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Vero voters send message: Howle in, Graves out

PHOTO: Harry Howle

Thanks to beachside voters’ confidence in Councilman-elect Harry Howle, and his persistence to try again after a loss in 2014, Councilwoman Pilar Turner will at least have a second when she makes a common-sense motion to protect the taxpayers of the City of Vero Beach.

With four out of five precincts reporting in Tuesday night, it appeared that Vero would return incumbents Dick Winger and Amelia Graves to office and that city residents could brace for two more years of higher taxes, stagnant electric rates and Graves serving as an echo to all of the Mayor’s ideas and policies – no matter how expensive or imprudent.

But that all changed when Precinct 17 reported in with Howle carrying 27.48 percent of the beachside vote to put him in second place behind Mayor Dick Winger, and on the dais.

It was highly unlikely that anyone would beat Winger, with his name recognition, his more than $16,000 in campaign funds, most of that raised early on. That left Winger time to campaign which he did, walking precincts door-to-door. In the end Winger won the day with 1,178 votes for 25.78 percent and a first-place finish in the five-way race for two seats on the council. Winger was not available for comment election night.

Howle, due to a nagging bad back, could not physically walk precincts like Winger.

Though all three challengers were harshly critical of the policies pushed by the incumbents, Howle specifically challenged Amelia Graves on their philosophical differences – Howle a staunch fiscal conservative while Graves voted for employee raises, a generous employer pension contribution and overall increased costs that resulted in a significant tax hike for property owners.

Howle watched returns at home, saying he had “a good feeling” all day as he fielded calls and talked to people on the way to vote. When all the votes were tallied, Howle got 1.074 votes for 23.5 percent and second place in the final tally.

“It was a hard campaign for two years, I had a lot of help and I appreciate everybody who helped me these past two years,” Howle said. “It’s time to get to work. It’s time to bring some prudence to the Vero Beach City Council and be representative of the will and the good of the people.”

Howle said he’s taken some flak because he got a great deal of financial support from county and Shores residents who are outside customers of Vero electric, but when the votes were counted, he said, “Those were all voters on the beachside – they were not outside ratepayers.”

Apart from the electric issue, Howle said he saw a 23.7 percent increase in his tax bill from the City of Vero Beach this year, and he heard about the tax increase from voters throughout the city. “I’m a small businessperson, and if I wanted to see an increase like that, there would have to be two of me.”

Howle and his wife Heather both work with the public – him as an insurance agent and her as a hairstylist – so they regularly hear about average peoples’ daily struggles. Howle said he built on the name recognition he established from running last year, but he felt that people were just more fed up with the actions of the city council this time around.

Turner wasn’t on the ballot Tuesday, but she celebrated Howle’s victory. “I would just welcome another true conservative to the council,” Turner said Tuesday night.

Turner has been outvoted, 4-1 in most important council votes over the past year and often couldn’t even get a second for a motion on matters she wanted discussed.

Graves came in third with 1.024 votes for 22.41 percent. Despite her lack of business experience, Graves benefited from a widely held view that the old families of Vero should have one seat on the council, but that “legacy seat” concept wasn’t enough to put her over the top this time around.

Retired marketing executive Laura Moss, who won a majority of Vero voters in 2014 when she ran unsuccessfully in a countywide race for a seat on the Indian River Hospital District, this time around came up short with 948 votes for 20.74 percent percent.  But there’s always next year when three seats will be up.

Finally Brian Heady got votes from his loyal core supporters, but they weren’t enough, giving him 346 votes for 7.57 percent.

Challenges that lie ahead for the council include overseeing the shuttering of the Big Blue power plant this December, marketing the old Dodgertown golf course property to recoup some small fraction of the $10 million the city paid for the 37.5-acre parcel in 2005, and finding money to repair the city’s roads.

Also on tap for the council is framing the referendum question for the 2016 general election ballot asking voters whether or not they want to pay somewhere between $5 to $9 per month into a new stormwater utility.