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Heady: Man of principle or professional contrarian?

(Week of November 25, 2010)

Anyone watching last week’s Vero Beach City Council meeting witnessed Councilman Brian Heady quickly edging his way back into the “odd man out” position, despite the complete turnover of the council in November and the seeming mandate for change, openness and getting Vero out of the utility business.

When given the chance to cast an up or down vote on whether or not to sell the electric utility to Florida Power & Light should it be financially beneficial to the city, Heady suddenly became the voice of caution at the dais, urging the new folks not to be rash.

When faced with a challenge by archrival Councilman Craig Fletcher to only meet with FP&L in public to avoid the appearance of backroom dealing and communicate to the residents what’s going on with the potential sale, Heady led the charge for private, one-on-one meetings with each council member behind closed doors (This is the same Councilman Heady who refused to meet privately with former City Manager Jim Gabbard).

Those present in the gallery speculated that usually sharp Heady was possibly having a rare senior moment, or that, in his defense, maybe he didn’t hear the motion that was up for a vote. Or maybe he didn’t completely understand the implications of his vote and how it might be viewed as contradicting his earlier positions.

Heady himself called to complain when our sister online daily,, reported:  “For months, Vero Beach Councilman Brian Heady tried to get the previous City Council to even talk about selling its electric utility to FP&L, but when forced to vote on the issue Tuesday night, he backtracked and cast a no.”

On the phone, he was adamant.

“I did not backtrack,” he said. “I have not changed my position.”

Heady wanted the story changed. It was suggested that Heady provide his own interpretation of the vote. No comment ever materialized.

Heady also insisted that the motion cited in our article was not the actual motion voted on. The motion was amended, prior to the vote, to include the caveat that the sale be beneficial to the city. Heady said he thought he’d made the following comment prior to the amendment, but it was actually just after the amended motion was read.

“That’s not going to get a yes vote from me. I know we need to do something with the utility, we need to know what we’re doing first,” Heady said.

“I haven’t made up my mind that I want to see a sale,” Heady added, insisting that he needs “a whole lot more information.”

To his credit, Heady did mount a crusade for debates on the sale of the electric utility, but that was when he served on a Council that was stonewalling even the idea of the city divesting itself of the big blue power plant and all the accoutrements necessary to generate and transmit electricity to Vero’s 34,000 customers.

The former City Council wouldn’t hear of having debates over the summer prior to the election, but subsequently, the Council did allow utility activists Dr. Stephen Faherty and accountant Glenn Heran to present their interactive financial model in full and to take questions. The issue was also fully vetted during the City Council campaign.

The voters overwhelmingly ousted the status-quo crowd and elevated proponents of a sale to the City Council. The public seemed to have spoken, but Heady still wants to debate.

“I think this is something we ought to workshop,” Heady said, actually adopting the bureaucratic nomenclature used to sidetrack many a bold action.

Heran, a Heady supporter, sided with Councilman Fletcher on the need for an up or down vote for the sale of the electric utility.

“In this particular case, I completely agree with Mr. Fletcher. The city needs to set a policy that they’re going to sell. At this point, we need an offer and to direct the staff to cooperate in that effort,” Heran said. “Once we have an offer, we can completely vet the benefits.”

But Heran qualified his remarks later that week, saying that he understands where Heady is coming from.

“Brian always just wanted to have all the information out there,” Heran said the day after the vote.

If that is true, it makes Heady’s subsequent position – seeking to meet with FP&L privately instead of demanding a meeting in the sunshine -- even more troubling.

The last time council members met with FP&L separately, a firestorm erupted about what FP&L did or did not tell Heady in private that they supposedly didn’t tell the other council members.

Former Councilman Ken Daige touched off a flurry of letters back and forth with FP&L to clarify whether Heady had been told that FP&L assured Heady Vero customers would get FP&L retail rates, or that there would not be a so-called “buy-back surcharge” tacked onto Vero bills from FP&L to defray the costs of buying the system.

Daige was also concerned because Heady had said FP&L was waiting for the “new City Council” to be seated to resume negotiations.

Daige referred to statements Heady had made in the media, and reportedly had City Clerk Tammy Vock copy and send tapes of Heady’s “Fired Up!” television show to FP&L so they could debunk the councilman’s statements. Heady got upset that the city was possibly infringing upon his and TV 10’s copyright by duplicating the recordings of his show.

All of this foolishness could have been avoided if the meetings with FP&L had been held in public. The contents of the meetings eventually leaked out. In fact, Heady called members of the press within hours, offering his version of what happened.

So what is Heady up to?

Is Heady still sore about not being chosen mayor by his new colleagues?

Does he just have to challenge majority rule -- no matter whether the majority is friend or foe?              Is he planning his next attack since his federal First Amendment lawsuit has been dismissed?

Is he railing against the few attempts to curtail his rambling and repetitive tirades during meetings, and against comments such as the one made by Councilwoman Tracy Carroll at the organizational meeting?

Carroll said, “I feel that civility and competency should be the by-words of this Council.”

If so, the battle is only beginning, and it might not be so civil.

On Nov. 16, Carroll proposed a new policy requiring backup information to place anything on the City Council agenda. The policy is set to be fleshed out and voted on at the first meeting in December.

On the Nov. 16 agenda, Heady has requested 12 items be discussed in “New Business,” including the Orlando Utilities Commission contract, pension plans, advisory committees, the old Dodgertown golf course, Florida Power and Light progress, financial analysis and the 2011-2012 budget.  No backup documents are included.

The other four council members placed a total of 10 items on the agenda and provided at least a backup memo for each item.     

Despite being told several times that agenda items require some form of backup, Heady still refuses to provide any. This omission was used by former Mayor Kevin Sawnick to remove his items again and again.

Political insiders will continue to watch fledgling Mayor Jay Kramer and his colleagues to see whether or not they allow Heady’s items to be heard and, if so, how much time is allowed Heady for discussion of each item.

Kramer is still learning the logistical ropes of running a meeting and perhaps wants to gain more confidence in the rules and procedures before asserting the gavel with Heady.

On the stump, when asked how he would “handle” Brian Heady, Kramer said his strategy would be to just let him talk himself out -- not necessarily to engage him in an argument, but to let him have his say.

That may be easier said than done if meetings drone on month after month with little progress being made.

Last week’s meeting, which began at 6 p.m., lasted four hours and 47 minutes. Other council members graciously offered to forego discussion of their matters and items until December just to get through the agenda.

Mayor Kramer displays a laid-back, polite Midwestern manner on the dais and, so far, has afforded Heady a fairly long leash. How long Kramer’s patience will hold out remains to be seen.

As far as Heady’s future in politics, he’s done a great job of alienating a big portion of the electorate already. If he takes a swipe at the rest of the voters over the next year, he could very easily see himself returned to the role of professional gadfly in the 2011 election.