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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


Vero may soon sell Dodgertown Golf Course for homes
week of February 23, 2017

Vero Beach City Manager Jim O'Connor said he plans to recommend the City Council accept a $2.7 million offer from a Palm Beach Gardens-based real estate developer seeking to purchase the 35-acre parcel on which the long-defunct Dodgertown Golf Club was built more than 50 years ago. Murphy Garlinge & Associates, which has been trying to buy the land for the past year, wants to build a 280-unit residential development that will be compatible with the Historic Dodgertown backdrop. "We still need to review some of the details in the contract, but in my opinion, based on the information I have today, this is a good offer," O'Connor said Monday afternoon. "This property has been on the market for a considerable period of time, and we've had some other offers that were considerably lower. "The property has been appraised at about $3 million," he added, "but I think this tells us what the market will bear." The sale will be placed on the agenda for the council's March 7 meeting, O'Connor said. READ FULL STORY


Will Coach Joe be reinstated as teacher tonight?
week of February 23, 2017

Embattled Sebastian River High School criminal justice teacher Joe Nathaniel, who has been on paid suspension for more than a year after physically subduing a violent student during a classroom scuffle, could be reinstated tonight. School Board Chairman Charles Searcy last week called a special meeting to decide Nathaniel’s fate in the wake of a state administrative law judge’s Jan. 31 recommendation that the teacher be exonerated of all charges brought against him by the school district. “Rather than take up this matter during our regular board meeting on Feb. 28, I felt this issue deserves our total attention,” Searcy said of the special Thursday meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the School Board chamber. “It’s the only item on the agenda, so we can give it a full and fair hearing, and I expect we’ll have some members of the community who will want to address the board before we vote,” he added. “This was the soonest we could get it scheduled.” READ FULL STORY


Four months after Matthew, beach repair near completion
week of February 23, 2017

While sun worshippers packed Vero’s Conn Beach this week, workers rushed to finish repairs to the boardwalk and dune before next Tuesday’s start of the turtle nesting season. The sand that Hurricane Matthew washed out from under the boardwalk and road last November has now all been replaced, but with only days to go until the turtle nesting deadline halts all work on beaches, more remained to be done. The $319,375 Conn Beach project covers approximately 400 feet of shoreline, from the south end of the boardwalk north to the lifeguard shack, a stretch City Manager Jim O' Connor called “our worst post-storm dune problem.” The job was expected to consume about 15,000 cubic yards of government-approved sand that contractor Mancil's Tractor Service of Palm City has been hauling in since Jan. 21. The company is also replacing the black fabric windscreen, which was ripped from the boardwalk's east side by the storm, according to Mancil’s employee Mike Waters. This involves stapling the fabric to the boardwalk, then securing it with furring strips, a time-consuming process that Waters estimates could take a week and a half at least. READ FULL STORY


After $4 million loss, IRMC leaders put a range of options on the table
week of February 23, 2017

It was less than a month ago that Indian River Medical Center faced a double jolt when its CEO announced an unforeseen retirement amid first-quarter financial reports showing a $4 million loss. Now turmoil swirls again. IRMC’s chief competitor, Sebastian River Medical Center, was sold for the second time in three years – just as IRMC leadership officially began taking a hard look at whether to sell the Vero hospital, join a group to gain bargaining power, or try to right the numbers in the perilous status quo, continuing as a stand-alone institution. With last quarter’s IRMC losses at $4 million, the elected oversight board known as the Hospital District voted unanimously to form a collaborative committee with the hospital’s board of directors to do a strategic assessment of the hospital and District’s interrelated structure. That includes hiring outside consultants and legal experts. READ FULL STORY


Who is buying Sebastian River Medical Center?
week of February 23, 2017

After breaking ground in August on Sebastian River Medical Center’s big 90,000-square-foot, $64 million expansion project, it seemed unlikely that parent company Community Health Systems would turn around and sell the hospital. But sell it they did last week, along with Melbourne’s two Wuesthoff Medical Centers and five other hospitals, in a deal that is expected to go through in the second quarter, according to the company website. It’s the second time in three years that three area hospitals have changed hands. The sale seems to be the Franklin, Tenn.-based chain’s most desperate move yet to pay off some of its $15 billion in debt. Community Health Systems is the second-largest investor-owned hospital system in the country. Its website shows it having 158 hospitals in 22 states, though that may not reflect recent divestitures. READ FULL STORY


Marine Bank reports net profit of $900,000 for 2016
week of February 23, 2017

New residential construction, a resurgent real-estate market and the post-recession expansion of small businesses – along with an increase in new deposit accounts – combined to produce another successful year for the only community bank headquartered in Vero Beach. Marine Bank & Trust announced this week "strong earnings and asset growth for 2016," reporting $211 million in total assets as of Sept. 30. That number rose from $193 million as of Dec. 31, 2015. Top-line revenues were up 11 percent from 2015 and, as a result of the solid performance, Marine maintained its "five-star superior" rating from Bauer Financial, the nation's premier bank-rating firm. The bank also reported a net profit of $900,000 for the year, despite its earnings being impacted by the cost of a major technology upgrade during the first half of 2016 and the acquisition of a Sebastian branch in October. READ FULL STORY


Patisserie chef Mark Edmonds dead
at 47
week of February 23, 2017

Every couple in the restaurant business knows Valentine’s Day is a nightmare. So the evening before, Mark Edmonds made a special dinner for Christian Garcia, his husband of two years and his partner in Patisserie Vero Beach. It was a favorite of Mark’s: a casserole of homemade lamb sausage, and for dessert, a little cake. Exhausted after a day that started at 4:30 a.m. and was particularly intense making sweets for the holiday, the couple sat down on the couch together after dinner to relax. Suddenly, Edmonds slumped over, unresponsive after an apparent and unheralded heart attack. He never revived. He was 47. The next day, sweethearts who headed to the Patisserie found a note on the door: closed for a family emergency. News of Edmonds’ death travelled quickly via social media and soon, instead of chocolates and roses, thoughts in Vero turned to how quickly a perfect love can be shattered. READ FULL STORY


Vero electric sale suddenly seems a real possibility
week of February 16, 2017

After three years of dormancy, mostly under a "can't do" Vero Beach City Council, a plan for the city to buy its way out of a statewide power co-op's stranglehold is suddenly very much in play. Florida Municipal Power Agency told Vero officials it will cost $108 million to exit the co-op's contracts so Vero electric can be sold to Florida Power & Light. FMPA members and staff were set to discuss the exit cost Thursday during the group's Orlando board meeting, but the announcement of a dollar amount came in the midst of a record-breaking eight-and-a-half-hour Vero council meeting last Tuesday, giving city officials the immediate chance to weigh in. Initial reactions were positive, with the council praising Mayor Laura Moss for making inroads with the FMPA's new CEO, Jacob Williams. Williams had vowed to make the issue of Vero’s exit a priority, but also cautioned that no matter what his staff proposed, any deal would need to be approved by all of Vero's partner cities that co-own FMPA assets and liabilities. READ FULL STORY


Near-death experience – and a life saved – at Jungle Club
week of February 16, 2017

When Michael Pinheiro tumbled backwards and collapsed unconscious on the floor after completing his workout at Jungle Club last Monday, his life hung in the balance. At age 40, he had suffered a severe heart attack with complete closure of his left anterior descending coronary artery – the classic “widow-maker.” And if it weren't for the near-instantaneous and seemingly perfectly synchronized actions of a handful of Jungle Club patrons and staff members, Pinheiro’s wife might very well be a widow today, with six children to care for on her own. As it was, Indian River Medical Center registered nurse Chris Scales, who happened to be close at hand, Sheriff’s Department Lt. Roger Harrington, and others immediately rolled Pinheiro over, cleared his airways and performed CPR – the classic emergency procedure in which the heart is stimulated by a rhythmic series of hard chest compressions. Then, as the CPR compressions continued, they forced air into the U.S. Army veteran’s lungs and administered electrical shocks to re-start his heart with an automated external defibrillator the gym keeps handy. READ FULL STORY


House Speaker pays a cash call to our island
week of February 16, 2017

Republican politicians know our island is a lucrative as well as warm place to visit in the winter, and House Speaker Paul Ryan did just that last week to raise money for his PAC. Ryan flew into Vero Beach Regional Airport last Wednesday where he met up with members of the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, who assisted Ryan’s Capitol Police security detail while the Speaker was in town. After spending the night at the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa, Ryan on Thursday morning met for a couple of hours with supporters at the John’s Island Club, then motored a half dozen miles up A1A to Windsor, where John Childs – a major Republican bundler – hosted a $10,000-a-head fundraiser. Ironically, over the past few years, one of Ryan’s predecessors as speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, has been an occasional weekend Windsor houseguest. Ryan’s office in Washington, D.C. does not have a live person manning the phones, only an automated voicemail system. His communications staff did not return a message requesting comment about his Vero trip. READ FULL STORY


Brady Roberts set to define new era for Museum of Art
week of February 16, 2017

The halls of the Vero Beach Museum of Art may seem as serene as ever. But inside the administrative offices, Brady Roberts is keeping a frenetic schedule. The museum’s new executive director and CEO is filling in as curator at the same time as he learns the ropes of his own position. Former curator Jay Williams retired almost simultaneously with longtime executive director Lucinda Gedeon, leaving a double void. On the plus side, the twin departures allow Roberts to hire a curator of his choosing. But in the meantime he is stretched thin. Not that it shows – Roberts seems to be drawing from a bottomless well of enthusiasm. Last week, he was wrapping up individual meetings with some 25 members of the Board of Trustees – the same board that unanimously voted to hire him over a dozen other candidates considered in a six-month search. READ FULL STORY


Shores zoning board moves three-lot auction forward
week of February 16, 2017

The Shores Town Council last week signed off on a proposal to divide a 5.4-acre oceanside parcel into three 1.6-acre homesites, but Mayor Brian Barefoot and his four colleagues still need to decide if and how they should reduce the permitted density from the current five units per acre, and how to address neighboring residents’ cries for beach access through the property. They got some guidance on the second question on Monday when the town’s planning and zoning board voted unanimously to recommend the Town set aside a 5-foot-wide walkway to honor the decades-long use of the property as beach access for residents who live west of A1A. Auctioneer Wesley Davis pitched the idea to the Town Council of taking the parcel, which was historically divided into two lots – one with all the oceanside frontage, and one with all the A1A frontage – and reconfiguring it as three deep lots, each having both A1A and oceanside frontage. He and Town Attorney Chester Clem explained that the Town could opt for an access easement on the southernmost lot, or set aside a swath of land five or more feet wide to be owned and maintained by the Town for public beach access. READ FULL STORY


Coach Joe accuses school bosses of underhanded deal
week of February 16, 2017

After being cleared of any wrongdoing by a state judge two weeks ago, Sebastian River High School teacher Joe Nathaniel continued to accuse district administrators who sought to fire him of trying to work an underhanded quid pro quo deal with the family of the youth he physically subdued during a classroom altercation. For months, Nathaniel has alleged that Assistant Schools Superintendent William Fritz offered to use his influence to urge prosecutors to drop two misdemeanor criminal charges against Isaiah Speights if the teen and his mother collaborated with the district in its case against the embattled criminal justice teacher. Speights, now 19, was charged with criminal mischief (causing damage between $200 and $1,000) and disruption of school functions, both counts stemming from his Nov. 17, 2015, scuffle with Nathaniel, who has spent the past 13 months on paid suspension. Nathaniel's claim has been corroborated by Tony Brown, president of the county's NAACP chapter, and Calvin Moment, who knows both Nathaniel and Speights and brought their families together two months after the incident in hopes they could resolve their differences. READ FULL STORY


Hit-and-run driver who killed Orchid man sentenced to 15 years
week of February 16, 2017

The woman who killed Orchid Island winter resident Peter Meyer in a hit-and-run incident two years ago in Savannah, Ga., was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison. After an emotional, 90-minute hearing at which Darcia Lavonde Hymon changed her plea to guilty, Superior Court Judge James Bass Jr. imposed the maximum penalty allowed under Georgia law for vehicular homicide. The 52-year-old Jacksonville woman has been held without bond in the Chatham County Jail since her November 2015 arrest and, even with credit for time served, could spend the next 13 years in prison. According to the Georgia.gov website, most parole-eligible convicts must serve at least one-third of their sentence before the State Board of Pardons and Paroles will consider their cases. "I'm an attorney, so I know it's a legal system and not a justice system," said Meyer's daughter Sue Ross, who, along with her sister and niece, testified at the hearing about the impact of her father's tragic death. "She was punished to the fullest extent of the law. That's the most we, as a family, could hope for. READ FULL STORY


