach.
For some weeks, the city has been peeling away the layers of the mystery of the Orlando Utilities Commission contract, but has been unable to locate the original document the City Council members reviewed on April 7, 2008, their one chance to see an unexpurgated copy before approving it on April 15 of the same year.
Why are they looking for it? At the request of former City Council member Debra Fromang, who asked to see the document so she could prove once and for all to Council member Brian Heady -- and to herself -- that she had read the contract during a private meeting with consultant Sue Hersey, City Manager Jim Gabbard, City Attorney Charlie Vitunac and former Electric Utilities Director R.B. Sloan.
Fromang enlisted Heady’s help in tracking down the document.
Since her request, Vero Beach 32963 has learned that the contract, after being shown to the Council members on April 7, 2008, was removed from City Hall by Hersey who used it as a “working document” that she used in marking up and crafting the final agreement, according to Vitunac.
So in fact, the only copy of the actual document that the Council members had in the room with them for one hour each during a private meeting with Hersey and top city brass was removed from City Hall that very day and never returned -- even after the confidentiality period expired in Sept. 2009 -- to be held as record of a $2 billion decision.
When asked if the document was ever checked in with the City Clerk -- which would have made it part of public record -- Vitunac said no.
On Tuesday, Hersey was to fly in from Boston on the city’s dime to deliver the document in person and answer questions from the Council along with Sloan, who now works in Virginia but still consults with the city on an as-needed basis.
That such a document was not preserved for the public -- to fulfill any applicable legal or accounting record retention requirements -- is just another bizarre twist in the already questionable saga of how Vero Beach entered into a 20-year, $2 billion electric agreement with virtually no public input or oversight.
A mad scramble to find the document
After Fromang and Heady went searching for the document last Wednesday, the electric utility staff gave Fromang a copy of the signed contract, dated April 21, 2008 and told her that was the one she reviewed on April 7, 2008.
We now know that more than 100 changes were made to the contract in between April 7 and April 21. This is documented by more than 400 pages of email correspondence between top city staffers and Boston consultant Hersey. Neither Heady nor Fromang accepted that document as the original.
“They kept showing Debra the signed copy and telling her that was the same one that was in the room that day, but Debra insisted that there was a copy of the contract in R.B.’s (Sloan’s) desk,” Heady said.
The trio then went into the office of the former utility director and went through his desk drawers, but the only contract they were able to unearth was the April 21 version signed by then- Mayor Tom White.
Heady said Vitunac then told them that the document they were seeking could not be found because it never existed. But other council members – including Ken Daige – confirm there was a document there that day.
Heady said Vitunac showed them an emailed document on a computer screen which represented the version of the contract that the Council saw and, reportedly, Fromang was satisfied with what she saw. Heady was not.
“I told the City attorney that I was coming back on Thursday, that I had an 11 o’clock appointment with him and that he’d better be able to produce that document,” Heady said.
Heady asked Vero Beach 32963 to accompany him to that meeting.
On the table of the City Attorney’s large conference room were stacks of white papers, one of them a facsimile of the actual version of the contract that was in the room with the Council on April 7, 2008.
“Where is the original document? I want to see the actual document that was here at City Hall that day,” Heady pressed Vitunac. “I have a major problem with the fact that the original document was not preserved and is not here, somewhere, at City Hall.”
Vitunac explained that the document only briefly visited Vero Beach.
“Sue Hersey has the actual document,” Vitunac said. “After the meetings with the Council, they worked into the night creating the redacted version of the contract which was given to the Utility Advisory committee and then she took the original copy of the contract with her as her working document.”
He then said Hersey would bring the original to Tuesday’s meeting.
While still in the City Attorney’s office, Heady and Vero Beach 32963 reviewed the facsimile of the contract and determined that it did not contain any of the 100-plus changes. Therefore, the changes were definitely made after the council’s only opportunity to view the contract.
“I’m not very smart, and I’m not an attorney, but it seems pretty simple to me,” Heady said. “This contract is not valid. The Mayor is not authorized to sign a contract unless it is first approved by the City Council.”
On Friday, Heady contacted Tracy Stabler, a CPA with Harris Cotherman & Associates, the city’s auditors, and requested that they pay special attention to the OUC contract when sifting through city records.
“The auditors told me that her only oversight would be whether or not they were in compliance,” Heady said. “It’s pretty obvious that they were not in compliance and that they didn’t maintain the records at City Hall.”