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No public bids sought for $1M school contract
week of April 27, 2017

The Indian River County School District is not soliciting open public bids for health insurance services worth about $1.2 million. Instead, the district had its insurance consultant, Aon Hewitt, write a “request for proposals” and hand pick which companies would be allowed to pitch their services to the district. Aon Hewitt will be paid commissions from the insurance company that is chosen, making its involvement in the selection process dubious, although the School Board theoretically will make the final decision about who is hired. The School Board, however, was not even aware that Aon Hewitt had issued a “Request for Proposals” on the district’s behalf until Homestead Insurance agent Bob Galbraith came to the last board meeting to complain about the selection process. What the school district is looking for is a third-party administrator to process claims for those covered by its health self-insurance fund. The last time the service was bid in 2002, Blue Cross Blue Shield was hired. Currently Blue Cross Blue Shield charges $50.50 for each member-employee per month for this service, for a total of about $1.2 million a year. READ FULL STORY

Prosecutor: Reversal of Simpson murder conviction ‘inconceivable’
week of April 27, 2017

The reversal of a 2014 conviction in the shooting death of 41-year-old Central Beach resident Brian Simpson shocked prosecutors and police who worked the case, but they say they’re ready to try Henry Lee Jones again for the November 2011 killing. In 2011, Simpson encountered a burglary in progress when he returned to the Fiddlewood Drive home he shared with his wife and children. After a struggle, Simpson was shot through the door of the bathroom where the armed intruders had retreated. Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said he had no idea the Jan. 31 appeal hearing in West Palm Beach before a panel of three judges would end in a reversal because the merits of the criminal case were so airtight. “We were under the impression that we had a very strong position. It’s heartbreaking, again. It’s inconceivable that a case with the strength that this case had could be overturned on this minor issue,” Bakkedahl said. The appeals court found that Circuit Court Judge Robert Pegg made an error when he barred Jones’ attorney “from questioning prospective jurors regarding their attitudes on interracial crime.” READ FULL STORY

No suspects yet in brazen island condo burglaries
week of April 27, 2017

Vero police are still sifting through clues in hopes of catching the burglar or burglars who broke into four beachside condominiums, entering bedrooms while the residents slept and stealing phones, wallets, checkbooks, credit cards, cash and other valuables. Lt. John Pedersen, who heads up Vero’s detective division, said Monday, “We have had no similar burglaries [before these]. We currently do not have any suspects or any vehicle descriptions. I would as always, urge all residents citywide to always lock their doors and windows.” Details of the four cases in the Ocean Club Condominiums, which are located in the 4400 block of A1A just north or Jaycee Park, point to a stealthy and bold thief, with police finding “gloved hand marks” on sliding glass doors and mysterious entry through supposedly locked doors and windows. In all four cases, residents only discovered they had been victimized when they woke up and found property missing or belongings not where they should be. After the first three reports last Tuesday morning, police sent out an alert to the area neighborhood watch email list asking residents to check to see if anything was missing or askew. READ FULL STORY

Church vandalism mystery deepens
week of April 27, 2017

It was a strange and shocking event for the island when valuable stained glass windows at Christ by the Sea Methodist Church were smashed in three separate incidents during Holy Week by an unknown person or persons. Now, the mystery surrounding the vandalism has deepened, with conflicting accounts about whether someone has been apprehended for the crimes. During a phone interview last week with Vero Beach 32963, Rev. Cliff Melvin, pastor of the 335-member congregation, said the perpetrator “has been caught and is incarcerated.” He said he shared that information with his congregation the prior Sunday, telling them, “We will be in prayer for the young man – a minor – and for his family. It is a sad experience for all of you.” But on Monday, Vero Beach Police contradicted Melvin’s account. When asked about the pastor’s statement, and specifically whether there has been an arrest, Lt. John Pedersen, head of Vero’s detective division, said in no uncertain terms, “That is not true. When there is an arrest, we will let you know.” READ FULL STORY

Crashes, near misses prompt push to close northern section of Jungle Trail to cars
week of April 27, 2017

The days of joyriding along the northern section of the Jungle Trail could soon be over. Following a fatal crash last year on the trail and countless near misses between vehicles and people walking or riding bikes, island resident Matt Lechowicz has crafted a petition to the County Commission asking it to shut down the 3 1/4-mile portion of the trail north of route 510 – allowing only non-motorized traffic on the sand and shell road. The idea has garnered interest from County Commission Chairman Joe Flescher and Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Phil Matson. “I do have some concerns about leaving [Jungle Trail] as it is,” Flescher said, adding that he would support closing the historic road to traffic to improve safety only if emergency responders would still have unfettered access. Matson said he has not yet reviewed Lechowicz’s plan in detail, but is “certainly in favor of anything that will improve Jungle Trail.” “No one really sees a need for vehicular traffic,” Lechowicz told Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY

Council tries to tamp down Vero electric sale speculation
week of April 27, 2017

Sometime in the next 10 days, Florida Power & Light is due to bring Vero a brand-new letter of intent to purchase the city’s entire electric system. In the meantime, the majority of the City Council has voted to squelch discussion of the yet-unknown terms. Councilmen Dick Winger and Tony Young voted against the measure, urging that any offer from FPL be fully vetted through the city’s volunteer advisory commissions. Mayor Laura Moss brought the issue up at the last Council meeting, taking Winger to task for tossing around large, seemingly random numbers related to what it will cost the city to exit its long-term power supply contracts. Vero’s inability to exit those contracts killed previous efforts to get out of the electric business, but over the past few months, city officials appear to have made inroads on that front. Moss said the Florida Municipal Power Agency and the Orlando Utilities Commission, the two entities that would have to sign off on a sale of Vero electric, intently watch and listen to Vero’s proceedings, and argued that city officials shouldn’t give away strategy or cite dollar figures for anything that’s currently under active negotiation. READ FULL STORY

Trial of George Heaton in bank fraud case set for next February
week of April 27, 2017

The federal court in West Palm Beach has agreed to give legal teams for George Heaton and his co-defendants another 10 months to prepare a defense in the complex case involving alleged bank fraud arising from closings on condo units at the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa nearly a decade ago. Heaton, who developed the hotel with business partners, is accused of not accurately reporting millions of dollars in buyers’ incentives that he is said to have refunded to buyers after the real estate closings on the condos, using different bank accounts and a West Palm Beach law firm to handle those “cash to close” paybacks. Charging documents say four different banks relied upon allegedly false information when making up to nine separate mortgage decisions. Heaton’s closing agent and his former bookkeeper are also charged with conspiracy and fraud and, if convicted, each faces up to 30-year prison sentences and millions in fines and restitution to the banks for losses. READ FULL STORY

Vandals desecrate island church
week of April 20, 2017

In the worst outbreak of vandalism to strike the barrier island in recent memory, Christ by the Sea Methodist Church was struck by persons unknown in three separate attacks during Holy Week. Large rocks were hurled through the stained-glass windows in the front of the house of worship on A1A, causing more than $10,000 in damage. The initial act of vandalism occurred sometime between April 7 and April 9, when the damage was first reported, according to Vero Beach Police Lt. John Pedersen. More windows were smashed on April 10, and again on either the 11th or 12th. While Pedersen said a criminal mischief investigation was now underway, police provided no immediate information on whether they had any suspects, a motive, or whether any protection had been provided to the church before the second and third attacks. "It is disconcerting when an incident like this happens," Pedersen said, "let alone, to a church." First word of the vandalism came on Holy Wednesday, April 12, when Pastor Rev. Cliff Melvin posted on the church's Facebook page: "Feeling sad at Christ by the Sea. READ FULL STORY