How’s ‘exceptional’ ed doing? No report from School District
week of February 16, 2017

More than a year into exceptional-student-education reform within the Indian River County School District, no clear report has been given by staff on what is happening. At a recent “workshop” to inform School Board members, staff stuck to generalities, mostly regurgitating federal requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. They told the board what is expected and required, but not what is actually happening here. Students are classified as “exceptional” for a wide range of reasons, including autism, vision or hearing impairments, emotional disturbance, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, speech/language disabilities, traumatic brain injury, specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia, orthopedic impairments, and other health impairments such as asthma, ADD/ADHD and diabetes. When he was hired in 2015, the school board directed Superintendent Mark Rendell to improve education for these students. Six months later he hired the Boston-based consulting firm District Management Council for three years at nearly $50,000 a year. Six months after they were hired – at a workshop last May – the company reported that schools here had 30 percent fewer exceptional student education teachers, and 40 percent fewer exceptional student teacher assistants, than “similar” school districts. READ FULL STORY


More old homes torn down as land value rises
week of February 9, 2017

If you have noticed houses disappearing in your neighborhood, don’t worry: Your eyes are not deceiving you. Houses are vanishing more and more frequently from one end of the island to the other – there one week, gone the next – as rising property values, built-out neighborhoods, stricter building codes and changing tastes in home styles drive the tear-down-and-build-new phenomenon. “In many communities on the island, the only way to get a lot is tear down an existing house, and we are firmly in the teardown phase of development in those neighborhoods,” says Premier Estate Properties broker/associate Clark French. The houses being torn down are not worn-out shacks for the most part. Many are million-dollar or even multimillion-dollar homes that are in good condition, but that don’t meet the needs of buyers. “We are seeing a lot of it in Riomar,” says Matilde Sorensen, co-owner of Dale Sorensen Real Estate. “I was driving over there the other day and, my gosh, they are tearing one down on Painted Bunting and a couple on Club Drive. It is amazing. These are livable properties that are retailing for more than a million dollars that people are tearing down so they can build new. I think the future of Vero Beach is going to involve a lot of that.” READ FULL STORY


Shores to sell land in unusual auction
week of February 9, 2017

A 5.4-acre parcel located on the east side of A1A across from Pebble Bay that has been a source of civic contention over the past year or so will be sold in an unusual auction in April, thanks to a plan hatched by former County Commissioner Wesley Davis. Re-plated into three 1.6-acre home sites, the property will be sold in the real estate equivalent of a three-dimensional chess game. Potential buyers can bid on a single home site, two home sites or the entire property. If the lots are sold individually early in the auction, there will be a second layer to the process in which bidders can vie to buy two lots for a single price or to purchase the entire property. If the combo bid is higher than the total of the separate lot bids, it will trump the earlier winning bids. Thus, there could be one, two or three winning bidders and participants who are high-bidder on one or more of the initial single-lot sales could go home emptyhanded. READ FULL STORY


One-fifth of teachers at Gifford Middle have quit thus far this year
week of February 9, 2017

How bad are things at Gifford Middle School? Halfway through the school year, 10 out of 48 teachers – 21 percent – have already left. Two teachers who quit their jobs at the school blamed Principal Roxanne Decker’s failure to provide additional staff and other support before increasing the number of special education children placed in general education classrooms. The school is in the second year of increased mainstreaming. Bill Wood and Bonnie Julin were both rated “highly effective teachers” by the district, but said they found it impossible to teach in an increasingly disruptive and potentially dangerous atmosphere at Gifford Middle. They said special and general education students were not getting the attention or services they deserved, and that overall discipline in the school was absent. According to the teachers, when they reported problems and asked for support they were supposed to be receiving, Decker blamed them and criticized their classroom management skills. READ FULL STORY


Homeless live in camps in woods throughout county
week of February 9, 2017

Four homeless men and three homeless women banded together and formed a camp in a wooded area of Vero two months ago. They set up a kitchen, shower, bathroom and several sleeping tents. They share the labor of hauling five-gallon water jugs to the camp, and take turns watching over the tents while others are at work or training. The seven are part of a growing homeless population in Indian River County that numbered at least 800 last year, and includes hundreds of children and along with many working people whose wages do not cover the cost of housing. The seven living in the camp were counted in the annual homeless census recently carried out by the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council as part of the process whereby the TCHSC qualifies for state and federal aid. Counting the homeless is a tough job because they are literally a moving target, living in camps scattered throughout Indian River County that break up and reform all the time. READ FULL STORY


Trump trade policies seen not hurting Piper
week of February 9, 2017

The protectionist trade policies promised by President Donald Trump are on Piper Aircraft's radar, but a spokesperson for the Vero Beach-based company said it sells fewer of its planes overseas today than it did in the past, and doesn’t expect tariff changes to jeopardize its future. Asked if the company might consider moving its operations outside the U.S. if other countries impose retaliatory tariffs in response to the import tariffs threatened by Trump, Piper marketing and communications director Jackie Carlon replied, "Gosh, no." "Our business used to be 50-50," Carlon said of Piper's domestic and foreign sales. "Now, it's more like 10 or 15 percent outside the U.S., though we're up around 30 percent this year because of the China deal.” Last month, Beijing-based China Air Shuttle ordered 50 single-engine Archers, one of Piper’s more popular flight-training models. "We also have some M-Class aircraft going to Europe, five Seminoles going to Australia and we saw an uplift in our market in Japan last year," Carlon said. "The M600 is moving along at a healthy pace, the M500 is a popular product and our trainers are growing in market share.” READ FULL STORY


Community center plans divide Indian River Shores
week of February 9, 2017

Distinct differences of opinion on the value – and the potential cost – of having a spacious and classy Community Center as part of the Indian River Shores Town Hall complex mean that the town will price out two different options for the building. One view, voiced most forcefully by Councilman Dick Haverland, is that the current size is sufficient and that two-thirds of Town residents live in private communities with clubhouses they can use for large or lavish events. But Councilwoman Debbi Peniston says the Shores’ bridge club and other groups that use the existing Community Center on a regular basis are at capacity, and the Shores needs a facility that fits the upscale character of the Town. Haverland said, “98 percent of the users have 50 or fewer people,” and suggested rental fees would never pay for a bigger building, but Peniston argued that the facility is not about breaking even. “Having a Community Center where people can come together is an important part of the community,” Peniston said, adding that she thought the additional space could be included in the building design “without doubling the expense.” READ FULL STORY


Official optimistic FMPA will not block partial sale
week of February 9, 2017

Ever since Florida Municipal Power Association CEO Jacob Williams told the Vero Beach City Council that the co-op’s bondholders would need to approve the partial sale of Vero’s electric system in Indian River Shores, there’s been a cloud of uncertainty about whether that might gum up the works. But Shores Councilman Bob Auwaerter now says the needed approval may not be a problem after all. Auwaerter, who serves as the Shores’ representative on Vero’s Utility Commission and also volunteers on the FMPA’s solar survey project, attended the FMPA’s January meeting in Orlando to hear a presentation by top FMPA managers about Vero’s efforts to sell the Shores’ electric customers to Florida Power & Light for $30 million. “I got the sense that there was acceptance of the partial sale,” Auwaerter said, adding that he did note an error in the staff’s analysis and got it corrected. He said the FMPA had estimated the Shores customers make up 14 percent of the Vero system’s customer base and power consumption, but the actual number is somewhere between 8 and 9 percent. READ FULL STORY


State audit faults School District on health insurance fund
week of February 9, 2017

A recent audit reveals the Indian River County School District did not transfer money from the general fund into the health insurance fund, as promised, raising the question of whether employee insurance premiums are being used to pay down the fund’s $7 million deficit. The School Board previously told district administrators they could not raise insurance premiums to pay off the deficit. Supposedly, the recent 32-percent increase in premiums, totaling about $4 million more from employees this year, is being used only to pay for this year’s claims and administration fees. But since there is no record of a transfer, it is unclear how the district paid vendors the $3.8 million owed at the end of last fiscal year, June 30, 2016. The school district is self-insured, which means it owns and operates its own health insurance company. All insurance providers in the state file a yearly plan with the state Office of Insurance Regulation, which approves or denies it, pulling or renewing the provider’s license. READ FULL STORY


Hopeful buyer of INEOS plans to employ 200
week of February 2, 2017

Alliance BioEnergy President Daniel de Liege told county commissioners last week that he plans to employ 200 people at the defunct INEOS plant if his offer to buy the property is accepted, and if he can be sure there’s a steady stream of yard waste to feed his patented, mechanical process for making ethanol. The Board of County Commissioners heard him out, and directed staff to draft a 90-day option on the county’s mulched vegetative material discarded by residents and landscapers. That deal, which is expected to be voted on Feb. 7, was the outcome de Liege hoped for as he said he needed an arrangement in place on the “feed stock” as part of his funding package for the purchase. But when he went to the podium, de Liege also got a seemingly unanticipated lecture about how not to operate his business. If he succeeds in convincing owner Arbor Bank and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that he is the right guy to take over the operation, county officials want to be kept very much in the loop. READ FULL STORY


Ocean Drive parking still a mess as GoLine gives up
week of February 2, 2017

"Disappointed but not surprised." That's how Caesar Mistretta, co-owner of the Stringer Gallery on Ocean Drive, described his feelings about the failure of GoLine's now-defunct beachside bus route to ease the parking shortage in the Central Beach business district. "With only eight people a day riding it, I can't blame them for shutting it down," said Mistretta, who is also president of Vero's Beachside Retailers Association and an Oceanside Business Association board member. "It was worth a shot, I suppose, but none of us had much hope for it, anyway.” Mistretta and other Central Beach merchants, especially those who own smaller boutiques and galleries along Ocean Drive, were hopeful that beachside hotel and restaurant workers would park in Riverside Park and ride the shuttle rather than park on the streets, where they occupy spaces needed by customers. But the merchants warned that the shuttle would significantly alleviate the parking shortage only if hotel and restaurant managers required employees to use it. READ FULL STORY


Hospital CEO announces decision to retire as losses mount
week of February 2, 2017

Just a year and a half ago, in the fall of 2015, Indian River Medical Center’s Jeff Susi said under oath in a deposition that he expected to remain as CEO for another “seven to 10 years.” Those plans have changed. Susi, who turns 65 in three months, will be out by the end of this year. Both the official hospital press release and a letter from Susi to the board say he has decided to “retire.” But the unexpected departure of one of the county’s highest paid executives is set against a landscape of financial losses that has some past and present Hospital District board members blanching. In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, Indian River Medical Center lost $4 million, an 800-percent increase over the half-million-dollar loss projected by the hospital, and a nosedive from the same quarter last year, when the hospital, with over 250 staffed beds, lost $1.2 million. The first-quarter numbers are from October through December, when many winter residents had already arrived, yet the hospital was operating at only half-capacity. Admissions were down 11 percent from last year, and were 7.5 percent less than the budget was banking on. READ FULL STORY


Shots heard ’round Ocean Pearl fired by duck hunters
week of February 2, 2017

When Leslie Hunt first heard the popping sounds in December, she wasn’t sure what it was or where it was coming from. “I was in my house with the doors and windows closed,” she said, “so I thought it was ice cubes dropping from the freezer in my refrigerator.” Then, shortly before Christmas, she learned her Ocean Pearl neighbors were hearing the same noises, particularly in the late afternoon – and, to them, it sounded like gunshots. Turns out, the disturbing sounds were shotgun blasts. After Hunt called the police, Indian River Shores Public Safety Director Richard Rosell, who said his department received “a bunch of complaints” about the gunshots in January, conducted an investigation. Using his personal boat to take several trips over to Pine Island – located in the Indian River Lagoon, immediately west of the town’s northern tier – Rosell found duck hunters shooting legally on county-owned property. “There’s a part of the island that’s within the town limits, and we have an ordinance making it illegal to discharge a firearm in the town, but they were on the county side of the island, where hunting is legal,” Rosell said. READ FULL STORY


Hurricane Matthew caused more damage than originally thought
week of January 26, 2017

