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Questions about Vero's OUC contract not going away

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of April 18, 2013)

Two former Vero Beach City Council members view an investigation of the city’s 2008 power contract with the Orlando Utilities Commission as unfinished business and, despite the current council’s recent move not to investigate the deal, Charlie Wilson and Brian Heady won’t let the issue die.

There are just too many unanswered questions, Wilson and Heady say. Getting to the bottom of the matter, Wilson has often said, “is like questioning your teenager about something they did. The story keeps changing.”

In March, Mayor Craig Fletcher asked City Attorney Wayne Coment to draft a letter asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to assist the city in investigating matters relating to the OUC contract. Then, in an about face two weeks ago, Fletcher called off the dogs.

Fletcher said he’d reviewed documents given to him by staff, concluded that the series of bad decisions made by city officials did not constitute anything criminal.

Fletcher explained his hesitancy was at least in part due to the fact that “OUC is our partner” in the sale to Florida Power and Light.

Reportedly, representatives from both OUC and FPL have suggested to Vero Beach officials that it would be an inopportune time to conduct such an investigation, considering the pending sale.

Questions with regard to the OUC contract have long been threefold. First, critics have wondered how 115 changes got in the contract between when it was voted on by the council and when it was signed by then-Mayor Tom White.

Second, the rate-paying public has wanted to know how and why $20 million and $50 million exit penalties got into the document.

A third layer of mystery surrounds the blacked-out segments of the contract – two of which contained the $20 million and $50 million penalties – hidden from the public for nearly two years.

Recent statements by former Vero City Attorney Charles Vitunac point out what seems to be an evolving story about the penalty clauses. 

On March 23, Vitunac was quoted in the Scripps daily newspaper as insisting the $20 million the city will have to pay OUC to get out of the contract is not a “penalty,” but instead a limit of liability.

“It just shows the ignorance of people who call it a penalty that they don’t know contract law and that includes those three council people,” Vitunac was quoted as saying.

Presumably, the three council people Vitunac referred to are Fletcher, Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll and Councilwoman Pilar Turner.

The three were all on the council in January 2011 when Vitunac himself called the $20 million and $50 million clauses a penalty.

Heady had been badgering Vitunac for more than a year to provide answers about how 115 changes got into the contract, how and why the contract was redacted, why it was kept secret and where the $20 million and $50 million penalties came from and who knew about them.

Vitunac generally stonewalled Heady’s requests until it was clear that his own job was on the line in late January 2011.

On Jan. 24, 2011, Vitunac drafted a five-page legal opinion in response to Heady’s questions.

On the very first page, Vitunac uses the word penalty in discussion of the contract.

“The working draft contained all the pricing data, including the twenty and fifty million dollar penalty provisions,” Vitunac wrote.

This contradiction, plus other stories from four former city council members that appear to have changed along the way, as reported in Vero Beach 32963, are the reason why Wilson and Heady were scheduled to make separate presentations to the council Tuesday about the OUC contract.