Graduation rate here improved (by lowering the bar)
week of April 20, 2017

School District Superintendent Mark Rendell led off his presentation to the Taxpayers’ Association of Indian River County last week by touting improved graduation rates without mentioning that state requirements for graduation have been lowered. Rendell said the best measure of the district’s success is the graduation rate, which he said increased 6 percent in 2015-2016, from 81 percent to 87 percent. He said the graduation rate for black students went up more than 9 percent, from 64.6 percent to 74.2 percent. What Rendell didn’t say is that the state has lowered the bar for what is considered passing on key tests that help determine whether students graduate. Test standards are tied to National Assessment of Educational Progress benchmarks. The NAEP delineates five levels of achievement and a student who achieves level-four test results is considered “proficient” by the national organization. But Florida, dismayed by the high failure rate in state high schools, decided to make level three a passing mark. The state also lowered the bar for other end-of-course tests for algebra, biology and other subjects by beginning to grade them on a curve. READ FULL STORY

Wabasso Bridge tops state list for danger to cyclists
week of April 20, 2017

Everyone involved agrees that the Wabasso Bridge is dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians, mainly because of its short barrier walls, narrow shoulders and visibility limitations as vehicles approach the crest. Lots of traffic traveling at high speeds adds to the peril. "Something definitely needs to be done,” said Andy Sobczak, the county's senior planner whose duties include bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Even a Florida Department of Transportation engineer who, at the request of a Vero Beach cycling group, conducted a safety study in October 2015 has recommended multiple improvements. Yet FDOT has shown no sense of urgency in making the bridge safer. In fact, Bike Walk Indian River County president Hugh Aaron has accused FDOT District 4 officials of deliberately delaying the release of the engineer's report, which was completed in January 2016 but not released to the public until February 2017. "It was more than a delay," Aaron said, adding that his Freedom of Information requests were ignored until he brought the matter to FDOT's Office of General Counsel. READ FULL STORY

Indian River Shores police seek bigger, faster patrol boat
week of April 20, 2017

Chief Rich Rosell is asking for a new police boat because the 18-foot Boston Whaler the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department relies on for water patrols and rescues is so worn out it has had to be towed back to shore more than once after engine failure. Its aluminum fuel tank is corroded in spots, allowing fuel to leak into the bilge, which could affect electrical systems and cause a fire. “That could be catastrophic,” said Shores Police Sgt. Shawn Hoyt. Shores Public Safety regularly patrols the stretch of lagoon within the town – mostly idling in and out of the waterfront subdivisions several times a week looking for problems and making sure boaters and jet skiers follow the posted No Wake zone signs – and about once a month ventures out into the Atlantic on patrol or to answer distress calls. Shores Public Safety has received a grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District that would cover 50 percent of the cost for a new boat – a maximum of $60,000 – and Rosell recently asked the Town council to provide a matching amount. READ FULL STORY

South Beach Property Owners group wants to be player again
week of April 20, 2017

South Beach Property Owners’ Association meetings once were a place where neighbors who live south of 17th Street gathered to discuss utility issues, road projects and other matters important to their communities. Then a bitter dispute broke out among members of the board, and the core of the organization all but collapsed. Last March, then-SBPOA President George Lamborn filed a lawsuit against four other board members in circuit court in Indian River County. He said at that time he was taking the "unprecedented measure" to prevent the "illegal takeover" of the association by a "group of dissident directors who are acting at the behest and with the active collaboration of a public official." Though he was not named in the lawsuit, the public official was County Commissioner Bob Solari, who represents the south island on the Board of County Commissioners and who is reported to have met with the dissident directors after clashing with Lamborn’s faction over short-term rental regulation. The lawsuit was eventually dropped, but in the meantime, many members bailed out. READ FULL STORY

Vero rises in tennis world; considered for Fed Cup
week of April 20, 2017

Scrambling to find a site for this weekend's Fed Cup semifinal between the U.S. and Czech Republic, a high-ranking United States Tennis Association official briefly explored the possibility of playing the matches in Vero Beach before the event was awarded to the Saddlebrook Resort, located outside Tampa. USTA Team Events Senior Director Jeff Ryan confirmed that he contacted Randy Walker, a Moorings winter resident who serves as co-director of the Mardy Fish Children's Foundation Tennis Championships, in February to inquire about Vero Beach's ability to play host to the matches. Walker said he told Ryan the Fed Cup event could be held at Grand Harbor, where main-draw matches at a different tournament – the Mardy Fish Foundation-run, $15,000 USTA Pro Circuit men's tournament – are scheduled to begin Tuesday. Ryan said the USTA opted for Tampa because it would have been difficult to convince International Tennis Federation officials who oversee the annual team competition – often referred to as the "Women's World Cup of Tennis" – to put a Fed Cup semifinal in such a small market, particularly one that lacked a suitable stadium. READ FULL STORY

Student code of conduct is bewildering
week of April 13, 2017

Student behavior problems were the number one concern parents and teachers raised in a recent five-year strategic plan meeting, but dealing with those concerns is complicated by the School District’s unclear and confusing student code of conduct. How confusing is the lengthy written document that parents are required to sign when enrolling their children in school? Well, when School Board Member Laura Zorc studied the code to see how it had been applied in what she called “a serious school incident,” she admitted “it was Greek” to her. And that was last year’s version. This year’s 72-page revised code is even more dense and incomprehensible to the average reader, larded with charts, appendixes, acronyms and jargon. Problems with the document start with the fact it violates state rules that require school boards to adopt separate elementary, middle and high school codes of conduct, written in language students and parents can understand. The School District is offering up only one code for all grades, the so-called “Positive Climate and Discipline Code of Student Conduct.” READ FULL STORY

Condo residents fret about drones off their balcony
week of April 13, 2017

Over the past six months, 10 Sea Quay residents have filed complaints with the oceanfront condominium's property manager, saying they've seen drones flying too close to the building – sometimes just outside their windows. "Our owners said they've seen them outside their sliding-glass doors, which is a real problem this time of year because, when you live on the ocean, you sometimes leave the door open," said Sea Quay property manager Charity Gruwell. "Some of them say it's potentially dangerous. Others say they feel it's an invasion of their privacy." But is it illegal? The Vero Beach Police Department is aware of the problem, spokeswoman Officer Anna Carden said, but only because it monitors the neighborhood social-media site. She said no formal complaints have been filed. "There were posts about drones flying over the beach and coming a little too close to the property there," Carden said. "We've done some research on the laws, but it's new territory and it's really outside our domain." Drones, once they're airborne, fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates their use under its Unmanned Aircraft Systems rules and guidelines. READ FULL STORY