A last-minute shift in course spared Vero Beach from devastation when Hurricane Matthew blew by in early October. The core of the monster storm missed Indian River County by about 40 miles. High winds blew down trees and tore up area beaches, but largely spared homes and businesses. Vero Beach breathed a huge sigh of relief. But it turns out more destruction was caused by Hurricane Matthew than most people realized. A heavy storm surge that came in through the Sebastian Inlet, wind-driven waves, and boats blown loose from their moorings smashed docks and piers from the Inlet as far south as The Moorings Yacht and Country Club, causing millions of dollars in damage – little of which is eligible for FEMA reimbursement. Dozens of docks in such communities as John’s Island, Seagrove and The Moorings were damaged or destroyed, and many won’t be repaired or replaced for months to come. “In Vero, most of the damage was on the west shore of the island,” said dock builder Ron DeGrazia, owner of Vero Dock. “The docks at the Moorings – including the Anchor on the northwest side – were damaged, and John’s Island had a lot of damage. We did extensive work on Seagrove’s marina. The finger piers were damaged, mostly from boats broken loose in the storm. READ FULL STORY


Good teachers quit, blaming policies they say make it impossible to teach
week of January 26, 2017

Indian River County School District is losing good teachers who say emotionally disturbed and academically limited kids now are being mixed in with regular students, resulting in classroom disruptions that make it impossible to teach the rest of the pupils. Two teachers rated “highly effective” – Bill Wood, a 30-year science teacher, and Bonnie Julin, a seven-year reading teacher – left Gifford Middle School because of the recently-instituted practice with the politically correct name “inclusion.” Wood said he had been told by Principal Roxanne Decker that teachers and assistants who specialize in “exceptional students” – the PC name for emotionally disturbed, physically disabled and academically limited kids – would also be assigned to his classes, but that it didn’t happen. Julin said she asked Decker for the same support, but was told there was no money. Both Julin and Wood said disruptions in their classrooms made it impossible to teach, and said they left their jobs to save their health. “My doctor told me I’ve got to stop, I’m going to stroke-out in the classroom,” Julin said, whose last day was in mid-January. “This is a second career for me. I love teaching and I took to it like a duck to water. I’m really good at it and I want to continue.” READ FULL STORY


Beach repair gets underway at condo near Jaycee Park
week of January 26, 2017

Beach repair began this week on about 400 feet of shoreline fronting condominiums just north of Jaycee Park, part of the stretch of local beach hardest hit by Hurricane Matthew last October. Rather than wait for the county or city to bring in sand, the condominium association is paying for the project itself to protect its property. All day Monday, and for the next several days, dump trucks, each hauling 18 to 20 cubic yards of sand from Stuart Mining Industries in Fort Pierce, rolled along the northern edge of Jaycee Park to the dune line to dump their loads. After each truckload of sand was dumped at the dune line, Alan Votrobek, a trackhoe operator with Henry Fischer and Sons in Sebastian, scooped it up and loaded it into a waiting off-loader truck, which then hauled it up the beach where a bulldozer placed and smoothed the sand. Votrobek expected the job to take four days and use 138 truckloads of sand. He said beach renourishment projects such as this one usually come up at least once a year, typically after a hurricane or other damaging storm. READ FULL STORY


Vero Stormwater Utility Fee endorsed by key commissions
week of January 26, 2017

The Vero Beach Finance and Utilities commissions have jointly supported setting up a dedicated funding source of nearly $1 million per year to complete stormwater projects to reduce and filter runoff into the lagoon, but the final decision now rests with the City Council. The council may decide to approve the plan as recommended by the two committees – a fee of $5 per month on average for residential properties, to be tacked on to the utility bills of city residents – or to send the question to the voters via a referendum. As Finance Committee Chair Peter Gorry pointed out, the stormwater fee would equate to a 20 percent tax hike atop Vero’s annual property taxes. But roughly 27 percent of the fee, under the recommended plan, would be billed to entities currently exempt from property taxes. Government buildings, schools and churches that are the source of nutrients that end up in the lagoon would see the fee on their utility bills, assessed according to the square footage of impervious surface on their property. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council puts off hiring attorney for electric sale
week of January 26, 2017

The Carlton Fields law firm has presented its terms to the City of Vero Beach for handling the sale of Indian River Shores electric customers to Florida Power & Light for $30 million cash, but a vote on hiring the firm was put off until early February. City Attorney Wayne Coment received the six-page document outlining terms and fees less than an hour prior to the council’s Jan. 17 evening meeting. When he proposed adding the item to the agenda, the council demurred. Mayor Laura Moss said it wasn’t proper to vote on the engagement letter not only because the council would be reading it on the fly, but also because “it hasn’t been advertised and the public hasn’t had a chance to review it.” “We propose a blended rate of $480 per hour for any of our attorneys who work on this transaction. If any paralegal assistance is required, we would bill for such paralegals at their standard rates which generally range at present between $190 and $250 per hour,” wrote attorney Nathaniel Doliner, who was interviewed on two separate occasions by the City Council. READ FULL STORY


New 10-home subdivision coming to the north island
week of January 26, 2017

In recent weeks, a bulldozer’s roar, a construction truck dumping fill and a new real estate sign promoting home lots have signaled that a long-dormant subdivision is springing back to life along A1A on the north end of the island. The Reserve at Pelican Island will offer 10 one- and two-story custom homes on approximately quarter-acre lots priced between $500,000 and $1 million. Foundation work is underway for the first home, which is scheduled for completion in late summer or early fall. The 3.71 acre site opposite the Seaview subdivision is unique because the property juts into the Pelican Island wildlife sanctuary – the first national wildlife refuge in the country founded in 1903 to protect exotic birds that were being slaughtered wholesale for feathers to adorn women’s hats. Before Indian River County first approved the subdivision in 2005, county planners urged the developers to sell the land to the federal government to square off the border of the refuge, but they declined. READ FULL STORY


Bioenergy firm ups its bid for INEOS plant
week of January 19, 2017

The West Palm Beach-based bioenergy firm angling to buy the defunct INEOS plant out by the landfill to produce ethanol from yard waste says it’s upping its offer for the property in hopes of speeding up the takeover process. Daniel de Liege, CEO of Alliance BioEnergy, had a two-hour meeting with high-level U.S. Department of Agriculture decision-makers on Dec. 29 where he pitched his offer and plan for the factory. He said the officials were “very supportive and very interested in our technology.” But Anchor Bank, which holds the USDA-backed $49-million note on the INEOS property, has hired a California broker to market the plant, which might delay a closing if the broker opts to open the sale to competitive bidding. To forestall that, de Liege said Monday his company is “significantly increasing” its offer. Alliance is only interested in INEOS’ property, equipment and contracts with the county for the yard waste material, not the INEOS technology or the deep well injection rights that go with the site. READ FULL STORY


Bidding war at Central Beach house auction
week of January 19, 2017

A house auction in Central Beach produced some drama last Saturday, when two women got into a prolonged back and forth bidding war that lasted 25 minutes and pushed the sale price of the home up from around $380,000 to more than half a million. Ron Rennick of Rennick Auctions was offering the 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath, 2,550-square-foot house at 716 Conn Way in what he characterized as an “absolute auction,” meaning there was no reserve or minimum price. “Whoever has the high bid will get the house, absolutely,” Rennick said the day before the auction. Built in 1953 and later enlarged, the frame ranch-style home has the great virtue of being located on a .31-acre lot just a block and half from the ocean, but it is noticeably dated, with obsolete bathrooms and bedrooms and an old kitchen. Still, it drew a large crowd of bidders and onlookers on a sunny morning in Central Beach. The stretch of Conn Way between A1A and Ocean Drive was lined with parked cars and a least 100 people packed the living room, family room and front porch ahead of the auction. READ FULL STORY


Should kids be operating power boats on their own?
week of January 19, 2017

Vero Marine Center co-owner Brian Cunningham said he doesn’t see many minors operating motor boats in our local waters – especially when they’re without adult supervision. “I’m sure they’re out there,” he said, “probably in smaller boats and around the islands.” But should he see any at all? That question continues to be asked weeks after 15-year-old Vero Beach High School freshman Jimmy Graves died in a boating accident in the Indian River Lagoon. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s investigation is “still ongoing,” agency spokesman Chad Weber said, and a full report might not be available until early February. Thus far, few details have been released. The FWC reported that Graves was knocked out of a 17-foot Boston Whaler at about 10:45 a.m. on the first Sunday in December, when the boat hit a wave about a half-mile south of the 17th Street Bridge. He did not surface after falling overboard. READ FULL STORY


Attorney tells City Council full sale of Vero Electric not going to happen
week of January 19, 2017

It was no shock when attorney Tom Cloud told the Vero Beach City Council last week that getting out of the electric business isn’t going to happen. After all, Cloud was part of the team that appraised Vero electric for $185 million in 2011 after Florida Power & Light had offered $100 million cash. Cloud was interviewing for the job of handling the sale of Indian River Shores’ 3,000 electric customers to Florida Power & Light – a bid he lost to Nathaniel Doliner of mega-firm Carlton Fields – but since all five members of the current council have gone on record as being for a complete sale of the system, that topic came up. And Cloud, never passing up the opportunity to demonstrate his legal prowess, dug his own proverbial grave. But even before Cloud opined that the Florida Municipal Power Agency’s membership pacts were basically ironclad and would prevent Vero from closing the sale, the Gray Robinson firm he is part of had a few major things going against it, including apparent conflict of interest. READ FULL STORY


Ex-CIA director tells Vero of concerns about Trump
week of January 19, 2017

The more Michael Hayden said during his visit to Vero Beach last weekend, the more it became obvious he's hoping for the best from the next American president but bracing for something less. Maybe far less. During an exclusive interview with Vero Beach 32963 between his two Celebrated Speakers Series lectures Saturday at the Emerson Center, the former director of the National Security Agency (1999-2005) and Central Intelligence Agency (2006-2009) expressed numerous concerns about President-elect Donald Trump. Among them were Trump's damaged relationship with the U.S. intelligence community, inability to endure criticism of any kind, unrestrained use of Twitter, sometimes-volatile temperament, often-antagonistic rhetoric – and inexplicable affection for Russia's Vladimir Putin. Hayden also shared doubts that Trump would seek and abide by the counsel he receives from his cabinet nominees, several of whom he described as "good choices" for their positions. "We could have a second consecutive president who believes he's the smartest guy in the room, no matter who else is in the room," said Hayden, a retired Air Force four-star general who was once the highest-ranking military intelligence officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. READ FULL STORY


Erosion uncovers ‘geo tubes’ on beach at John’s Island
week of January 19, 2017

Despite tens of millions of dollars pumped into North Barrier Island sand replenishment projects over the past half-dozen years, the beachfront in John’s Island is more badly eroded now than it has been anytime in recent memory, with erosion control structures installed 50 years ago exposed for the first time in decades. Last week, oceanfront residents reported a collection of dark plastic-wrapped bundles lining the beach at the north end of John’s Island, one of the oldest and most exclusive beach and country club communities on the island. A reader-submitted photo of the mysterious objects looked almost like the bales of marijuana that occasionally wash up on Florida’s shores, but their placement seemed too deliberate and the number way too large. Indian River Shores Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell said he had not received any calls about suspicious objects on that part of the beach and sent an officer to check it out. The odd objects, according to Town Manager Robbie Stabe, turned out to be a system of “geo tubes” that had been installed for erosion control. READ FULL STORY


Laura Zorc pushes for purchase of land near Vero High
week of January 19, 2017

A new school board member and a citizens’ organization that promotes good land use are trying to put the brakes on the county effort to sell off to a private developer 12 acres at the corner of 16th Street and 20th Avenue across from Vero Beach High. “I would like strong negotiations opened up on this property. It has too much value to our district not to pursue it,” School Board Member Laura Zorc said at last week’s school board meeting. Zorc was successful in getting negotiations with the county reopened after unsuccessfully pitching the same idea at the December board meeting. “We don’t need it,” Superintendent Mark Rendell said in December, a position supported by Zorc’s fellow board members. But this month, Zorc’s views were echoed by the Indian River Neighborhood Association. “The Indian River Neighborhood Association is very concerned the 16th Street ball fields’ property will be sold to private developers for high-density residential use,” said acting Executive Director Carter Taylor. READ FULL STORY


