Winger, Graves face challenge in Vero Council race
It’s that time of year again – less than three months until the Nov. 3 Vero Beach City Council election.
Incumbent Councilwoman Amelia Graves, 32, hopes to keep what might be the first steady paying job she’s ever held other than working part-time in her mother’s law office. Mayor Dick Winger, 77, who publicly vowed to step down this year, now seems irretrievably addicted to the scrap of power he wields.
Veteran candidate and former council member Brian Heady, 67, wants voters to take another look at him. And newcomer Laura Moss, 62, so far offers the only fresh alternative to two incumbents who, by and large, have achieved nothing of note since 2013.
Winger and Graves have to defend themselves against voting for an anticipated nearly 40 percent property tax hike, not to mention the sale of Vero electric falling apart on their watch and zero progress being made toward significant rate relief for the city’s 34,000 utility customers.
On top of what the current council members have (or have not done), there’s also something they plan to do: impose a new stormwater utility tax, with dollar figures tossed about of somewhere between $3 and $9 per month per household within the city limits, and varying amounts for businesses and nonprofits.
Why are they running for re-election? They’re apparently not finished with all the things they want to do.
Heady said he’s more than a little apprehensive about what manner of foolish agenda might be rolled out should both Winger and Graves secure two more years in office. Moss said voters deserve real options when they go to the voting booth in November.
After the experience of running unsuccessfully for a hotly contested seat on the Indian River Hospital District board last year, Moss says she found her interest in public service was not dampened. In fact, people were encouraging her to run in the next election cycle for other offices.
“I’ve been out in the community talking to people, and listening to them. I asked them, would you like a choice in this year’s council election, and they said yes,” Moss said.
The way she plans to campaign – and to lead, if elected – is by gathering input from and speaking for a broad constituency, not just representing small factions within the community.
“I think a lot of the people are just not being heard,” Moss said, extending that assessment to discussions over utilities and taxes and the city’s general priorities. “You have to get a good cross-section of the community. You have to go out and talk to people you don’t know and ask them what they think. I would make it my mission to do that.”
She feels the current City Council, while putting forth policies to appease certain special interests, has largely gone against the overwhelming will of city voters by failing to solve the problem of high electric rates that are a burden to residents and businesses alike. As a member of the city’s Utilities Commission, Moss presses the staff and attorneys and other “experts” for specifics, hard deadlines and an answer to the age-old question of when can ratepayers expect to see results.
“I’m not afraid of details and I’m willing to do the work,” she said. “But the bottom line is, when is any of this going to benefit anybody?”
With regard to the fact that Vero Beach now finds itself in battle-stations mode against the rest of the County and the Town of Indian River Shores over the electric issue, Moss thinks that’s a huge and very damaging situation.
“We are lovely little Vero Beach, but we’re not a good neighbor. If we were, we wouldn’t have all these people suing us,” Moss said. “Why are we not a good neighbor? A lot of these lawsuits could be averted if people can talk to each other.”
With regard to the budget, Moss said she watched all three days of the budget workshops and read and marked up her own copy of the budget. After careful consideration, she said she would have voted with Councilwoman Pilar Turner and Vice-Mayor Jay Kramer not to set the maximum property tax rate nearly 40 percent higher than the current year.
Between now and when the final tax rate is approved in September, Moss said she’s going through the budget line by line to identify what she would cut to achieve a measured solution – a compromise that reflects the priorities of city residents.
“I agree with Pilar Turner that it was wrong to start with a budget that was already inflated by 30 percent,” Moss said.
If Moss is able to unseat either Graves or Winger in November, she said she imagined she would find herself aligned with Turner more often than not. “If it does happen that I get elected, it will make things a whole lot more interesting for Mr. Jay Kramer when he’s the swing vote,” she said.
While Moss ramps up her first Vero Beach City Council campaign, this will be Heady’s 17th run (maybe 18th, he’s lost count) for office over the past decade or so, and there’s no shroud over what he’s about.
Mostly, Heady likes to challenge the status quo, stir things up and force-feed transparency into the process of governing. But he also enjoys grand-standing and occasionally strives for shock value in the way he carries out city business. Heady has sued the city in federal court while he was a sitting councilman and certainly was the cause of more than a few gray hairs on the throbbing heads of top city staffers.