Fundraiser for wounded pub owner draws huge crowd
week of April 13, 2017

The street scene on Bougainvillea Lane last Saturday night was off the charts: upbeat and festive, with loud live music, a cornucopia of food and drink, and a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 people – all of which was pretty extraordinary considering that the event was an ad hoc response to a traumatic near-fatal shooting. When 31-year-old St. Ed’s graduate and pub owner Andy Capak was gravely wounded on March 31 on the eve of his wedding, his friends quickly mobilized and turned what was supposed to be a nuptial celebration into a huge fundraiser to help pay the well-liked local businessman’s medical bills. Capak and business partner Jared Smith have owned The Grove, a pub on 14th Avenue in downtown Vero Beach, since 2012. Early on the morning of March 31, Capak reportedly intervened in an altercation outside his bar and was shot multiple times. He remains in Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce. Lifelong pal and St. Ed’s high school classmate Ryan Wykoff, who was one of the first to get to the hospital, immediately realized his friend faced a long and costly road to recovery. In short order he set up a Go Fund Me page with $250,000 goal and started organizing a beachside fundraiser. READ FULL STORY

Harbor Branch sues FAU in bid to block a ‘hostile takeover’
week of April 13, 2017

The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation has gone to court to prevent what it describes as a “hostile takeover” of its $68 million endowment fund by Florida Atlantic University, which it accuses of attempting to breach a contract signed nearly a decade ago. In a lawsuit filed March 30 in St. Lucie County Circuit Court, the foundation alleges that FAU’s Board of Trustees intends to seize control of the foundation’s grant-making function, “thus eliminating any oversight, transparency and accountability for the funds” the independent foundation provides to the Boca Raton-based university. “We don’t know what FAU would do if they got control of the endowment fund,” said Joe Galardi, a West Palm Beach attorney representing the foundation, “so we’re asking a court to look at the contract, examine the facts and tell the parties what they’re allowed – and not allowed – to do.” Galardi said the foundation is concerned that, under FAU’s control, endowment funds could be redirected away from Harbor Branch’s charter mission of marine research to pay other university expenses. It also is concerned that the university might use state money from four specialty “Save Our Seas” license plates created to fund marine research for purposes other than those mandated by the Florida Legislature. READ FULL STORY

Dale Sorensen Real Estate ranks among top 500 U. S. brokerages
week of April 13, 2017

Of the more than 86,000 residential real estate brokerages in the United States, a firm based in tiny Vero Beach, Dale Sorensen Real Estate Inc., was one of the country’s top 500 realty businesses last year with more than $600 million in sales. Sorensen was the only Vero-based company that made it onto the widely-respected Real Trends 500 list released last week, coming in at No. 404, and it will almost certainly rank higher in 2017 as the company continues to expand, with plans to open three new offices by the end of summer. The only other Vero-connected company to appear on the list was Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Florida Realty, the brokerage that entered the local market in 2015 when it bought Norris & Company. Berkshire Hathaway HSFR, a Fortune 500 subsidiary headquartered in Sunrise, Florida, did over $3 billion in sales in 2016 but that was through more than 40 offices scattered across the state. Founded in Vero in 1978, Dale Sorensen Real Estate has achieved phenomenal growth in recent years, increasing sales by more than 500 percent since 2009. READ FULL STORY

Seagrapes could still trip up Shores auction of beachside lot
week of April 13, 2017

The long-debated issue of whether residents should continue to have beach access through a town-owned lot in Indian River Shores has finally been decided, but another issue has cropped up that might interfere with plans to auction off the vacant land for development. The County Commission last week approved a single dune crossover for the property in exchange for a 5-foot wide public pedestrian path on the south end of the 5.2-acre parcel nestled between Pebble Bay Villas and Surf Lane. However, the commission rebuffed proposals to trim back 20-foot-tall seagrapes that block the parcel’s view of the ocean. Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot spoke at the county commission meeting, and hinted that if the county didn't approve the trimming, the auction of the 5.2-acre site might not move forward. “I don't know why they would buy it if they can't see the ocean,” Mayor Barefoot said. “We have pretty strict building codes in Indian River Shores,” he said, explaining that the tree-like shrubs are so tall the homes that would be allowed on the site wouldn't rise high enough to get above them. READ FULL STORY

Neighbors file to block construction of Ocean Drive restaurant
week of April 13, 2017

Longtime island restaurateur Bobby McCarthy wants the Vero Beach City Council to block, at least temporarily, a South Florida investor’s plan to build a 143-seat, Ocean Drive restaurant that would become the new home of The Tides. Two weeks after the city's Planning & Zoning Board approved the proposed construction on a 4-1 vote, McCarthy filed an appeal, asking the council to overturn the decision – or at least delay the project – until the Central Beach parking shortage is addressed. Six of the seven reasons cited in McCarthy's appeal were directly or indirectly related to parking issues along Ocean Drive, where Sony Investments Real Estate Inc. hopes to build a 2,685-square-foot restaurant, across from Bobby's, in what is now a parking lot. "The additional parking needs will cause total chaos for the existing tenants," the appeal states, "as well as surrounding businesses and residents." Though his name is on the appeal, McCarthy said he's appealing the P&Z Board's decision on behalf of all the Ocean Drive business owners who would be negatively affected by the restaurant's impact on parking in the area. READ FULL STORY

Hospital puts plan to build $100M tower on shelf
week of April 6, 2017

A preliminary proposal to build a $100 million tower containing upgraded patient rooms at Indian River Medical Center has been put on hold indefinitely, according to sources – an apparent casualty of the financial and leadership upheaval at the hospital and a newly mounted strategic look at its fundamental ownership structure. News of the shelving of the proposed hospital addition, which would have contained larger state-of-the-art patient rooms, emerged during a presentation a week ago by consultants hired to study IRMC’s future. Hospital CEO Jeff Susi had hired an architect last year to draw up preliminary plans for an in-patient tower, and the architect made an initial presentation to the IRMC board in November. The board agreed to focus on designs of five and six stories. Susi first talked publicly of the five-year, $100 million plan at the December Hospital District board meeting. He said at the time that expansion plans were at an early stage, but that the need for new and larger rooms was clear. READ FULL STORY

School District’s planner champions Common Core
week of April 6, 2017

Common Core State Standards are not popular with many in Indian River County. At least two School Board members are anti-Common Core, and board member Shawn Frost made elimination of the standards one of his planks while running for office in 2014. Despite that, School Superintendent Mark Rendell last month hired Battelle for Kids, a company known as a Common Core advocate, to author the School District’s five-year strategic plan. He took the action without School Board approval or revealing the company’s Common Core affiliations. “This five-year plan is extremely important to me, but as co-founder of Florida Parents Against Common Core and FreedomWorks’ national adviser on eliminating Common Core, I would never have approved hiring this group,” said board member Laura Zorc. “Battelle for Kids has deep ties to the Gates Foundation [which supports Common Core] . . . and they created a teacher evaluation method tied to Common Core assessments. The Common Core Standards, assessments and teacher evaluation method have stifled education across the country.” READ FULL STORY

Heaton adds star attorney to defense team
week of April 6, 2017

A federal judge in West Palm Beach last Wednesday agreed to give Vero Beach Hotel and Spa developer George Heaton’s attorneys more time to analyze evidence and prepare a defense to nine felony counts of defrauding and conspiring to defraud four banks – charges carrying 30-year prison sentences and millions in fines, if Heaton and his two co-defendants are convicted. Also last week, Heaton added a third criminal defense attorney to his team. Top-rated criminal attorney Bruce Zimet of Fort Lauderdale joins two West Palm Beach-based attorneys, Jack Goldberger of Atterbury Goldberger & Weiss, P.A. and David Roth of Roth & Duncan, P.A. on Heaton’s legal team. Zimet made national headlines in 2012 defending a Jacksonville woman who used Florida’s stand your ground law as a defense for shooting her husband, but more pertinent to the Heaton case, Zimet defended three people in the Daytona area who were eventually convicted in a very complex $10 million mortgage-fraud scheme involving “straw buyers,” no-money-down closings, falsified loan documents and flipping properties. READ FULL STORY