Double lots on ocean sought by wealthy buyers
week of January 12, 2017

The top 1 percent of wealthy homebuyers have a new No. 1 priority for their multimillion- dollar homes – privacy, according to a 2016 report from Luxury Portfolio International. The desire of this group for secure and peaceful seclusion is illustrated in Vero by a new trend in the estate section of the barrier island, where buyers have begun purchasing double lots on the ocean to build new homes. “It used to be if somebody bought a double lot – that was pretty rare. Now it is the norm,” says Premier Estate Properties broker associate Clark French, who with his partner Cindy O’Dare sells much of the property in the estate section. “And it’s not like they are buying extra land so they can build huge homes that take up every square foot. It is more for privacy.” “Affluent buyers are increasingly purchasing wider lots and double lots to create a physical barrier and landscape buffer between them and their surroundings so they can be secure and at peace on their property and have greater privacy if they’re using their pool or entertaining outdoors,” says Michael Thorpe, co-owner of Treasure Coast Sotheby’s International Realty. READ FULL STORY


American Icon Brewery hoping to open by 4th of July
week of January 12, 2017

Michael Rechter’s ambitious plan to transform the old Diesel Power Plant into a dining and drinking destination has moved another step closer to reality, and he now hopes to have his American Icon Brewery open by the 4th of July. The site plan for the brewery was approved by the Vero Beach Planning & Zoning Commission last week, and Rechter hopes to get the county’s OK of a $1.8 million building permit next week, along with the Vero Historic Preservation Commission’s “Special Certificate of Appropriateness.” With those hurdles cleared, renovation will be ready to begin. “I hope to have it open by July 4th for obvious marketing reasons,” Rechter said. “I would love to hit that deadline. But it has to be right. If we make it, we make it. We’ve been working hard the last six month. There are teams of architects, engineers, brewery and restaurant experts, and interior designers; there are probably 15 companies involved.” READ FULL STORY


INEOS sale seen moving forward
week of January 12, 2017

The CEO of the company trying to purchase the INEOS Bio ethanol plant and hire its employees remained tight-lipped after meetings with federal officials last Thursday, but negotiations seem to be on track for the transaction to go forward. After returning to West Palm Beach from U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters in Washington, Alliance BioEnergy CEO Daniel de Liege said he could not comment about the outcome of his D.C. meeting, but sent an email to county officials giving them an update. “He said the meetings in D.C. went well, and that he wanted to get together about the mulching contract,” County Commissioner Tim Zorc said this week. READ FULL STORY


City barred from replenishing its eroded beaches
week of January 12, 2017

A county request for $5.8 million in state money to fix Vero’s eroded beaches highlights a bizarre situation: The city is barred by its own charter from spending tax dollars to fix the beaches it depends on, not just for much of its revenue and reputation, but for its very identity. A charter amendment approved by voters in the 1989 bans the city from undertaking any major beach replenishment projects, and the popular beaches at Jaycee Park, Sexton Plaza and Humiston Park just keep getting narrower. Making the situation still more bizarre, the county, which feeds on bed tax money collected from barrier island hotels, has refused to pay for beach repairs within the city, even though the city is part of the county and draws most of the tourists who come here. City Manager Jim O’Connor, backed by a string of former mayors, has repeatedly asked the county to share bed-tax money collected from Vero Beach’s hotels and motels, citing the importance of the city’s beaches to tourism and the local economy. READ FULL STORY


Promoter of concert says no refunds will be given
week of January 12, 2017

Organizers of the inaugural Beach Town Music Festival, postponed because of Hurricane Matthew and finally rescheduled to be held 14 months later, said no refunds will be given to those who bought tickets for the October event which was to have been headlined by home-grown country music star Jake Owen. Instead, tickets purchased for the two-day festival – which ranged in price up to $249 for the event that was to have taken place last Oct. 7-8 at the Indian River County Fairgrounds – will be honored for the rescheduled event this coming December. "For all ticketholders, all sales are final and there are no refunds," promoter Basis Entertainment said in response to inquiries from Vero Beach 32963 that were prompted by angry ticket holders. "This is stated clearly when tickets are purchased and also noted in our terms of service online." Tickets purchased for the postponed festival will be honored in December, the statement said. The festival has been rescheduled for Dec. 8-9 (Friday and Saturday) and will remain at the fairgrounds. READ FULL STORY


Bondholders must approve Shores electric sale
week of January 12, 2017

The new leader of the statewide power co-op that has long blocked Vero’s efforts to get out of the electric business delivered some good news to the Vero City Council about a pending deal to carve Indian River Shores electric customers out of Vero’s territory and sell them to Florida Power & Light for $30 million. He said the Shores sale is not, in theory, a problem. Florida Municipal Power Association CEO Jacob Williams told the council that Vero’s membership covenants with the other FMPA cities and its bondholders prohibit the city from divesting itself of a substantial portion of the electric system, because electric revenues are seen as pledged in perpetuity to meet the FMPA’s financial obligations. But because the 3,000 Shores customers make up only about nine percent of Vero’s system, the sale would not be covered by the restriction, he said. But Williams also said FMPA bondholders must sign off on the deal. “The bondholders just have to say that it’s not a significant risk,” Williams told the council, adding that the process of formally presenting the question to those bondholders “will take several months to work through.” READ FULL STORY


FPL plans huge Indian River County solar ‘farm’
week of January 12, 2017

Florida Power & Light intends to build a 74.5-megawatt photovoltaic operation – a solar farm that produces enough juice to power 15,000 homes – in southern Indian River County, east of I-95, at 1750 122nd Avenue SW. Slated to be operational by early 2018, the power-generating project will occupy 354 acres of a 697-acre tract of former groves FPL is buying from Evans Properties, Inc. The sale price has not been disclosed. The Indian River County location was chosen, according to FPL, because of its close proximity to existing FPL transmission lines, flat topography, lack of trees and underbrush that would need to be cleared, and the fact that building a solar farm there will have virtually no negative environmental impact. Solar panels will be assembled on site and installed approximately 2 feet off the ground, placed strategically to avoid wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas. READ FULL STORY


Buyer emerges for foreclosed INEOS plant
week of January 5, 2017

The INEOS biofuel plant, a high-tech facility built in South Vero with tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies that never worked right in three years of semi-operation, may get a second chance to produce ethanol. A West Palm Beach energy company wants to buy the plant, which failed to produce marketable quantities of ethanol with its yard-waste fermentation process, and convert it to a cellulose-to-sugar ethanol process. Daniel de Liege, who heads up Alliance BioEnergy, said his patented technology is much simpler than what INEOS tried to pull off, and that the plant can be adapted quickly to a mechanical technique his scientists are already using at the company’s lab in Longwood, Florida. Alliance put in an offer on the 68-acre property after Arbor Bank, which holds a federally-backed loan made to INEOS through the USDA, foreclosed in November and began looking for a buyer. De Liege would not disclose the amount of his bid, but he said he has been encouraged by the bank’s response. READ FULL STORY


School employees use ‘the card’ for fancy hotel stays
week of January 5, 2017

If you are a high-ranking School District employee and you don’t want the School Board to know what you are spending on fancy hotels and airfare, put it on “the card.” This is Vero Beach 32963’s second investigation into use of the School District’s “procurement cards,” which function just like a credit card with an $8 million limit. The first investigation revealed nearly $500,000 has been paid to a mold remediation company since July, during the same period the district was denying there is a problem with mold in its schools. This time around, when 32963 acquired copies of procurement card statements showing staff travel charges and showed the statements to three School Board members, one had a visceral reaction. “This is very upsetting to me,” new board member Laura Zorc said. “The Waldorf? Give me a break. It’s easy to spend other people's money.” Use of the district’s all-too-convenient charge cards is supposed to be governed by an 18-page procurement code, but School District officials have repeatedly flouted the written rules to conceal unauthorized spending. READ FULL STORY


School District kept inaccurate health insurance records
week of January 5, 2017

One measure of the School District’s poor management of its self-insured health insurance fund is the $7 million deficit it ran up in recent years. Another equally damning measure is the number and magnitude of discrepancies between what the district reported to the state Office of Insurance Regulation and what it reported in its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The district’s 2011 audited financial report showed plan revenue of $17,162,000 but it reported only $14,468,373 in revenue to the state – an astonishing variation of $2.7 million. On the expense side, the district’s audited report showed $16,804,000 but it told the state it spent $14,630,585, a $2.1 million difference. When Brown & Brown Insurance – which Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources William Fritz has blamed for the insurance fund woes – was hired as the district’s health insurance broker in 2010, Executive Vice President Ken Felten realized his firm was being fed inaccurate information. “I asked the district to conduct an internal audit to reconcile what the payroll department was deducting from paychecks, what the benefits department had for employee coverage and what Blue Cross Blue Shield had as employee coverage. None of it matched up,” Felten said. READ FULL STORY


Driver who killed Orchid man expected to plead guilty
week of January 5, 2017

The woman charged with killing Orchid Island winter resident Peter Meyer in a hit-and-run incident in Savannah in January 2015 is expected to plead guilty to vehicular homicide at a Feb. 6 hearing in Georgia Superior Court. "From what I've been told by the district attorney, she'll enter an open-ended plea," Meyer's daughter, Sue Ross, said last week. "She'll plead guilty, then the lawyers from both sides will argue mitigation and aggravation. "I don't know if the family will be allowed to address the court, but we're submitting 30 victim-impact statements from family members and friends that the judge will consider before imposing a sentence." Ross said she didn't know if Chatham County District Attorney Frank Pennington agreed to seek less than the maximum 15-year prison sentence Darcia Lavonde Hymon, 51, of Jacksonville, could receive under Georgia law if she takes her case to trial and is convicted. Neither Pennington nor Assistant Public Defender Robert Attridge could be reached for comment. READ FULL STORY


George Heaton gives up on south island hotel project
week of January 5, 2017

George Heaton’s ambitious plan to build a 10-story, 160-room hotel, 45 condos and nine cottages on 12 acres at the far southern end of the barrier island is dead after he terminated a contract to buy the land. The developer, who built the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa on Ocean Drive and is developing a new subdivision in Riomar, told 32963 he had hoped to close on the property at 2600 A1A in St. Lucie County this past fall to build the 170,000-square-foot, $70 million project. But that did not happen. The listing broker for the property, Bob Lowe, said Heaton no longer has a contract for the prime oceanfront land. “I heard the plan was too expensive to build. He does not have a contract. Anybody can come in and buy the land,” Lowe said last week. Heaton confirmed the plan as it was proposed is dead because of the economics. "We probably over-designed the project,” he said. READ FULL STORY


Clinical trials to be open to Vero cancer patients
week of December 29, 2016

Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute will make scores of clinical trials of cancer drugs available to Vero Beach patients in the coming year, potentially providing a second chance for those with hard-to-treat cancers or a more effective treatment for others on existing cancer medications. According to local oncologist Dr. Raul Storey, between “80 to 100 clinical trials” will be open for enrollment by patients here, aimed at “every different type of cancer.” Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute, which opened its office in Vero about three years ago, has 34 locations and more than 200 oncologists in Florida, making it the nation’s largest independent, physician-owned medical oncology practice. It has teamed with the Sarah Cannon Research Institute, a global cancer research firm, to bring the clinical trials to Indian River County. Two other Vero physicians, Dr. Noor Merchant and Dr. Hugo Davila, will join Storey in enrolling patients in the trials. Merchant founded his oncology practice in Vero Beach some 30 years ago before teaming up with Florida Cancer Specialists. READ FULL STORY


Mayor Moss prepared to negotiate first phase of electric sale
week of December 29, 2016

Six impressive law firms want to represent the City of Vero Beach in the sale of the Indian River Shores portion of its electric system to Florida Power & Light for $30 million, but Mayor Laura Moss says it’s too soon to lawyer up. In a unanticipated move, she plans to oversee negotiations herself for the time being. “Once you hire an attorney, it’s like stepping into a taxicab, the meter starts running,” Moss told Vero Beach 32963 when she received an 82-page packet of proposals from prospective legal counsel. The first priority, Moss said, is getting a clear fix on the complex technical aspects of partitioning the electric system. “City Manager Jim O’Connor and [Electric Utility Director] Ted Fletcher are already working on that with FPL, they started on that the very next day after we approved the letter of intent to sell,” Moss said. READ FULL STORY


School District cover-up seen over blame for $7 million deficit in health insurance fund
week of December 29, 2016