If her five months on Vero’s Utilities Commission are any indication how Moss would operate if elected to the city council, she might ask just as many pointed questions as Heady.
A retired corporate marketing executive from New York, she knows how to cut to the chase during discussions that seem to be spinning off into oblivion. When given all the needed information, Moss said she’s adept at problem-solving.
In case anyone goes to look up Moss, a Vero resident since 2005, in the online Florida voter database themselves, they won’t find her under Laura Moss.
The last name she goes by, her married name, is not the legal name under which she registered to vote in 2008. According to the Supervisor of Elections, she’s registered under the name Laura Matthes at her address on Date Palm Road in Central Beach. Moss said Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan told her Florida law permits women to run under either their maiden or married names.
“I got married later in life and I already had a lot of things, including my voter registration and my credit cards in my maiden name,” Moss said. “The way I look at your maiden name and your married name, those should be the two men you love the most in your life – your father and your husband.”
Moss holds a degree in art history from the State University of New York and recent certificates in digital media and public relations from New York University. The candidate’s husband, Dr. Gene Richard Moss, is a psychiatrist and author.
Heady, who though retired from a career in the building trade up north, still works transporting veterans to medical appointments and as a construction manager on humanitarian projects in Haiti, says he feels he serves the same public purpose in the Vero Beach City Council race each year as Presidential candidate Donald Trump does in the 2016 Republican primary.
“Brian Heady is to the Vero Beach City Council election what Donald Trump is to the Presidential race. Donald Trump is addressing the issues; he doesn’t care if they think he’s flippant,” Heady said.
Heady’s disdain for most of the current City Council is no secret. When asked what bothers him the most, Heady called Councilman Randy Old a “mouthpiece” and said Old’s supporters “got what they paid for” in the 2014 election.
Many of Old’s supporters are also Winger’s supporters, as Winger issued a wholehearted endorsement to launch Old’s campaign last year. “It’s time to stop electing mouthpieces and get some brains back on the council,” Heady said. He’ll never be the candidate anyone paid for, he said, as again this election cycle he vows not to accept campaign contributions.
“People get upset with me. They say I have to raise money and put out campaign signs. So in previous elections I went out and bought my own signs and put them out, and they got stolen as fast as I could put them up,” Heady said.
When Heady left office in 2011, he said, Vero had an offer on the table from Florida Power and Light to purchase the electric utility, and the city was relatively free of litigation. Now, Heady said, “They’ve gotten nothing done on the electric sale, and they’re fighting with everybody.”
Vero is entrenched in battles ranging from Circuit Court to the Florida Public Service Commission and the Florida Supreme Court, on top of its stalemate with the Florida Municipal Power Agency and threatened action from the Orlando Utilities Commission, which just two weeks ago caused Vero to stand down on going out to the open market for bulk power.
“They say don’t vote for Brian Heady – he picks fights,” Heady said. “I ended disputes when I was on the City Council. When Glenn Heran and Dr. (Stephen) Faherty had their complaint with the Public Service Commission, I got them in the room with the City Manager, who was Jim Gabbard at the time, and got them to put the whole thing on hold.”
Heady laughed, remembering the good old days when two local utility activists who wrote their own complaint to the PSC and didn’t even have one lawyer representing them were Vero’s biggest worry. Now Vero faces the Shores’ legal team from Holland and Knight, Indian River County’s legal team from Nabors Giblin plus their PSC counsel Floyd Self. Lawyers from OUC have also been, literally, on Vero’s case.
But despite all of that, Heady said the bottom line is, “It’s not a legal election if my name’s not on the ballot.”
Speaking of what is or is not on the ballot, Heady said he agrees with Councilwoman Pilar Turner that voters should be given a say in whether or not they want a stormwater utility tax.
But Heady offered a different solution – just kill the stormwater utility idea and fund the projects with property taxes so the spending will face the public scrutiny of the budget process. “Do we really need another layer of government?” Heady said. “No, we need the City Manager to do his job and get a handle on spending.”
In all fairness, though, Heady admitted that City Manager Jim O’Connor is very good at counting to three votes, and that he’s only carrying out the marching orders of the current majority on the Winger-led city council. With the current lackadaisical attitude toward spending, Heady said major tax hikes are inevitable – this year and in the future.