Pier collapse dumps woman into lagoon at Vero City Marina
week of April 6, 2017

On Saturday afternoon, a woman who lives aboard her boat at the Vero Beach City Marina and her dog were dumped into the lagoon when the concrete “finger pier” on which they were standing collapsed. The woman suffered bruises on her arm in the fall, but was able to make it out of the water and onto the dock. Her dog was also rescued. Another resident boater stated that numerous people were present when the incident occurred, including a large crowd of men, women and children who had come to tour the Columbus Foundation Nina and Pinta replica ships docked at the marina. Marina staff, fellow boaters and crew members from the two tall ships all came running to help. The “finger piers” are narrow concrete – and sometimes wood – structures extending out perpendicular to the main docks, in-between the docked boats, allowing boaters access to their vessels. About half the pier next to the slip where the woman's boat had been docked was gone – sunk to the bottom of the lagoon, in about 7 feet off water. There was nothing left to be seen but a small broken chunk of concrete with rusty re-bar embedded in it, hanging from the rotting pier post. READ FULL STORY

Wounded bar owner was scheduled to wed this weekend
week of April 6, 2017

Andy Capak should be spending Saturday night celebrating with his new bride, Tiffani, at their wedding. Instead, the 2003 St. Edward's School graduate and local pub owner will remain in an area hospital, recovering from multiple gunshot wounds while his friends gather at a beachside coffee, desert and wine bar to raise money to help pay his medical bills. "Now that it looks like he's doing well and will be able to recover, we're organizing a huge fundraiser at Grind & Grape," said Ryan Wykoff, a lifelong friend who launched a Go Fund Me campaign for Capak on Sunday. "We're already getting items to auction off," he added. "We'll have a place where you can throw money into a jar. And we'll have something set up to show people how to use the Go Fund Me site. "We'll also have East Harbor, the band that was supposed to play at Andy's wedding reception." The wedding, though, was postponed after Capak, 31, one of The Grove Bar's owners, was shot outside the downtown Vero Beach night spot shortly before 2 a.m. Friday. READ FULL STORY

Hospital consultants: ‘We trust what you say, but we verify the data’
week of April 6, 2017

Softened up by some sobering talk from nationally known consultant Jamie Orlikoff last month, leaders of Indian River Medical Center seemed more united than they have in the past as they gathered to hear from a second set of consultants last week about whether the struggling non-profit hospital should remain independent or affiliate with another healthcare system. Scott Goodspeed, a director of Maine-based Stroudwater Associates, was struck by the cooperation of the three boards seated around him at Indian River State College’s Richardson Center – the hospital’s board of directors, the board of the hospital’s foundation, and the Hospital District board, which oversees the hospital as a taxpayer-owned asset. Goodspeed said he was happy to see the boards “had come together in a positive way,” and noted that for another of his client hospitals run by a county authority, getting all sides to talk together had taken two weeks. For the IRMC leaders, some unhappiness might have been understandable. The Hospital District Board was told bluntly by Orlikoff that it may need to give up its authority over the hospital because the hospital’s mandate to operate under Sunshine laws could scare away potential partners. READ FULL STORY

Taxpayers to get no say on $285M school budget
week of April 6, 2017

Last year the Indian River County School District didn’t post its $285 million budget to the district website until 24 hours before the one and only public hearing on the massive spending plan, and the same non-transparent budget process is scheduled for this year – meaning county taxpayers who put up $141 million of the total will get no say in how it is spent. Even when the budget finally was posted last year, it had huge holes in it, making it an inaccurate picture of district spending. The $10 million in federal funding for exceptional student education, migrant workers, English language learners, parental engagement and other programs wasn’t explained or included. The .60 millage voters approved for teacher positions, technology and vocational training, totaling nearly $10 million, was also left out of the budget. How the District’s $7 million credit card that is used to pay for – and sometimes obscure – certain expenses figures into the budget is a mystery as well. READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach Hotel developer Heaton facing felony charges
week of March 30, 2017

The developer and owner of the island’s finest hotel, 73-year-old George Heaton, is facing a 30-year federal prison sentence plus millions in fines and restitution payments if convicted on nine felony charges that he, his accountant and his title agent made false statements on mortgage loan applications for buyers of condominium units at his Vero Beach Hotel & Spa. Court documents allege those deceptive documents led four banks to fund loans of more than $20 million “based upon materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises and material omissions,” and that, as the seller of the condos, Heaton made millions in profits from those transactions. A U.S. Department of Justice statement said that, from 2006 through 2009, the defendants “conspired to perpetrate a complex mortgage fraud scheme against various FDIC-insured lenders by concealing incentives offered and paid to buyers of condominium units at the Vero Beach Hotel and Club,” as the hotel was originally known. Heaton has pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial. His defense attorney denies that any wrongdoing occurred. READ FULL STORY

School leaders turn strategic planning into farce
week of March 30, 2017

School Superintendent Mark Rendell says the five-year strategic planning process underway at the district is “transparent,” but it does not seem that way. In a typical move, without consulting the School Board, he hired an outside team of “experts” to develop the plan, leaving it to people not familiar with the community to gather input from parents, students, teachers and other “stakeholders” over a brief three-day period. The outside consultant, Battelle for Kids, held a grand total of one meeting open to the public – which lasted one hour – to get input from the community in order to come up with a plan for the next half-decade of educating children in Indian River County. The last strategic plan expired in 2010 and the need for a new one came up while the School Board discussed whether it should purchase the 16th Street ball fields from the county. Rendell and four school board members said the district didn’t need the land, but board member Laura Zorc said, “We don’t know what we need because we don’t have a strategic plan.” READ FULL STORY

After big home auction sale, new estate up for bid
week of March 30, 2017

The sale at auction last week of an oceanfront estate in Indian River Shores for just over $10 million has now motivated the owner of a $12.9 million home on the southern stretch of Vero’s barrier island to try to sell his beachfront property the same way, according to Premier Estate broker associate Clark French. “After the successful sale last week of 10 Ocean Lane, we now have a new seller offering another significant oceanfront estate for auction immediately with no reserve,” French said. “The property located at 2470 S. A1A in the Vero Beach Estate Section is a spectacular Barbados-inspired estate with a bright and open transitional beach house design.” Premier and Concierge Auctions, the company that conducted last week’s sale, will began advertising and marketing the property immediately for an auction on Friday, April 28. READ FULL STORY

End of an era for Ellie McCabe, driving force for philanthropy
week of March 30, 2017