The School District, which ran up the current $7 million deficit in its health insurance fund by ignoring the advice of its actuary from 2011 to 2015, now seems to have been caught in a cover-up in its effort to blame the massive premium shortfall on “bad advice” from its former broker. Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources William Fritz, who oversees the district’s self-insured health insurance fund for its teachers and other employees, has repeatedly claimed the district didn’t charge enough in premiums over the past five years because Brown & Brown, its broker, recommended increases insufficient to keep pace with rising costs. Asked by the School District to produce records supporting this claim, Fritz said he couldn’t find Brown & Brown recommendations on premium rates because the district had moved to new offices and there had been staff turnover. But in fact, documents that Vero Beach 32963 obtained from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation show that rate recommendations during this period actually came not from Brown & Brown but from the Wakely Consulting Group, the actuary employed by the School District. And Wakely recommended significant rate increases each year that were largely ignored by the district. READ FULL STORY


Fritz usurps School Board authority in raising retiree insurance premiums
week of December 29, 2016

Assistant School Superintendent William Fritz appears to have usurped School Board authority by announcing a substantial hike in retiree health insurance premiums before the increase was approved by the board, and at least one board member is not happy about it. Fritz oversees the human resources department, which includes benefits and risk management. His department sent a letter dated Nov. 9 to retirees 65 and older, with no sender-name or contact given, informing them of a 32 percent hike in rates to take effect Jan. 1. But it wasn’t until Nov. 22 that the Indian River County School Board met and approved the increase. After seeing a copy of the letter sent to retirees ahead of the board’s vote, newly-elected board member Laura Zorc said, “This is unacceptable.” Board members Shawn Frost said, “I'm not a big fan of staff jumping the gun on policy issues because that is the role of the Board. They are charged with implementation, board corporate sets policy.” READ FULL STORY


No retail shops for Ocean Drive condo
week of December 29, 2016

Vero Planning and Development Director Tim McGarry has said he would like to see more mixed-use development in the city, with retail or restaurants on the ground floor of new residential buildings, but developers of a luxury condo project across from Conn Beach say it won’t include that feature. The four-story, five-unit building is slated to go up on the spot where the Boardwalk Café and Ice Cream shop was until last May, and similar businesses might have been desirable amenities for beachgoers, but developer and longtime Vero resident Yane Zana says the economics of his project don’t support mixed use. "We are primarily oceanfront residential developers and leasing commercial space doesn't particularly interest us,” says Zana, managing director of the Coastmark Companies, developer and builder of the 4091 Ocean condos, which take their name from the property’s street address. "As to the economics, just look at the lease space in the Citrus Grill building [at the Ocean Park development next to Humiston Park]. Empty commercial space is not an enticing proposition." READ FULL STORY


Shores to consider eliminating aging septic systems
week of December 29, 2016

Pressure on local governments to take action aimed at reversing the ecological crisis in the Indian River Lagoon has resulted in programs to phase out septic tanks, and the Town of Indian River Shores is not immune to the issue. The Shores is served by Vero Beach Utilities but sewer service is not available to the entire town and 160 homes still use aging septic systems that most scientists say leak harmful chemicals into the groundwater and eventually into the lagoon. The Shores Town Council has in the past heard presentations about septic pollution by environmental organizations and scientists, including Dr. Brian LaPointe of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, but the discussion was strictly academic; the Shores never considered taking action to mandate that residents switch from septic to sewer. Now, however, Councilman Dick Haverland is urging his colleagues to fully examine the issue and ponder potential solutions. “Bring somebody in to give us all sides of the issue,” Haverland said, acknowledging there is some disagreement among experts about how much septic systems contribute to the overall pollution load in the estuary. READ FULL STORY


Key details still to be worked out in electric deal
week of December 22, 2016

As the calendar rolls over to 2017 and the Vero Beach electric saga moves into its eighth year, Florida Power & Light and city officials are closely examining the nuts and bolts of a sales agreement that Indian River Shores residents hope will finally set them free from Vero’s high electric rates. But some key details still need to be worked out before a final sales agreement is inked, and Councilmen Tony Young and Dick Winger have raised questions about one clause in the letter of intent presented by FPL and approved by the city – a provision stating that Vero would pay for its share of the costs of splitting up the electric system. The technical reality of the partial sale is that Vero current brings power into the Shores from the south, but FPL would eventually need to reconfigure its transmission system in the Shores to bring power in from the north barrier island where it already has customers. READ FULL STORY


Bent Pine embarks on $4 million renovation
week of December 22, 2016

They’re calling it their “Vision 2020 Enhancement Program” – a $4 million renovation project that members and management say will ensure that Bent Pine Golf Club remains competitive in the local market. “We’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses,” said Bent Pine’s new general manager, Hugh O’Donnell, who was hired in July and is overseeing the project. “We’re hoping to enhance the experience of our current members and attract new ones. “We think these improvements, both outdoors and to our clubhouse, will create excitement and get more people to take a look at us and see what Bent Pine is all about.” O’Donnell said Bent Pine members “overwhelmingly approved” the project in March, and the club has submitted its site plan and renderings to county officials with hopes of embarking on the first phase of the renovations this spring. The initial phase includes construction of a new, longer, 50,000-square-foot driving range, which will be relocated to vacant land between the first and third holes. The existing driving range will be transformed into a short-game practice facility that includes chipping areas and bunkers. READ FULL STORY


Miracle baby Kaiden Bracken’s third Christmas
week of December 22, 2016

Two Christmases ago, the miracle of Kaiden Bracken’s heart transplant was announced in a press conference at Joe DiMaggio Children’s hospital in Hollywood, the first baby in South Florida to get a heart from a donor of a different blood type. The next Christmas, in 2015, the family celebrated that Kaiden had survived a landmark first year. His mountain of presents included a noisy flashing car that careened around the south barrier island living room of his grandparents, George and Linda O’Malley. On the eve of Kaiden’s third Christmas, his obsession is a toy train, a hand-me-down from a friend who saw in an instant the thrill it gave little Kaiden. Joyful and full of energy, Kaiden navigates knees, couches and chairs following the train on its mesmerizing course around the coffee table. This year there are too many miracles to count in Kaiden’s life, the news that a biopsy of his swollen tonsils came back negative for Hodgkin’s disease chief among them. The decision to remove the tonsils was difficult – doctors were reluctant to take away a natural defense against infection, since Kaiden’s aggressive regimen of immune-suppressant drugs already restricts his life. READ FULL STORY


Vero Rowing Club’s gift to the public: a floating dock
week of December 22, 2016

As the Vero Beach Rowing Club searches for a $1 million donor who will make its dream of a boathouse come true, the club has given a gift of its own to the boating public: a floating dock to use for launching kayaks, paddle boards and – if they have them – rowing shells like the ones the club will eventually launch from the dock. The 100-foot modular dock, which floats parallel to the southern shore of the boat launch area at MacWilliam Park, is the first part of a new $2.2 million rowing center planned by the club. Construction of the $28,000 structure started two weeks ago when concrete footers were poured. The aluminum ramp that connects the dock to a city-owned tract of land leased by the rowing club in an agreement reached a year ago rises and falls with the tides. It was attached to the footers by three rowing club members who were more than qualified for the task. They included Todd Young, senior engineering designer for the City of Vero Beach, and Chris Ryan, who has three degrees from M.I.T. and ran a global engineering firm. Then last week, volunteers helped assemble the sections of the dock made of industrial-grade grey plastic. READ FULL STORY


Shores plans to build new enlarged community center
week of December 22, 2016

If you’ve ever attended a meeting or event in the Indian River Shores Community Center and wondered why the floor is squishy, it’s because the donated former model home and sales office was not built on a poured foundation, but instead moved to the site from the nearby Victoria Condominium in 1982. Now it’s time for the wealthy Shores community to have a new, permanent community center, town officials decided last week. Town Clerk Laura Aldrich said the history of the community center was handed down from former Town Clerk Virginia Gilbert, who remembered then-mayor Fritz Gierhart negotiating the deal with Justice Builders to acquire the $200,000 building for the $22,000 cost of moving it. Shores resident Burton Salmon donated the $10,000 to finish the project, so the building was dedicated to his late wife Sally. Once in place at the government center, the building was elevated and anchored down like a mobile home, then hooked up to utilities. Former Vice Mayor Jerry Weick said the town has been very lucky, considering storms and the age of the building, that the center has served Shores residents as long and as well as it has. But 35 years is pushing the limit for a “temporary” building. READ FULL STORY


Shores cell tower may be operational by Easter
week of December 22, 2016

With federal and tribal approvals and a favorable environmental assessment in hand, the company Indian River Shores contracted to build its much-anticipated cell tower is now finalizing the design for a 135-foot Monopine tower, which will go up much like a gigantic artificial Christmas tree. The site plan still has to be approved by the Planning Zoning and Variance Board and the Shores Town Council. Construction will take two or three months and town officials hope to have the tower operational Easter. After a deep-rooted foundation is poured to elevate sensitive equipment to one foot above the floodplain, the basic tower will go up. It won’t look pretty at first, but Town Manager Robbie Stabe told residents to be patient – camouflage branches will go on before long and the tower will look at least a little bit like a tree. “The main tower will go up first, then the antennas, and then the branches go on last. Please rest assured, it is not going to be a monopole with external arrays,” Stabe reported to council members. READ FULL STORY


Sewer question again is an issue in Central Beach
week of December 15, 2016

Older homes in Vero’s Central Beach neighborhoods that still utilize septic tanks and might benefit from hooking up to the city’s hybrid septic-sewer system often are on canopied streets, with grand, overarching oaks deeply rooted in the path sewer lines would need to cross to carry away household waste. The challenge of how to balance two competing ecological interests – preservation of charming old trees and preventing septic runoff into the Indian River Lagoon that poisons marine life – has caused Vero officials to pause before extending the Septic Tank Effluent Pumping (STEP) system to the city’s most established barrier island streets. City council members were scheduled to vote on an ordinance change last week that would permit the water-sewer utility to run lines down these shell or gravel streets, something currently prohibited due to concern for the historic tree canopy. But in the analysis of the amendment, city staff noted the move might “bring some opposition from property owners and the public concerning protection of the Live Oak tree canopies along these streets.” READ FULL STORY


Jake’s buddy giving Vero two youth baseball diamonds
week of December 15, 2016

Homegrown country music star Jake Owen will be getting an impressive Christmas gift from his NASCAR buddy, Kevin Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner who visited him in Vero Beach last weekend. A pair of diamonds. Baseball diamonds. According to a knowledgeable source, Harvick will donate in Owen's name "several hundred thousand dollars" to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which will match the contribution and build two youth-league baseball fields – including one with a synthetic turf surface – at Vero Beach's Michael Field complex. The donation is expected to be announced this week, when Owen performs at a Charlotte, N.C.-area fundraiser for Harvick's foundation, and it may well come as news to Owen, who seems not to know about the gift. The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Owen was unaware of Harvick's donation last week. It is possible the 2014 NASCAR Series champion told Owen about the gift this past weekend, when both played in the 71st Hale Groves Indian River Grapefruit Pro-Am golf tournament at the Vero Beach Country Club, but Owen said nothing about the baseball fields during his Friday night concert at Vero Beach High School's Performing Arts Center. READ FULL STORY


New Harbor Branch director set to deal with big challenges
week of December 15, 2016

For a world-renowned oceanographer like Anton Post, climate change deniers have always been a bit maddening. So only days after the presidential election, Post sat in his new office at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, trying to reconcile election results with the already daunting challenges he faces as Harbor Branch’s new executive director. The former visiting scholar at M.I.T., who won a fellowship to do research at the famed Oceanographic Institute at Woods Hole, had spent his career studying the shifting oceans. Now a political tide had rendered him close to speechless, at least on one subject: Donald Trump, the soon-to-be leader of the free world, has said he thinks climate change is a hoax. “I live on Cape Cod. I see the effects of sea level rise there. I work in Rhode Island, in Newport. They have kept a record since the 1930s. Sea level rise has happened there at a foot-and-a-half per century. That may sound like little, but it is not,” says Post. READ FULL STORY


Rate study shows Vero electric not becoming competitive
week of December 15, 2016

A rate study delivered to Vero officials last week does not show the city’s electric rates becoming competitive with Florida Power & Light rates. Instead it anticipates rising power and personnel costs for the utility along with the issuance of $5 million in new debt. But the study – which cost $31,000 – may have lost its relevance when the Vero Council voted last week to pursue a sale of the Indian River Shores customers. The study does not take into account elimination of the cost of serving and maintaining the Shores portion of the system nor the influx of $30 million from the sale. The study was commissioned by the previous City Council that rejected Florida Power & Light’s offer to purchase the Shores customers, so consultants looked at rate projections based on the cost to continue providing power to all 34,000 customers, plus expenses for upkeep and service to the entire system. Consultants Public Resource Management Group (PRMG) projected significant increases across the board in operating expenses beyond 2017, including a 3 percent annual increase in labor and benefit costs, a 5 percent increase in worker’s compensation premiums, and a 3 percent increase in general liability insurance. READ FULL STORY


