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Stay tuned for yet another bizarre Vero Beach election


If something kooky can happen in a local election, you can bet it will occur  in Vero Beach, as illustrated by the on-again, off-again, on-again candidacies of Linda Hillman and Brian Heady.

Over the past decade, Vero has had one sitting councilman removed via a court proceeding that considered evidence that included absence of a shower curtain at his supposed residence, his refrigerator contents and the observations of a neighbor’s barking Chihuahua.

Then there was an effort to recall the mayor and vice mayor over issues related to religion, the invocation, and vacation rental violations. There was also an internal election for a replacement councilman in which the votes were tabulated incorrectly and the poor guy who was really the chosen candidate wasn’t the one seated.

You can’t make this stuff up.

If you’re keeping a scorecard, Hillman and Heady are back “on,” as of last Thursday, but their names were not on approximately 60 absentee ballots for the Nov. 6 election that had already been mailed overseas.

So it looks like Vero will likely cancel the scheduled election and hold a special election in December or January when everyone can be on all the ballots. That decision will be made on Oct. 2.

But in a case of extreme irony, the Heady and Hillman eligibility snafu may make it possible for the sitting Vero City Council members to complete the $185 million sale of the electric utility before their terms end. Laura Moss, a supporter of the sale, is running for re-election but Lange Sykes, also a supporter, is not. “They would continue in their terms until the special election,” City Manager Jim O’Connor said.

Heady and Hillman have expressed major concerns about the sale of Vero electric to Florida Power & Light. Hillman in the past has sided with public employee unions in their opposition to the sale. Heady is one of the three objectors Vero and FPL must battle at the Florida Public Service Commission on Oct. 9 to secure regulatory approval of the sale terms.

Both Hillman and Heady turned in qualifying packets that were missing a key signature on a page where the candidate asserts he or she meets the residency requirements to run. Heady, who has run for office roughly 20 times, printed his name but then did not sign on the next line. Hillman left the whole page blank.

Both omissions went unnoticed  and the City Clerk’s office accepted the paperwork and administered the candidate oath, despite the missing signatures. Their names were pulled out of a bucket for ballot order and submitted to Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan.

 Then, four days later, after the missing signatures were noted, a memo from the City Attorney’s Office declared both candidates disqualified and they were removed from the ballot.

But it’s not that simple, according to O’Connor. “As a member of the Canvassing Board, I felt we had made an error on the city’s end,” O’Connor said. “The problem was qualifying them and then disqualifying them.”

If the City Council now decides to hold a special election, Mayor Harry Howle, who is not on the ballot this year, Tony Young, who is on the ballot, and their fellow council members will be looking at a possible Tuesday in December, and one in January for the vote. 

Avoiding the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays will surely be a consideration in the final decision on a date.

For Vero voters, this will make the campaign signs and the mailers, the door knocks and the phone calls last even longer. Long after Florida has a new governor, and the U.S. Senate and other key federal, state and county races are decided, Vero will remain a battleground.

But the mix-up could take the electric sale off the table as a debate topic if FPL, Vero, Indian River County and Indian River Shores working together are able to defeat the three sale challengers in the Oct. 9 hearing in Tallahassee before the PSC.

As the schedule stands, the PSC should rule and issue its final opinion on the sale of Vero Electric to FPL on or before Dec. 31, either paving the way for the FPL sale to close, or causing a major upheaval in the turnover plans already well in the works.