Eleonora McCabe, the driving force behind philanthropy in Indian River County, has decided at age 82 to begin winding down the direct and indirect support she has provided over the decades to what has become one of the most generous clusters of charitable organizations in the country. At a Luncheon and Legacies celebration last Friday at the John’s Island Club, McCabe shared that her board will meet on April 11 with one final item on the agenda – to approve the dissolution of the Robert F. and Eleonora W. McCabe Foundation. “Today is one more step in winding down the McCabe Foundation and acknowledging the impact our family’s strategic and heartfelt giving has had on countless lives over the past 61 years,” McCabe told guests. “It’s the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter; one that will always include charitable giving, but through a different venue.” READ FULL STORY

Indian River Medical Center reports financial turnaround
week of March 30, 2017

It’s been a while since the management of Indian River Medical Center has gotten public pats on the back. Last week, though, they were plentiful as CEO Jeff Susi and CFO George Eighmy trotted out the latest financial numbers that show improvement from a disastrous start to the fiscal year. After a first-quarter loss of $4 million dollars, the non-profit hospital system appears to have reversed course, dredging up enough profit in January and February to fill in half of that hole. Even more reassuring, CFO Eighmy is projecting the organization will end the year in the black. That outlook is based on numbers from not only the hospital, but the IRMC-owned doctor’s practices, known as Indian River Medical Associates, and Vero Radiology. The hospital’s debt stands at $36 million, said CEO Jeff Susi, adding that it is being paid off on a “very short amortization schedule.” The hospital has one of the lowest debt loads in the state, Eighmy said. In January, the hospital came out ahead by just over $1 million. February piled on another $812,000, leaving the hospital only $2.1 million in the red for the first five months of the year. READ FULL STORY

Orchid hit-and-run victim to be honored at West Point
week of March 30, 2017

After Peter Meyer was tragically taken from them by a hit-and-run driver in January 2015, his friends and former co-workers have made sure he won’t be forgotten – especially at a place that was very special to him. They're donating to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point – where Meyer played football before graduating and being commissioned as an Army officer in 1964 – the $100,000-plus they raised as a reward for the arrest and conviction of the Orchid Island winter resident's killer. In return for the donation, which will benefit West Point athletic programs, the academy will name the Kimsey Athletic Center's training room in Meyer's honor later this year. "It's a beautiful and fitting tribute to my dad, and one that would make him very proud and leave him feeling very humbled," said Sue Ross, one of Meyer's daughter. "He loved West Point, so it's the perfect choice. "I'm absolutely thrilled," she added, "and I know my mom is very pleased." Pat Walsh, one of Meyer's neighbors at the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club, launched the campaign to raise the reward money that ultimately went unclaimed. He contacted West Point about the donation after consulting with donors. READ FULL STORY

Shores rejects bid to switch auctioneers for town parcel
week of March 30, 2017

In the latest plot twist in the saga of the 5.3-acre oceanfront parcel owned by the Town of Indian River Shores, the Shores Town Council rejected a move to scrap a contract with former County Commissioner Wesley Davis and go with another auction broker to sell the property. Councilman Dick Haverland proposed the town make a fair settlement with Davis to exit the contract, which would pay Davis an 8 percent commission to market and auction the parcel on A1A across from the Pebble Bay development, and negotiate a better deal with another broker. Haverland’s motion died for lack of a second. Vice Mayor Mike Ochsner, who presided at the meeting in Barefoot’s absence, said he agreed with Haverland that the council had made a hasty decision signing a deal with Davis that could net him more than half a million dollars, but he was not prepared to scrap it and start over. Haverland noted that the most recent proposal by Ron Rennick would cost 37 percent less that the deal with Davis, and that the Shores could make a “termination agreement” with a small payment to Davis and still come out way ahead. He said the Finance Commission, which has “at least two real estate experts,” could be tasked with vetting a broker or auctioneer to recommend to the Town Council. READ FULL STORY

Omar Hussamy resigns from Hospital District board
week of March 30, 2017

Orthopedic surgeon Omar Hussamy has resigned his seat on the Indian River County Hospital District Board of Trustees just four months after being elected to a four-year term. His resignation leaves Gov. Rick Scott to name a replacement within six weeks. Hussamy, 54, emailed his resignation to the District office last Wednesday, citing a more intensive schedule than anticipated for the volunteer position, due to the new initiative to consider selling the hospital or otherwise change its existing structure. There was no hint of discord in his letter of resignation, which simply said he could not devote the time the post required. “It has been a pleasure to serve the District in the short time I have been on the board,” he wrote. “Unfortunately I am unable to meet the time commitment necessary to perform my responsibilities during this critical time for health care in Indian River County.” “He has taken on some other things besides just his employment, and so has the district since he joined,” says the Hospital District’s executive director, Ann Marie Suriano. “He’s really conscientious, and you have to be able to commit your time.” READ FULL STORY

Ay Jalisco owners plan Caribbean cantina for old Long Branch
week of March 30, 2017

Gloria Huitron and Pedro Nevarez, the couple who own the popular Ay Jalisco Mexican restaurants, have purchased the Miracle Mile building that long housed the Long Branch Saloon and plan to turn it into a Caribbean-themed restaurant with live music and dancing tentatively called “Tahinos.” Huitron and Nevarez purchased the Long Branch building on March 6 for $600,000, and are already at work remodeling it. “We’re still working on a name, but the furnishings will definitely have a Caribbean theme,” Nevarez said. The new place will offer an international menu, all from hot climates. “We would like to bring a fusion of Peruvian, Columbian, Spanish, Cuban and Italian Mediterranean food,” said Nevarez, who is a chef. “We’ll serve a few Mexican dishes too. Why not?” Live country and other types of music will be offered, as well as Karaoke, continuing the Long Branch’s tradition of having one of the few dance spots in Vero Beach and the only one in Miracle Mile. “We’re going to make the dance floor look real nice,” Nevarez said. READ FULL STORY

Local voters to get yet another voting system
week of March 30, 2017

When Vero Beach residents vote in this fall’s municipal election, it will be on paper ballots using a fill-in-the-bubble system instead of connecting the dots by a line. The Indian River Board of County Commissioners Tuesday voted 4-to-0 to approve a contract to purchase a new, state-law compliant optical-scanner voting and tabulation system with funds that have been set aside over the past three years. “I hope to have them in May,” Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said, allowing her time to fully test out the equipment, to order the most practical writing implements to fill out the ballots, and finally to conduct public outreach to familiarize the voters with the system before the November municipal elections. The system will be used by all county voters in the 2018 primaries and general election. READ FULL STORY

Time to get serious about parking problems
week of March 23, 2017

What happened across four hours at the Vero Beach Planning & Zoning Board meeting last week was an embarrassment to our community, and city leaders should be ashamed of themselves for putting us in such an unseemly predicament. The often-hostile, sometimes-condescending tone, feelings of mistrust and sense of desperation that filled the room was unbecoming of a place that prides itself on its small-town charm, old-school manners and neighborly demeanor. We’re supposed to be better than that, especially in how we treat each other. The proposed construction of a new restaurant on Ocean Drive, where in-season parking is already scarce, seems to have brought out the worst in some of us, though. And the bulk of the blame lies with our elected officials, who've done nothing to address the parking problem. How many more incarnations of our City Council are going to continue to punt this problem – a parking shortage in the Central Beach business district, particularly along Ocean Drive, especially during our busy season – to the next bunch, hoping we'll not notice or at least grin and bear it? READ FULL STORY