County teachers hit with huge hike in health insurance costs
week of December 15, 2016

The mid-month paychecks that went out to Indian River County public school teachers this week were considerably lighter than usual as the result of a huge increase in the amount they now are going to have to pay for their health insurance. While the teachers union last week overwhelmingly voted to reject a contract that contained the School Board’s proposed premium increase, the School Board nevertheless imposed the rate hike – as it was entitled to do – under a strange procedure in which it acts as an arbiter in disputes between the School District and the union. The proposal that was implemented forces teachers and other employees to pay an additional $3.8 million in premiums while the School District kicks in an additional $2 million to make up a $5.8 million annual shortfall in the district’s health insurance fund. The School Board sat as a panel of judges to rule on how much teachers would have to pay for health insurance because the union and the School District could not come to an agreement after lengthy negotiations. READ FULL STORY


FPL takeover of Shores electric moving quickly
week of December 8, 2016

Hoping to move swiftly on the purchase of the 3,000 Indian River Shores electric customers now served by the City of Vero Beach electric system, Florida Power & Light delivered a 92-page letter of intent to Vero last week that outlines terms of the proposed deal. The Vero City Council then approved moving forward on these items at Tuesday’s City Council meeting on a 3-to-2 vote, despite expressions of consternation by those opposed to selling off the Shores customers for $30 million cash. FPL says it would need to purchase Vero’s transmission assets that carry power to residents and businesses in the Shores, and those assets need to be free and clear of liens and other encumbrances. It states that FPL will provide retail electric service to Shores customers and charge its existing rates, as approved and adjusted by state regulators. In addition, the Shores Town Council last week affirmed its previous commitment for the 80 percent of town residents that would be switching from Vero electric to FPL to fund $3 million of the purchase price via a surcharge. READ FULL STORY


Major donors suspend support of Food Bank
week of December 8, 2016

Two major contributors to the Treasure Coast Food Bank, Feeding America and the Publix Charitable Foundation, have launched their own probe of the Food Bank in the wake of a Vero Beach 32963 investigation questioning how CEO Judy Cruz had spent thousands of dollars in donations. Sources close to Publix and Feeding America say that the Food Bank has been put on “probation” until a forensic audit is completed, which means no money and no food is currently being given to Treasure Coast Food Bank by either donor. Meanwhile, managers and check-out clerks at area Publix stores are quick to reassure wary customers – when they asked them to donate to feed the hungry for the holidays – that none of the money is going to Treasure Coast Food Bank. The United Way of Indian River County has also expressed concern over where money given to the Food Bank is going. But rather than proceed with its own investigation, the United Way has agreed to let Miguel Cody, Food Bank board chairman who is a longtime friend of Cruz, conduct his own inquiry and share the findings with the United Way. READ FULL STORY


Property owners moving to repair their own beaches
week of December 8, 2016

Damage to Indian River County’s beaches from Hurricane Matthew is now estimated to be nearly $14 million, with no certainty where the cash for repairs will come from or when the work might get done – so some oceanfront property owners are taking action to repair their own beaches, using expedited county permits to bring in sand to shore up protective dunes. Federal emergency declarations for coastal counties set off a process by which normal permitting restrictions for urgent repairs are lifted, meaning county officials could, on a case-by-case basis, approve permits not only for dune replenishment, but also for boardwalk and dock repairs. “Staff has issued 29 permits authorizing modest placements of approved beach-compatible fill to shore up damaged dunes,” said County Coastal Engineer James Gray. Several Indian River Shores residents pulled permits and hired Henry Fischer & Sons to haul in and place their sand. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said the town worked with Fischer to minimize traffic, shoreline disruption and impact to neighbors so several projects could be completed at once. READ FULL STORY


School Board seeks insurance answers
week of December 8, 2016

The Indian River County School Board got a break on the School District’s employee health insurance debacle, and now a majority of members seem determined to find out why it occurred. After years of mismanagement that allowed the School District’s self-insurer’s fund to go $7 million in the red, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation a month ago approved a four-year pay-back plan, spreading the expense out to make repayment less onerous. But Superintendent Mark Rendell barely mentioned the resolution of this major financial problem at the Nov. 22 School Board meeting, repeating what he has said before. “We haven’t, for several years, been operating the self-insurer’s fund properly.” While that may have been enough of an explanation for the prior School Board, newly-elected members Laura Zorc and Tiffany Justice, along with member Shawn Frost, now want more of an explanation. They are calling for a deeper examination of how this happened in the first place. Frost said staff told him that the School District’s hired actuary, Brown & Brown Insurance, gave the district “bad poop.” The company has since been replaced with Aon Hewitt. READ FULL STORY


School District credit card spending needs look
week of December 8, 2016

Five months after the Indian River County School Board approved opening a $7 million credit card account to be used for certain purchases, an investigation by Vero Beach 32963 has discovered that financial safeguards put in place to monitor School District spending are not being followed. Even more alarming, the School District appears to be using the credit cards to circumvent spending limits for individual vendors. In the case of at least one vendor, use of the card appears designed to hide mold problems in schools from the School Board. As a first line of defense against unauthorized purchases, the School Board is supposed to get “transaction information electronically from . . . [Regions Bank, issuer of the card] through its Procurement Card Management System on a daily basis,” according to the 18-page policy governing use of the card. But School Board members Charles Searcy and Shawn Frost said that although millions of dollars have been charged to the card and the board is responsible for the money being spent, they haven’t seen a single bank statement detailing card expenditures, READ FULL STORY


Zorc seeking to revitalize local School District
week of December 1, 2016

Newly-elected school board member Laura Zorc may be the district’s best hope for revitalizing the School District and reversing a trend toward deteriorating grades and facilities. The district’s last overall report card showed it’s about a point below the state’s average, which is very average indeed. “I don’t want our kids to just pass. I want us to be above average,” said Zorc, who brings enthusiasm, determination and considerable experience with educational issues to her new $34,000-a-year job. “I want to be an innovative school board member. We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.” Zorc formed Florida Parents Against Common Core in 2013, which now boasts 20,000 members, and became enough of a force that Gov. Rick Scott tried to make common cause with her by appointing her to the 10-member “Keep Florida Learning” state committee. READ FULL STORY


Burt Lee’s lifelong dedication to medical excellence
week of December 1, 2016

Several years ago, Gail DeGioia, who moved to Vero Beach from Bennington, Vermont, was surprised to see her late husband’s oncologist, Burt Lee, eating dinner at the Ocean Grill in Vero Beach. “My first thought,” said DeGioia, who is a registered nurse in Vero, “was to wonder what such a prominent New York oncologist was doing here. My second thought was to figure out how to thank him for keeping my husband alive way beyond what was predicted.” But, at the time, says DeGioia, she was too shy to approach him, and it would be years before she completed her mission. When she finally did this past September, Lee, 86, was suffering from complications with bladder cancer that would soon end his own life. He died at his Riomar home last Friday, Nov. 25, with his wife of 50 years, Ann Kelly Lee, and his three children by his side. READ FULL STORY


Shores could all be on FPL power by next summer
week of December 1, 2016

With a new Vero Beach City Council in control, a previously rejected $30 million deal to sell Vero Electric customers in Indian River Shores back on track, and new legal counsel coming on board, Florida Power & Light hopes to have a contract inked with city officials within months. If that timeline – which began with a 4-1 vote last Tuesday to pursue the partial sale – holds, the 80 percent of Shores electric customers now served by Vero could be on FPL’s system in time for their summer electric bills. Responding to the decision last week to resuscitate the sale, the Shores Council convened this Tuesday and formally reapproved town residents pitching in $3 million over three years’ time via a surcharge on electric bills to make the numbers in the deal work. The terms for town residents who would be taken over by FPL remain the same, Town Manager Robbie Stabe said Monday. The 20 percent of town residents already on the FPL system would not pay the temporary surcharge. READ FULL STORY


Betsy DeVos, winter Windsor resident, named to Cabinet
week of December 1, 2016

If Betsy DeVos didn’t make it back to Vero for the seasonal Windsor Club welcome-back party, she probably wished she had. The tightly-cloistered toward the northern end of our island might have served as a buffer to the onslaught of editorials and TV news shows opining on her nomination as secretary of education by President-elect Donald Trump. While there has been much praise for DeVos’ commitment to children, the school voucher program she so strenuously supports is highly controversial, in part because it blurs the First Amendment-mandated line between church and state. Government vouchers given to poor students to use for private school tuition funnel taxpayer money to private schools, many of them religious or for-profit. DeVos has also faced opposition for her support of charter schools. The American Teachers Federation, the union representing 1.6 million teachers, is campaigning vehemently against her Senate confirmation, its president calling her “anti-public education.” But her ideas clearly dovetail with Trump’s plan to break up what he calls a “government-run monopoly” of public education. READ FULL STORY


$5.2 million repaving project coming to 6-mile stretch of A1A
week of December 1, 2016

The Florida Department of Transportation has announced plans to repave a 6-mile stretch of A1A, mostly within Indian River Shores, from the CVS store to SR 510/Wabasso Road, and local bikers are hoping wider bike lanes will be part of the $5.2 million project. It might surprise some taxpayers that this stretch of road will get new pavement a few years from now, since it seems fairly smooth and in good repair, but Phil Matson, Indian River County’s Metropolitan Transportation Organization staff director, said the DOT uses a technical scale to evaluate pavement’s wear-and-tear and, according to that scale, the busy stretch of A1A is due for re-surfacing. “The beachside roads . . . wear out,” Matson said. The Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Bicycle Advisory Committee had a meeting this summer to give residents a chance to discuss the project with DOT representative Alexander Barr and more than a dozen bicyclists showed up to voice their support for wider bike lanes in the project area. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Marine Laboratory’s big expansion plans now up in air
week of November 24, 2016

The Vero Beach Marine Laboratory was going great guns, attracting grants to research seahorses and other ornamental fish – a billion-dollar industry in Florida – led by Florida Institute of Technology Professor and Lab Director Dr. Junda Lin. It was going so well that Florida Tech announced in 2013 a plan to expand the facility, building a $10 million education center and updated lab on the four-acre site adjacent to Tracking Station Park in Indian River Shores. “We plan to build a significant new building that will include a public facility where members of the community can observe our marine and aquaculture labs,” Dr. Anthony James Catanese, then-president of FIT, said. A fund-raising campaign was launched. But at the same time, Lin was battling cancer. He died in March after a seven-year fight against the disease. Since then the site has gone quiet. READ FULL STORY


Shores cell tower may actually be ready this spring
week of November 24, 2016

Island residents could enjoy better cellphone service in Indian River Shores before seasonal visitors leave town and head north this spring, officials said. With all required government and neighborhood approvals being wrapped up this week, and negotiations well underway with the first major service provider, the final site plan for the new tower is expected to go to the Shores Planning Zoning and Variance Board in early December. After that, the Town Council would need to approve any required variances, either at a special call meeting or at their regular meeting on Dec. 15. The tower, which will be located within the Shores Public Safety Department complex, west of Town Hall in an area with existing trees, will be anchored to a concrete foundation sunk as deep as 40 feet in the ground. Because of the deep foundation, which will stabilize the tower in high winds, it will not need guy-wires. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said Datapath Tower engineers estimate construction of the 135-foot Monopine cell phone tower designed to look like an enormous pine tree, would take at least 60 days. “Then it will take six weeks or less to be operational,” Stabe said. “Barring any major changes it should be up and operational sometime this spring.” READ FULL STORY


Three football coaches share season of success
week of November 24, 2016

Let’s start by putting a myth to rest: They don’t do it for the money. The bottom line is, the head coaches of the county’s three highly successful high school football teams don’t get paid enough to adequately compensate them for the time they invest, effort they put forth and personal sacrifices they make to do the job. Unlike big-time college football coaches, Vero Beach’s Lenny Jankowski, Sebastian River’s Kevin Pettis and St. Edward’s Bill Motta don’t get generous checks from rabid boosters to supplement the stipends they’re paid for coaching. Each receives less than $6,000 for coaching, which doesn’t amount to much when you consider that coaching high school football has become a year-round job that includes spring drills and 7-on-7 competitions during the offseason and, from August to November, demands a seven-day work week. READ FULL STORY


