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Mayor Turner: New era of city-county cooperation?

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of November 17, 2011)
Photo of New Mayor Pilar Turner and council member Tracy Carroll.

Vero Beach City Council members weren’t the only ones happy with their choice of Pilar Turner to be the city’s new mayor. County political leaders seemed equally hopeful and satisfied.

“I’m optimistic that there will be better cooperation between Vero and the County,” said County Commission Chairman Bob Solari. “Not that there will always be agreement, but I think there will be better discussion, based on facts and not on political rhetoric.”

Solari, who served two years on the Vero Beach City Council prior to running for County Commission, encouraged Turner to run for office in 2010 and worked to get her elected.

“I think that since Jim O’Connor took the position of city manager, he has brought stability and helped to improved City-County relations,” Solari said. “I think Mayor Turner will further improve relations.”

Even though mayor is largely a ceremonial title in Vero, the council member who sits in the middle seat sets the tone in many ways. Not only does the mayor control the pace of public meetings and how long speakers are permitted to wax on at the podium, but the mayor acts as an emissary to the other local governments – most importantly to the Indian River Board of County Commissioners.

In his year in office, Mayor Jay Kramer often had to navigate a minefield where top city staffers and county staffers worked at cross-purposes, and elevated the feud to include elected officials as well.

Almost weekly, Kramer took shots at the county and at county officials on the radio, in the print media and at meetings of local civic and political organizations. He said the county’s financials were inaccurate, that the county water-sewer utility was losing money and that the county was trying to “steal” the Vero water-sewer utility out from under the city taxpayers’ noses.

Solari, County Attorney Alan Polackwich, County Administrator Joe Baird, Budget Director Jason Brown and Utility Director Erik Olson got sucked into the fray, jumping up to defend the county and often, in the next breath, trashing Vero in return.

The ramped-up rhetoric widened the chasm between the city and county governments to the point where joining forces on much of anything seemed a lost cause.

Mayor Turner served with distinction on the Indian River County Planning and Zoning Board and helped lead the Indian River County Taxpayers’ Association prior to running for Vero Beach City Council. She enjoys not only civil, but warm relations with the County Commission.

They respect her as a professional – both an MBA and an engineer – and as a tough negotiator who doesn’t take no for an answer.

Kramer knew his days in the mayor’s chair were numbered as he began gathering cardboard boxes and packing his things last week. On Monday, he said he would be out of the office by the end of the day and he praised the incoming mayor and wished her luck.

“I think Pilar is a very intelligent woman, that it was a good choice and I look forward to serving under her leadership,” Kramer said.

With regard to his year with the gavel, Kramer said he thinks he did the best with the hand he was dealt and the ever-changing nature of the issues, the staff and the realities at City Hall.

“We kind of had to change the tires on a moving car and we really did a good job at that,” he said.

“All’s well that ends. It’s going to be a tough year.”

Council Member Craig Fletcher subsequently defeated Kramer for the post of vice mayor.