School employees have data disclosed in security breach
week of March 23, 2017

The Indian River County School District is blaming PlanSource, a third-part vendor, for a security breach that revealed Social Security numbers of some school employees to other employees in the course of mailing out tax forms for the district’s self-insured health insurance plan. PlanSource was hired to generate Internal Revenue Service 1095-C forms, a required document that verifies employee health insurance and reports if other family members are covered on the plan. A School District email to employees sent March 10 states, “On March 3, 2017, the School District of Indian River County was notified that the Vendor that was contracted to produce the Form 1095-C for District employees made some errors (about 3.5 percent of the forms) regarding the information contained on those forms. “This included the release of some Social Security numbers. ... It appears that the error was caused by a misapplication of information that was provided to the Vendor by Florida Blue. This does represent a security breach on their part. READ FULL STORY

He’s baaack! Bobby returns to his restaurant on St. Patrick’s
week of March 23, 2017

St. Patrick’s Day is a festive occasion at Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge, where the bar area again this year was decorated with shamrocks, leprechaun hats, and green, white and orange balloons. Last week’s celebration, though, was particularly memorable. “This was my target date,” said Bobby McCarthy, who opened his popular, beachside eatery 36 years ago. “It’s been tough going the past three months, but I got through it. I’m about 90-percent back. “My balance is still out of whack, but I’m working out three days a week and I’m getting there,” he added. “It was important to me to be here today.” It also was important to dozens of his green-clad customers, many of whom hadn’t seen McCarthy since he suffered a seizure and collapsed at the restaurant on Dec. 13. When McCarthy, wearing a Kelly-green golf shirt and khaki shorts, walked into the bar shortly after noon last Thursday, a standing-room-only gathering filled the room with applause and welcomed him back with handshakes, hugs and kisses. READ FULL STORY

New shelter set to open its doors for homeless single women April 1
week of March 23, 2017

Sixteen single women facing homelessness will be housed and helped until they can get back on their feet, thanks to fast, effective work by volunteers and non-profit organization workers and the generosity of local donors. The new facility will begin operation April 1. The women will live at a quadplex purchased by churches, a Jewish temple, private donors and the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council. “It came together in 90 days,” Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council Executive Director Louise Hubbard said. “There was no contention about who would be served. The faith-based community saw a need, recognized what needed to be done and made it happen in three months,” Hubbard said. “It was amazing.” Other shelters in the area, such as Hope for Families Center and the Samaritan Center, take homeless families, but not single women. The coordinator of the effort was the Sand & Land Real Estate Team at the barrier island brokerage Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, comprised of Beth Livers, Maria Caldarone and Ashley Harris. READ FULL STORY

Acupuncturist who questioned billing practices gets hate mail
week of March 23, 2017

Three weeks after a local acupuncturist questioned a competitor's billing practices during the December County Commission meeting at which the county put a cap on future insurance payments for such treatment by its employees, she received an ugly letter allegedly sent by several dozen employees. Angela King, who owns Indian River Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine, said the typed, one-page piece of hate mail – unsigned, but bearing 40 hand-written initials – was mailed to both her office and her barrier island home in envelopes bearing a "fake" return address. Alarmed by its contents, King forwarded the letter to County Administrator Jason Brown, who turned it over to the Sheriff's Office. "It's something I take very seriously," Brown said. "If this was done by county employees, that is highly inappropriate conduct and something we won't tolerate. "We tried to track it down by checking to see if it was created on one of our computers, but we couldn't find it," he added. "So we then sent it to the Sheriff's Office, but, as far as I know, they still haven't been able to tie it to anyone in particular." READ FULL STORY

O’Malley: Dodgertown golf course would make ‘terrific’ park
week of March 23, 2017

The man whose father designed and built the now-defunct, long-abandoned Dodgertown Golf Club more than 50 years ago would like to see the property become a city park. He didn't come right out and say it, of course – at least not initially. He publicly shared his opinion only after some prodding. Despite his lifelong connection to the community, Peter O'Malley wouldn't dare to presume he knows more about what's best for Vero Beach than the people who live here. "The city owns the land, and it's more important to listen to what the community wants to do with it," the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner said last week from his Southern California office. "As I understand it, a large number of people cared enough to take time to attend the City Council meeting and share their thoughts and feelings. "And they were heard." In fact, the council unanimously rejected a $2.7 million offer from a Palm Beach Gardens-based developer who wanted to build a 280-home community on the 35-acre parcel adjacent to Historic Dodgertown. READ FULL STORY

Rail safety bill a nightmare for All Aboard Florida
week of March 23, 2017

Vero’s legislators are hoping to get the state to impose safety regulations on the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail project to protect local communities in the train’s path, and shelter taxpayers from funding needed safety upgrades. Florida Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Florida House Rep. Erin Grall are pushing bills in their respective chambers that would assign more of the burden of rail crossing safety equipment, fencing, disaster preparedness and reporting accountability to All Aboard Florida operators. The bill would expand the Florida Department of Transportation’s authority over companies that run trains over the same freight tracks that carry hazardous cargo such as natural gas and chemicals. Currently, Vero Beach and Indian River County face tough decisions about whether or not to create “quiet zones,” plus address numerous unanswered questions about rail crossing plans, potential costs and impacts on public safety and the environment from a train that would thunder past an archaeological site, delicate historic structures, wildlife habitat and through a business and entertainment district. READ FULL STORY

Consultant tells IRMC it must change to survive
week of March 16, 2017

The accelerated time frame of Indian River Medical Center’s examination of its own future made for some painful moments last week as the collaborative committee charged with that study endured two rigorous public critiques in a 48-hour time span. The admonitions ranged from hyperlocal, as when Hospital District trustee Michael Weiss told a taxpayer group’s luncheon on Wednesday that the emergency room on his last two visits was “dirty”; to the assessment of nationally-known healthcare consultant Jamie Orlikoff, who flew in from Seattle to speak to IRMC leaders on Friday. Orlikoff said IRMC was in no-man’s-land now, under taxpayer ownership through the Hospital District but leased to a private not-for-profit corporation, and warned that this public-private hybrid is utterly unworkable and must be dismantled immediately for the hospital to survive. Through both meetings, the collaborative committee held its collective head up high, soldiering on through what could well become an even harsher, more polarizing assessment. READ FULL STORY

Lagoon loses its devoted champion in Paul Dritenbas
week of March 16, 2017

The death of Paul Dritenbas last week, at age 65, has left the Indian River Lagoon without one of its most devoted and outspoken champions. The architect, fishing guide and former FIND commissioner died at his home in Vero Beach, with his family by his side, following an extended illness. “Paul had a big heart for the Indian River Lagoon and he will be missed,” County Commissioner Tim Zorc wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963. Dritenbas was a true environmentalist, who walked the talk when it came to issues he believed in. This was the thread that ran though virtually every aspect of his life: a passion for the local environment coupled with a broad knowledge of the lagoon and its fragile ecosystem, and a deep concern that the loss of seagrass in the lagoon, if not stopped, would lead to the ecological collapse of the waterway that is the economic and aesthetic lifeblood of the Treasure Coast. READ FULL STORY