FEMA inspections delay repair of Conn Beach oceanfront boardwalk
week of November 24, 2016

More than six weeks after Hurricane Matthew pounded the Conn Beach boardwalk on Vero’s oceanfront, a gaping chasm still exists between the popular walkway and the collapsed edge of the pavement on Ocean Drive. Immediately after the storm, the city spent $45,000 on emergency repairs to make the boardwalk accessible and secure the embankment and parking area. But City Manager Jim O’Connor says further repairs are stalled until FEMA beach and ocean specialists visit in early December to inspect the damage. O’Connor said it will take at least another $300,000 to complete repairs to the roadway, boardwalk and dunes that were washed away by high surf during the October storm, and the feds will not reimburse Vero if the city moves ahead on repairs without FEMA inspections. “They will tell us what is reimbursable and give us an estimate on the repair costs,” O’Connor said. READ FULL STORY


Jason Edwards, star of ‘Ring of Fire,’ dies two days after show’s close
week of November 24, 2016

When Peg Girard found herself moved to tears during Riverside Theatre’s “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” she immediately went home and googled Jason Edwards. The handsome, velvet-voiced actor who portrayed an older Cash, Edwards had also directed the show. “He was spot-on,” said Girard, a lifelong Johnny Cash fan and artistic director of the Melbourne Civic Theatre. “Man oh man, what a talent.” Now Girard seemed close to tears again. Two days after the show’s last performance Nov. 13, Edwards apparently died in his sleep at his temporary Vero residence. He was discovered when friends arrived to take him to the airport. The cause was a heart attack, said Riverside’s Oscar Sales.More than 11,000 people came to see Edwards’ show, a Riverside record for a season-opener. The 24 performances drew “many, many people who had not been here before,” said Sales. The typical first show of the season draws 7,000 to 8,000, Sales said. READ FULL STORY


Marine Bank books a strong quarter with increased earnings and deposits
week of November 24, 2016

Marine Bank & Trust, the island’s only local bank, continues to grow its quarterly earnings this year while also beefing up its assets. Third quarter earnings in 2016 hit $300,000, a modest increase of $17,000 over the same three-month period in 2015. For the first nine months of 2016, Marine’s earnings were $842,000, an increase of $125,000 over the $717,000 in earnings during the same period last year. During the third quarter, Marine also finalized the purchase of the Valley National Bank facility on U.S. 1 in Sebastian, adding 565 new customers, $13 million in customer deposits and three new employees. “The third quarter was all about putting the Sebastian deal together,” said Bill Penney, president and CEO of Marine Bank. During the first nine months of 2016, Marine has helped put 83 families in new homes and originated 125 residential loans worth $38 million. On the commercial loan front, the bank has provided $11 million in loans to 34 companies to open or expand businesses. READ FULL STORY


Elderly suspect sought in rash of island burglaries
week of November 17, 2016

After three sightings either by camera or by eyewitnesses of a white male in his 60s or 70s, seen walking – sometimes with a cane – at crime scenes, Vero Beach Police detectives have asked for help in catching the elderly man suspected of burgling multiple Central Beach residences over the past few weeks. The rash of property crimes started the evening of Oct. 18 when police were called to the 700 block of Gayfeather Lane in response to an alarm and found a broken window and burglarized home. An image from the resident's security camera showed an older white male wearing a hat, glasses and dark gloves looking up into the backyard camera. Though nothing was taken from the residence, the man was observed on camera walking around the outside of the house. The next evening, police were again called out to the 700 block of Gayfeather where what's thought to be the same man was caught on surveillance video. READ FULL STORY


Windsor condo complex arises along Jungle Trail
week of November 17, 2016

While most multimillion-dollar projects on the island are unveiled with considerable preconstruction fanfare, a three-story condominium complex is rising in Windsor behind the trees that line the Jungle Trail with no one involved in the project willing to discuss it. The condo, known to the county as Windsor Block 48, is a cluster of three connected 35-foot-high buildings far more massive than the private homes that line the adjacent golf course. The buildings will house 12 of the largest condo residences ever built on the island, ranging in size from 2,845 square feet to just under 4,000 square feet, according to county records. The complex is situated along Windsor’s western perimeter near the northern border of its property, and is separated from the Jungle Trail by an estuarine wetland designed to be a visual screen between the trail and development. But the top section of the bulky concrete shell of the buildings rises well above the Jungle Trail treeline, making them clearly visible to passersby. “It’s on the perimeter of Windsor, so it makes it seem more prominent,” said Ryan Sweeney, a county planner. READ FULL STORY


Grandson of Vero’s first mayor new face on the City Council
week of November 17, 2016

One of the more enjoyable tasks the newly seated Vero Beach City Council will undertake after being sworn in next week is the planning of the city’s centennial celebration in 2019, and with the election of Tony Young, there will be someone with a direct connection to the city’s founding on board to help. Young, a 61-year-old Vero Beach native, is the grandson of Vero’s first mayor, A.W. Young, who was elected in 1919 and served a subsequent term in 1935. Those deep roots and commitment to serving his hometown are part of what drove Young to run for office, and likely what got him elected. Coming home to sleepy Vero Beach to volunteer his time after living all over the world and retiring as an Army colonel might seem like a step backward for a man with Young’s resume, but he says it’s that sense of a familiar place to call home that drew him back 10 years ago. READ FULL STORY


Construction moving ahead at Beachland
week of November 17, 2016

A two-story 16-classroom building and connected auditorium-cafeteria-kitchen “cafetorium” are steadily rising on the Beachland Elementary campus, the only public school on the island. The 24,000-square-foot classroom building and 12,800-square-foot cafetorium will replace five buildings already torn down, as well as the portable classrooms used in recent years and during the year-long construction project. A portable cafeteria has been moved on campus, but the absence of a kitchen requires the daily delivery of food from Dodgertown Elementary, which has a new kitchen. Recently elected school-board member Tiffany Justice, who will be sworn in Nov. 22, was integral in getting the construction project underway at the dilapidated school. Parents had been complaining about the state of the 1957 buildings, with reports of mold and vermin causing alarm and claims that the school was making children sick. READ FULL STORY


School District exec resigns after unauthorized spending
week of November 17, 2016

Indian River County School District Director of the Physical Plant John Earman has resigned following a flap over his attempt to cover a trail of overspending on outsourced janitorial services. Earman’s curt resignation letter states, “I hereby submit my resignation as Director of the Physical Plant effective November 18, 2016. This is two-weeks’ notice.” He did not reply to requests for comment. Earman submitted a $45,000 purchase order for “sub-custodial” work in July but the district’s new head of purchasing, Jeffrey Carver, rejected the order because it came after, not before, services were contracted. Purchase orders require prior approval to prevent one person from having too much purse-power. “It is unacceptable to have processes out of control,” School Board Member Shawn Frost said a month ago, when Carver brought the problem to the board’s attention. Frost asked if Earman would be reprimanded and if termination was a possibility. Superintendent Mark Rendell said the incident would be reflected in the employee’s file but did not comment on termination. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council recaptured by majority favoring electric sale
week of November 10, 2016

A well-financed effort that backed a slate of Vero Beach City Council candidates committed to the sale or partial sale of Vero electric scored a stunning victory Tuesday as voters elected Laura Moss and Lange Sykes to join holdover councilmember Harry Howle in forming a new 3-to-2 pro-sale majority. Sykes and Moss, who already have said they would join with Howle in voting to accept a Florida Power & Light $30 million offer to purchase Vero electric’s customers in Indian River Shores, will not actually be seated until Nov. 21. Retired Army Col. Tony Young, who had declared he was against selling off the Shores customers at any price less than $47 million, won the third seat up for grabs and will presumably replace Mayor Jay Kramer's anti-sale vote on the council. But the election – assuming the result stands – puts pro-sale forces in the Council majority for the first time since 2013, when a “Keep Vero Vero” movement opposed to giving up the millions of dollars harvested by the electric utility each year from out-of-city customers gained the upper hand on the Council. READ FULL STORY


Hospital District remains split over IRMC
week of November 10, 2016

Both critics and supporters of the leadership of tax-supported Indian River Medical Center won races to become trustees of the Indian River County Hospital District Tuesday, leaving the two entities still at odds over whether or how the hospital could do a better job of managing its finances. Three of the five candidates who won seats Tuesday – Omar Hussamy, Barbara Bodnar and incumbent Michael Weiss – want more transparency and better financial management of Indian River Medical Center. But the other two winners – incumbent Ann Marie McCrystal and Karen Deigl – are staunch supporters of hospital leadership. Since the two holdover District trustees also generally back the hospital, IRMC’s strong supporters continue to be in the majority, That means when issues having to do with hospital operations and finances come up, the Hospital District, which directs millions of property tax dollars for indigent healthcare – most of it going to the hospital – is likely to split four to three in favor of IRMC requests rather than challenging hospital leadership. READ FULL STORY


School District backs down on health insurance
week of November 10, 2016

Facing a $7 million health fund deficit and skyrocketing insurance premiums, the Indian River County School District this fall dropped 300 employees from its program. But last week, after Vero Beach 32963 reported that art teacher Lis Bech, who is undergoing chemotherapy for stage-four ovarian cancer, was cancelled without warning because she filled out an online form incorrectly, the School District decided to allow 100-plus employees dropped for form errors to re-enroll. Bech had not completed the spouse survey at the beginning of the online application because her husband had never been covered on her policy, and she was in the midst of a divorce. That’s why her application was rejected. Now it turns out hers was not an isolated case. Teachers union President Liz Cannon said the School District last week sent out 111 emails to employees who failed to fill out the spouse survey, telling them they were out of the program but could re-enroll by Nov. 10. READ FULL STORY


Charter High video finalist in $100K national contest
week of November 10, 2016

It would be hard to imagine the culturally sophisticated students at Indian River Charter High didn’t get some good laughs out of John Oliver’s recent bit on charter schools gone bad on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” If they did, it didn’t stop them from rising to the challenge when a school choice group offered a $100,000 prize to the best rebuttal to Oliver’s diss. Last week, Charter found out its three-minute video placed in the top 10 of 250 entries nationwide and expects to find out by the end of this week whether it won the Center for Education Reform’s “Hey John Oliver! Back Off My Charter” contest. School officials learned of the news in a video conference call with representatives of Center for Education Reform, a pro-voucher, pro-charter and pro-online learning think tank based in Washington, D.C. that is supported largely by conservative family foundations. READ FULL STORY


Pilar Turner’s farewell: The acrimony will continue
week of November 10, 2016

At her final meeting after serving six years on the Vero Beach City Council, ushered in as part of the 2010 push to get Vero out of the electric business, Councilwoman Pilar Turner sharply addressed those who hope to make the Vero electric controversy go away without solving the problem. “Clearly my greatest regret in serving on the council has been the failure of the city to respond to the demand to sell Vero electric,” said Turner, who served as mayor and vice mayor during her tenure. Her six years spanned the initial $100 million offer by Florida Power & Light to purchase the electric utility, to the contract for sale, to the disintegration of the deal due to pushback from the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA). “Once again, this (Vero electric) is a failed business model. We’re surrounded by the lowest-cost producer (in the state). It’s going to continue to create acrimony in this community,” she said. “I don’t believe Indian River Shores or the county are going to quit fighting when we’re seeing such an economic disparity in the rates.” READ FULL STORY


Shores welcomes two newcomers to Town Council
week of November 10, 2016

It wasn’t exactly a close election – or even an election at all – but the Shores will have some new personalities on the dais next week to tackle the old business. With just three candidates qualifying for three seats, Shores voters did not have to vote for town officials Tuesday. By default, Mayor Brian Barefoot will return for a second two-year term, joined by newcomers Debbi Peniston and Bob Auwaerter. This is the first November Shores Town Council changing of the guard since the term endings were changed from March to November. Vice Mayor Jerry Weick was term-limited after serving nearly eight years, and Councilman Tom Slater opted not to run for re-election, leaving two open seats for Auwaerter and Peniston. Returning to serve out two more years are Councilman Michael Ochsner, who is eligible to run again in 2018, and Councilman Dick Haverland, who will be term limited next time around. READ FULL STORY


School officials deny de facto privatization of janitorial services
week of November 10, 2016

