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Former Vero City Manager John Little dies at 86

(Week of February 3, 2011)

John Little, a man who was a force to be reckoned with in Vero Beach politics for decades and continued to call officials to task just months ago, died Monday at the age of 86. Little had been in and out of the hospital recently, but even from his hospital bed was known to “hold court” and talk politics with visitors.

As Vero’s longest-serving city manager from 1973 to 1991, Little is known as the architect of modern-day Vero Beach. He came to Vero with a strong utility background, having worked for Florida Power & Light and other utility companies.

It was under Little’s leadership that the Vero Beach government expanded to provide a robust variety of services to its residents.

Not everyone agreed with this massive expansion of the city’s government and Little often found himself embroiled in controversy. The City of Vero Beach’s high spending on basic services that is today a part of the its engrained culture, mushroomed under Little’s reign.

The question came up in the 1976 city council election and former City Manager John Little was quoted in December 1976 as saying, “If you want Cadillac services, you pay Cadillac prices. If you want Ford services, you pay Ford prices,” Little said.  

Little prided himself on developing the city staff under him. He earned their respect and stayed close with many long-time city employees long past his tenure as city manager.

After leaving the City, Little served as an administrator to the City of Fellsmere. While there, Little modernized Fellsmere’s systems.

A dynamic public speaker, Little continued to be involved in the public arena long after retirement. In 2008, he was described as giving ‘an incredible history’ of the area before the Vero Beach Utility Advisory Commission. Little was a vocal proponent of selling the Vero Beach Electric Utility to FP&L.

 In fact, he and former Mayor David Gregg tried to sell the utility to FP&L in 1976.  At the time, they negotiated a sale for $42.6 million. But employees of the city banded together to stop the sale, running ads espousing the benefits of the city controling its own utilities.

Despite the fact that voters approved the sale by a 2 to 1 margin, certain elements in the community kept fighting the decision, until regulators killed it.

In 2010, Little and Gregg came out of retirement to deliver empassioned speeches to the Vero Beach City Council and to offer their services to the city to negotiate a sale with FP&L once again.

“All you need to do is use a little common sense and not waste your time talking to people other than FP&L, they just can’t compete, “Little told the council last Feb. 16. “That’s common sense, gentlemen, not rocket  science.”

The City Council, which at the time was not convinced a sale was the way to go, politely declined the offer.

Little is survived by his wife, Barbara.