Reckless driving seen in Shores car fatality
week of March 16, 2017

Before a classic Corvette struck a cement light pole Thursday morning on A1A, killing the driver who was the lone occupant of the car, witnesses told police they noticed the victim driving recklessly through Indian River Shores. The crash has been turned over to the Florida Highway Patrol for investigation, and forensic evidence typically takes many weeks to process. But initially, Shores Public Safety officers are chalking this one up to the driver losing control of his car on the highway. The deceased 51-year-old white male, John Pierce Keller Jr., lived in the Bethel Isle community just west of the Village Beach Market. The incident report released by the Shores Public Safety Department in response to a public records request said the first person to spot the black 1972 Corvette slammed into the base of the electric pole was David Albury, a security guard from Sea Colony who called in the crash at 7:40 a.m. Albury attempted to get the car door open but could not. Richard Dent, an off-duty paramedic with Indian River County Fire Rescue, was the first medical responder to arrive and conclude the subject had been killed on impact. READ FULL STORY

Bill would strip power from Vero and county
week of March 16, 2017

A bill filed that would prevent local governments from passing any new business regulations after July 1, and that would wipe clean all but state-approved regulations in 2020, has sailed through its first legislative committee hearing in Tallahassee. The City of Vero Beach, City of Sebastian and Members of the Board of County Commissioners have all taken issue with the bill, saying it would threaten their ability to shape regulation to the types of commerce and industry local communities want – or more importantly, don’t want. The Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties have put this threat to home rule, and its originator Rep. Randy Fine from Brevard County, squarely in their crosshairs, taking to social media and encouraging constituents to flood Tallahassee with pleas to stop the bill from advancing. House Bill 17 proposes two things. The first is a deadline of July 1 for local governments and agencies to pass or strengthen ordinances regulating businesses operating within their jurisdictions – unless a state law already grants those specific powers to the local government. After July 1, the state preempts all power to regulate businesses, unless expressly granted via state law. READ FULL STORY

Shores Town Council flip-flops on density, affirms beach access
week of March 16, 2017

In what has become a heated saga over selling off a 5.3-acre vacant parcel of ocean-view land acquired by Indian River Shores from the county in 1993, the Town Council last week decided at a special meeting that, instead of limiting density to three units per acre, it would stick with the original six-units-per-acre zoning. This reversed a council decision taken just two weeks ago that cut density to the three-per-acre limit. Also at that meeting, the council, before an occasionally raucous, packed house of nearly 65 residents arguing for and against higher density, voted once again to dedicate a 5-foot strip of right of way owned by the Town to a public beach access. That vote was handled in a confusing way, as a motion to reverse the previous vote to allow the beach access. That motion failed 3-2, leaving some advocates of the beach access grumbling as they exited the meeting, thinking they’d lost, when they actually won the battle. A post-meeting memo sent out by Town Clerk Laura Aldrich provided some clarity on the decision. READ FULL STORY

New restaurant building proposed for Ocean Drive would compound parking woes
week of March 16, 2017

The Vero Beach Planning and Zone Board on Thursday approved a site plan submitted by a local construction company on behalf of a Miami-area investment group for an upscale restaurant with outdoor seating on Ocean Drive. Sounds at first blush like a great addition to Ocean Drive, right? But then you learn they are proposing to build this restaurant in what is now the street-front parking lot sandwiched between the Cooper & Company and M Maison boutiques, across from Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge. According to the schematic drawing presented to neighboring merchants by Parent Construction, the 2,685-square-foot restaurant would seat 143 customers, 42 of them on a covered outdoor patio that runs along Ocean Drive. And the restaurant is not going to be an addition to the local dining scene but a new location for long-time island favorite The Tides. Despite the fact that Vero Beach officials still have no answer for Ocean Drive's existing parking challenges, which seem to increase each year, and despite the fact the restaurant would eliminate a dozen and a half parking places, city planners had recommended the board approve the project – and it did on a 4 to 1 vote. READ FULL STORY

Unlivable rentals seen factor in slide into homelessness
week of March 9, 2017

The lack of low- to-moderate-income housing in Indian River County creates a desperate situation for many low-income renters, and some landlords exploit the situation, demanding big up-front deposits and then keeping the money when tenants move out because of unlivable conditions – a process that too often leads to homelessness. Mark Titone of Titone Properties LLC, who lives in Central Beach, appears to be one of those landlords, according to non-profits that assist the homeless and county records. His company owns 44 rental properties in the county and has brought nearly 70 eviction actions against tenants since 2010. Court documents reveal a common thread. Many of the defendants claimed Titone promised to make a rental property livable, but never did. When they complained, he filed an eviction notice. Most of the evictions were successful, the tenants fleeing instead of “answering” the eviction summons. With cash depleted and ‘evicted’ stamped on their record, finding housing becomes more difficult and the slide into homelessness closer. READ FULL STORY

Hospital reports progress in negotiations with insurers
week of March 9, 2017

In Indian River County, where around a thousand babies are born each year, couples may endlessly debate names and pore over paint swatches for the nursery. More than likely, though, they will not have to think about which hospital to go to: only one does labor and delivery, Indian River Medical Center. The only other hospital, Sebastian River Medical Center, stopped performing deliveries years ago. That’s why last month, when IRMC quietly put one of its four largest insurance companies on notice of termination, for some county residents, a trip to the hospital to have a baby started to look a lot longer and a lot more expensive. Termination would have meant the hospital was no longer an in-network provider for those insured by that unnamed company, forcing patients to pay much higher out-of-network costs, or search for another hospital – for labor and delivery, that would mean Fort Pierce or Melbourne. The notice of termination strategy is a common one in negotiations for higher reimbursement rates, the amount insurers reimburse hospitals for their services. IRMC would not say which insurer had balked, or when notice would expire, but odds are excellent it was less than nine months. READ FULL STORY

Surge in private jet traffic leads to new construction at Vero airport
week of March 9, 2017

Corporate Air, one of two flight service companies catering to Vero’s jet set, has bet big on the Vero Beach Regional Airport as an increasingly popular destination for business and leisure travel – probably a good bet since the airport handled more than 200,000 takeoffs and landings last year. While much of that traffic was accounted for by flight school students practicing takeoffs and landings, Corporate Air CEO Rodger Pridgeon said he’s seen an 18 percent increase in jet traffic into and out of the airport over last year – a trend that shows no signs of abating. Nearly all of those disembarking are headed for Vero’s barrier island communities, he added. Pridgeon said traffic has been so heavy he has been turning away pilots radioing to come in for fuel, maintenance or hangar space. As a result, he is building a second private terminal at the airport and has worked a deal with the federal Department of Transportation to expand ramp space adjacent to his hangers. READ FULL STORY

School Board to act as judge in ‘testing irregularities’ case
week of March 9, 2017

The Indian River County School District investigation into cheating on industry certification tests at Vero Beach High School reeled in a few of the small and medium fish, but let the big ones get away, according to recently released documents. Despite evidence of broader culpability, Superintendent Mark Rendell was satisfied to lay the blame on two teachers for “testing irregularities” that went on for years with the department head’s approval and participation. Now, after the teachers refused to be the scapegoats and accept suspensions proposed by Rendell, the School Board has decided to conduct a follow-up investigation and render a judgment on its own instead of referring the cases to the state Division of Administrative Hearings. The School Board’s decision came despite protests from the teachers’ lawyer and one board member who questioned the board’s expertise and impartiality, and wanted the two cases referred to the state court. “I think you intend to do due process,” said Mark Wilensky, who represents both teachers, “but I don’t think you have a good grasp on what it takes to provide it.” Motions on evidence, discovery, disputed facts, document requests and problems with witnesses would be better handled if DOAH took the cases, he said. READ FULL STORY