Most of the Indian River County School Board accepted recent staff assurances that a de facto privatization of janitorial services is not taking place, but the janitorial union – and the School District’s own numbers – suggest otherwise. While the janitorial staff for the county’s schools totaled 294 five years ago, according to Assistant Superintendent of Finance Carter Morrison, only 101 janitors are currently employed by the school district. At the same time, records show the district has upped the amount it pays for outside janitorial services from nothing in 2014 to nearly $300,000 per year. Despite those figures, Superintendent Mark Rendell told the school board at a recent meeting the district “is not moving toward privatization.” Privatization should not be happening because the board rejected the idea during July budget talks, mainly for security reasons. The majority said regular staff janitors, known by school personnel and students, are a better bet for pupil safety than outside contractors. READ FULL STORY


Striking new Quail Valley lodge opens on the Pointe
week of November 3, 2016

It looks unlike anything else in Vero. In fact, the 47,365-square-foot waterfront complex on the site of the old Lobster Shanty – with its New York fieldstone and river rock exterior, combined with a dark-wood interior – has the appearance of a North Carolina or Colorado mountain lodge. Welcome to Quail Valley at the Pointe, the latest addition to Vero Beach’s wildly successful private club, which continues to offer its members an ambiance not usually found in this part of Florida. When members see the new restaurant, lounge and hotel at Royal Palm Pointe, they say “Wow!” “Many of our members belong to other clubs in town,” Quail Valley co-owner and general manager Kevin Given said, “and we don’t want to duplicate what they’re getting somewhere else.” READ FULL STORY


School District seeks huge hike in health premiums
week of November 3, 2016

The Indian River County School District, having allowed its employee healthcare fund to plunge $7 million into the red, is seeking to hike the premiums teachers and other staff will pay in the year ahead by as much as a whopping 230 percent. The School Board voted unanimously to increase the premiums of 229 non-union employees by up to $200 a month, effective this past Tuesday, and has given the same offer to the Indian River County Education Association, which represents about 1,100 teachers, and to the Communications Workers of America, which represents about 800 workers. While the teachers union rejected the proposal and wants to negotiate further, the School District is acting as though it is a foregone conclusion that the union employees ultimately will fall in line. “The longer (union) negotiations last, the more money per month each individual will have to pay,” said School Board member Charles Searcy. The vote hiking rates was one of the final actions for outgoing School Board members Claudia Jimenez and Matthew McCain, whose eight-year tenure oversaw the depletion of funds in the district’s self-owned health insurance company, which now require replenishment. READ FULL STORY


Two locked in key battle for Hospital District trustee
week of November 3, 2016

Two candidates running for the same seat on the board of trustees of the Hospital District are locked in a bitter, complex and extremely important argument over Indian River Medical Center’s insurance reimbursement rates for the services it provides. Incumbent Val Zudans, a Vero Beach ophthalmologist, says if hospital CEO Jeff Susi were to negotiate better reimbursement rates with commercial insurance companies – rates even close to those obtained by neighboring hospitals – IRMC would be profitable, and would not constantly be seeking more money from taxpayers. He also contends that companies with private health insurance are not likely to be significantly affected. His opponent Karen Deigl, a former Hospital District executive director, argues that if the insurance reimbursement rates for patients treated at IRMC go up, government agencies that self-insure like the School District, the County and the Sheriff’s Office will take a significant hit, and private employers will see their insurance bills soar as well. Healthcare experts that we interviewed last week tended to side with Zudans, who has cast himself as a watchdog holding IRMC accountable and looking out for the interests of taxpayers. READ FULL STORY


School teacher with cancer has insurance cut off during chemo
week of November 3, 2016

Lis Bech, an award-winning art teacher in our public schools for 19 years, tried to schedule her regular bi-monthly ovarian cancer chemotherapy treatment recently, only to learn the Indian River School District had cancelled her health insurance and she was on the hook for $6,000. Shocked and scared, Bech called the district’s benefits department, but no one would take her call. Employees had been warned in a district-wide email that Hurricane Matthew had delayed open enrollment data entry and “Employee Benefits will not be taking calls and/or appointments.” She was allowed to email, however, and got a response. “They told me in an email that I was no longer on the district insurance, and it was my fault because I filled out the form incorrectly,” Bech said. “I’m very expensive right now. I think they’re trying to drop me,” Bech said. “Just one of the drugs I’m taking is $9,000 each time.” The School District is self-insured and client services, such as help with enrollment, leave much to be desired. READ FULL STORY


Driver of car that killed Cole Coppola to serve time
week of November 3, 2016

A plea deal has been reached between state prosecutors and the woman who was charged with DUI manslaughter after 16-year-old Cole Coppola was killed in a car-versus-bicycle traffic accident on the 17th Street Bridge two years ago. Jamie Williams, now 23, who pleaded not guilty after her arrest and was released from jail after posting a $100,000 bond, will enter a change of plea Dec. 1 in Indian River County Circuit Court, Assistant State Attorney Steve Gosnell said Monday. If Circuit Judge Cynthia Cox accepts the new plea, Williams will be sentenced immediately. Gosnell said the plea bargain, which was approved by Coppola's family, requires Williams to serve time in prison. There are still some minor details yet to be finalized, Gosnell said, but he doesn't anticipate any changes to the deal. Coppola's family will attend the 3 p.m. hearing at the Indian River County Courthouse and will be given an opportunity to address the judge before she hands down her sentence. READ FULL STORY


Shores appeals PSC ruling on Vero electric
week of November 3, 2016

Attorneys for the Town of Indian River Shores last week appealed a ruling by the Florida Public Service Commission which failed to remedy what town officials claim would be an illegal utility operation within its borders after Vero electric’s franchise agreement expires the end of this week. The Town, petitioning the five-member board of appointed utility regulators in Tallahassee as a consumer of Vero electric service, has asked the PSC for an “expedited administrative hearing” on the matter. “While constitutional issues sometimes can be complicated, this one is not. The constitutional constraints on the City’s extra-territorial powers are based on a common-sense principle, namely, one municipality (the City) cannot unilaterally impose its municipal will on another equally independent municipality (the Town), unless the Florida Legislature expressly grants those unilateral powers to the City,” Mayor Brian Barefoot said last week. READ FULL STORY


Body cameras being tested by Shores and Sheriff’s Office
week of November 3, 2016

While the nearby seaside Town of Melbourne Beach began using police body cameras in the spring of 2015 and now swears by them, law enforcement agencies in Indian River County have been more hesitant, testing the cameras but not committing to use them every day on the beat. Questions over privacy, cost, safety and evidence retention and access have provided much fodder for the national media, with the New York Times following the massive New York Police Department’s continued resistance to the cameras. Most recently, the Times has explored the Seattle Police Department’s challenges in dealing with strong open records laws – similar to Florida’s laws – that have drowned police personnel in processing, redacting and fulfilling requests for body cam images. Local testing of the devices is proving out those same concerns, and more, on a small scale. Indian River Shores Chief Rich Rosell, a 35-year law enforcement veteran, said “we have been testing body cameras for several months now.” READ FULL STORY


Shores cell tower finally moving ahead
week of November 3, 2016

The Town Council Monday voted unanimously to enter into a land-lease agreement with Datapath Tower, the next step in the effort to get better cell phone service in Indian River Shores. The lease covers 2,500 square feet on Town Hall property needed to sink a concrete base up to 40 feet deep upon which the 110-foot monopine cell tower will be constructed and camouflaged to look like a huge pine tree. Datapath is leasing the land for renewable five year terms for up to 50 years. Datapath has agreed to pay the Town a $30,000 fee up front, plus periodic payments of $1,350, in addition to a share of the proceeds of the fees paid by cell phone providers to place their transmitters on the tower. The Town and Datapath will share the cost of building the tower. The exact price is not known, but the Town is responsible for up to $150,000 of the pine tree camouflage, as this accoutrement was not envisioned in the original proposal. READ FULL STORY


Shores license plate cameras lead to manhunt
week of October 27, 2016

Those Indian River Shores license plate cameras really work. A hit on a car reported stolen in Fort Pierce last week led officers on a chase up A1A and a manhunt, assisted by private security officers from two gated island communities. Last Wednesday around 3 p.m., the cameras recently installed at the south entrance of the town and focused on northbound A1A, alerted on the license plate of a black 2013 Chrysler 200 that had been reported stolen, according to Shores Det. Sgt. Kip Benham. A Shores patrol officer caught up to the vehicle as the driver attempted to enter the gate of the Shores, a subdivision just behind John’s Island, where the car stopped long enough for the gate security guard to get a description of the two men inside: both in their 30s or maybe 40, one a white male, one a black male. After being turned away at the gate, they eluded police and sped up A1A, finally crashing the car outside the Sea Oaks community and fleeing on foot. READ FULL STORY


Vero could levy stormwater utility tax without vote
week of October 27, 2016

The city’s goal of getting a stormwater utility tax plan ready for voters to decide on in November did not come to fruition, but the new Vero Beach City Council could opt to assess property owners hundreds of thousands of dollars next year without a vote. The idea of creating a stormwater authority to speed up projects that will reduce pollution of the Indian River Lagoon was proposed by then-mayor Dick Winger in 2014. As a first step, Vero hired a consultant to outline how a stormwater taxing entity could be implemented, but City Manager Jim O’Connor said the plan did not come together in time to place a question on the Nov. 8 ballot that would have given voters a chance to say yes or no to the plan. “We are still working with the contractor and expect to have a presentation to Council before the end of the year,” O’Connor said. “Public Works is reviewing the latest data. We have spent $86,000 [for the study so far] and have authorization of up to $103,000.” READ FULL STORY


St. Paul’s Church moving forward
week of October 27, 2016

Almost six months after a groundbreaking ceremony on the site, the new St. Paul's Church is under construction on Flamevine Lane, just off Ocean Drive, where its doors are expected to open next August – nearly two years after the original target date. The cause of the delay? Not enough parking. In fact, Vero Beach city planners would not approve the barrier island project until the Anglican church, which has room for only 20 spaces on its property, produced an agreement with a neighbor to provide enough parking to accommodate its 150-seat sanctuary. "It was a combination of parking and getting all our plans approved by the city, including the Architectural Review Committee," St. Paul's Rector Jon Robbins said of the obstacles that delayed the construction of the 6,500-square-foot, two-story building that will include administrative offices and classrooms on the second floor. "The property was already zoned for a house of worship, so the parking issue was the primary reason for the delay," he added. "Thankfully, we got that resolved. The shared-parking agreement was offered to us as an act of kindness by strong Christian folks who believe that St. Paul's would enhance the community." READ FULL STORY


Arrest emerges as factor in last year’s ouster of Coach Joe
week of October 27, 2016

A 2003 felony arrest for aggravated battery, later reduced to misdemeanor assault, has emerged as a key justification for the firing of a beloved coach and teacher. It’s been nearly a year since Joe Nathaniel was suspended with pay by Indian River County School District officials while awaiting a formal hearing on a tussle he had with a student, Isaiah Speights, on Nov. 17, 2015. Nathaniel and some witnesses say Speights, who has a history of arrests and problems at school, instigated and escalated the conflict and that Nathaniel was acting responsibly, subduing a violent student and protecting other students. But the district contends Nathaniel was at fault and is guilty of mistreating Speights. When the district sent Nathaniel a termination notice after the incident, it did not mention his 2003 arrest, but Superintendent Mark Rendell alluded to the arrest while giving testimony last week at the long awaited hearing, held by Judge John Van Laningham, Department of Administrative Hearings. READ FULL STORY


Elections fraud complaint filed against IRNA mailer
week of October 27, 2016

A 16-page newspaper-style mailer sent to Vero Beach residents last week touting three candidates for Vero Beach City Council prompted a complaint to the Florida Department of State for alleged elections fraud, but the Indian River Neighborhood Association, which primarily funded the mailing, says it did nothing wrong. Former Vero Beach City Councilman and Vero Beach Chamber of Commerce founder Charlie Wilson filed two complaints, dated Oct. 21, against the IRNA Political Committee and the paper’s publisher, New Mexico resident Mark Schumann, alleging that the mailer constitutes an illegal piece of electioneering communication. The IRNA is a local nonprofit organization with its own PAC, the IRNA Political Committee. The PAC can perform political functions such as electioneering that the nonprofit itself is not permitted to do, but Wilson contends the group crossed a line by underwriting the publication and distribution of campaign literature masquerading as a newspaper. The mailer was entitled Inside Vero and resembles a community newspaper Schumann published sporadically for a couple of years before moving to New Mexico. Inside Vero was not published by a corporation, but is a fictitious name Schumann registered in 2013. READ FULL STORY


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