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Lively debate for 2 Vero Council seats sponsored by Vero Beach 32963

Story by Pieter VanBennekom (October 4, 2013)

Five of the six candidates for two Vero Beach City Council seats in the November election engaged in a lively debate in front of a packed house in the ballroom of the Costa d’Este Hotel and a city-wide TV audience via Channel 10 Thursday night.

It was the first City Council debate with five candidates present. The sixth, Joseph Guffanti, was out of town. The debate was sponsored by Vero Beach 32963 and and moderated by the news organizations’ publisher, Milton R. Benjamin.

Apart from the opening and closing statements by the five candidates that are standard fare for political debates, the most interesting part of the event came when the candidates asked each other questions.

Three of them used the occasion to go after Vice-Mayor Tracy Carroll, who is one of two council members running for re-election, over her decision to use a beachside property she and her husband, John, own for short-term rentals and their decision to fight a city citation over the issue.

Newcomer Amelia Graves got the loudest applause when she called Carroll “irresponsible” for “disturbing the tranquility of our neighborhoods” with her short-term rentals.

Carroll defended herself saying she is the only solid “yes” vote that can be counted on when the revised contract for the sale of Vero electric comes before a new council, something that must happen to bring down electric rates for residents and businesses alike.

The debate also featured incumbent Dick Winger, who on the same day received the endorsement of the police union; former Councilman Brian Heady, who proudly accepted Benjamin’s description of him as a “grenade thrower,” and former Mayor Warren Winchester.

A major topic during the debate was the pending Vero electric sale to Florida Power & Light and no candidate came out openly against it, although Winchester said he had problems with the process and some parts of the present deal.

That three candidates ganged up on Carroll shows they believe she is the most vulnerable of the two incumbents. Winchester and Heady openly asked the public to give them their second votes, presumably after Dick Winger, to knock Carroll off the council.

The candidates were also questioned by a panel of civic leaders including Glenn Heran, president of the Taxpayers Association who filled in for County Commissioner Bob Solari, environmentalist Ron Torpezer, Lifeguard Association president Erik Toomsoo, Police Corp. Darrel Rivers and architect and past Chamber of Commerce President Tony Donadio.