Shores reverses decision it just made on beach property
week of March 9, 2017

The Indian River Shores Town Council met Thursday morning and voted to reverse its decision made two weeks ago to limit development on a 5.4-acre oceanside parcel to 15 units, and revert back to the original zoning that would allow approximately 30 units in total. Rather than ask the Town staff to make a recommendation beforehand, the council, in front of a packed chambers, last month listened to comments from the public and real estate agents, weighed its options on the fly, and settled on the maximum of 15 units for the prime development property. After the vote, however, the council asked Town Manager Robbie Stabe and building official Jose Guanch to review what had been done to make sure it was in the Town’s best interest and to report back. Guanch “sent me a memo that included a staff recommendation that Council should basically let the Land Development Code do what it is designed to do,” Stabe said Monday. Based upon that memo, Mayor Brian Barefoot called a meeting of the council for 9 a.m. Thursday. A notice was sent by email to residents about the meeting, but with no backup information about what action was being considered, only saying the council intended to “revisit” the density issue. READ FULL STORY

Charters’ bid for more tax money seen nearing verdict
week of March 9, 2017

A lawsuit filed by public charter schools against the Indian River County School Board over the distribution of property taxes has simmered for a year and a half, but a judge’s ruling will soon settle it. District Judge Paul Kanarek gave a final hearing to the parties last week and then instructed their lawyers to prepare draft orders by March 27. He did not state when he plans to write the final order. Both sides agree the case revolves around an interpretation of law. “If the law were clear, we wouldn’t be here,” Kanarek said last week. This is the first case in the state brought by any public charter school over distribution of property taxes. The tax in question is earmarked for operations and the imminent ruling will establish how the money gets divided between the charter and regular public schools in the county. The charters say the law mandates all students get an equal portion of operations taxes, but they’re getting only 5 percent, not the 13 percent that matches their share of students in the district. The School Board’s interpretation of the law is different. It maintains the voter-approved special tax can be distributed at its “discretion,” while other taxes set by the legislature are distributed equally among charter and traditional public schools. READ FULL STORY

Holy Cross Church gets a big surprise: ‘No Parking’signs
week of March 2, 2017

Two Mondays ago, Father Richard Murphy met with Vero Beach code enforcement officials to discuss safety issues Iris Lane residents say are caused by Holy Cross Catholic Church attendees parking on their street. “The city officials sent me away with the impression that we could work out a compromise that would address the problem,” the Holy Cross pastor said, “then they pulled the rug out from under our feet.” Two days after the meeting, city workers installed “No Parking” signs along the south side of Iris Lane, adjacent to the church – a move that sparked outrage from Holy Cross parishioners and left Murphy questioning the integrity of Vero Beach officials. Murphy also was puzzled by the timing: Not only were the signs posted without warning during the height of Vero Beach’s busy season, but the city installed them only days before the start of Lent, a 40-day, pre-Easter period when even many less-devout Catholics attend Mass. “People have been parking there for 30 years, and it has never been an issue,” Murphy said. “Now, all of a sudden, it’s a problem? Two days after we meet, they put up signs? Without a warning? READ FULL STORY

Complications galore as hospital options weighed
week of March 2, 2017

When consultant Jamie Orlikoff speaks to the new collaborative committee studying the future of Indian River Medical Center, his expert advice and analysis will be eagerly awaited. The last time Orlikoff came to Vero two years ago, he kept an audience of 40 hospital leaders riveted for seven long hours. Some of them heard him speak again last month in Seattle, when a group from IRMC visited Virginia Mason Health System; Orlikoff is vice-chair of the board. Orlikoff, national adviser on governance and leadership for the American Hospital Association, was listed among the 100 most powerful people in healthcare in Modern Healthcare magazine. This time, he’ll be tasked with giving local hospital leaders advice of a more existential nature: how to approach the stupefyingly complex issue of whether to remain a stand-alone taxpayer-owned hospital or somehow become part of larger system. It’ll be another long day for Orlikoff and his listeners; the committee expects to schedule him for morning and afternoon sessions. READ FULL STORY

$9.9 million spec home being built on South Beach
week of March 2, 2017

Developer Mariann Casarella went on what she calls an “intergalactic search” to find the perfect spot to build her next luxury spec home – starting in Wilmington, North Carolina, and driving her Mercedes all the way down the coast to South Florida, checking out likely sites. She found what she was looking for when Premier Estate Properties broker/associate Clark French showed her a rolling 2.3-acre lot in the estate section of Vero’s barrier island. “Clark took us to the right place at the right time,” says Casarella. “We had an offer written up within 15 minutes after arriving at the property that the owner accepted.” She closed on the land in October 2015, paying the bargain price of $1,975,000 for the 1,000-foot-deep lot with 100 feet of frontage on the Atlantic Ocean where there is a wide, accreting beach. Nine months later, in August 2016, permits were issued and work began at the site, with massive retaining walls going up to hold in place more than 10,000 cubic yards of fill used to raise the level of the lot 20 feet above sea level. READ FULL STORY

Gifford principal sharply criticized in teacher survey
week of March 2, 2017

After Vero Beach 32963 revealed serious problems with student discipline and teacher turnover at Gifford Middle School, District Superintendent Mark Rendell rushed to the defense of Gifford Principal Roxanne Decker, providing the School Board with copies of a survey he said showed teacher support for her. Rendell said there was a 66-percent response rate to the survey, which was sent out by Decker, with 36 out of 55 teachers participating. But there were noticeable problems with the undated, 6-question survey. While it was supposed to be anonymous, teachers had to enter an identifying code to get online to fill out the document. There were no questions that asked specifically about Decker’s performance. And no space was provided for written comments. Rendell did not supply the School Board with the results of another, more comprehensive survey that paint a devastating picture of conditions at Gifford Middle School, and constitute a serious indictment of Decker. Conducted at the end of the last school year by the Indian River County Education Association, this survey included 16 questions and was specifically designed to elicit feedback from teachers on their principals. Thirty out of 55 teachers at Gifford responded, many of them slamming Decker in harsh terms. READ FULL STORY

Shores approves beach access next to parcel to be auctioned
week of March 2, 2017

After deciding on density and agreeing to provide a five-foot public walkway to the beach, the Indian River Shores Town Council is ready to auction off a five-acre parcel of ocean-view land just north of the Tracking Station Beach Park in early May. The beach access right-of-way, which residents of Pebble Bay, Vera Cruz and other west-of-A1A communities had clamored to protect, passed by a narrow 3-2 margin. Councilman Dick Haverland and Councilwoman Debbi Penniston opposed the idea on the principle that each Shores resident holds a stake in the property and the council is the steward of that asset. Putting the parcel up for sale with a public access walkway attached would reduce the price it fetches in exchange for an amenity only enjoyed by a few, Haverland said. Vice Mayor Michael Ochsner strongly advocated for the beach access and Councilman Bob Auwaerter supported it, making Mayor Brian Barefoot the swing vote. After attending the previous week’s Planning Zoning and Variance Board meeting as an observer and listening to dozens of residents speak passionately about their need for beach access, Barefoot said, “We definitely got the gist. READ FULL STORY

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