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Doctor: $2.5M fraud settlement was ‘shakedown’
week of March 15, 2018

A healthcare fraud case against the founder of Treasure Coast Dermatology was dismissed in federal court last week after Dr. Tim Ioannides agreed to a $2.5 million settlement with the U.S. Government. The move comes years after a former patient told authorities the physician allegedly billed Medicare for a procedure she never had, a violation of the False Claims Act. Ioannides, a Vero Beach island resident who owns dermatology offices in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties, insisted he had done nothing wrong. He called the government and its lawyers corrupt and termed what happened to him a “shakedown.” Ioannides’ deal does not admit liability and the allegations against the doctor were never proven. His medical license is unaltered, though his billing practices and books will be now subject to additional audits as part of an integrity agreement. The patient who brought the original complaint to the government will receive $475,000 in the multimillion-dollar settlement deal. The False Claims Act allows whistleblowers to receive a portion of any financial recovery the U.S. Government is awarded. READ FULL STORY

Daughter on Teel shooting: ‘I wish deputy had waited’
week of March 15, 2018

The daughter of a woman shot and killed by an Indian River County Sheriff’s deputy responding to an attempted suicide call told investigators she wished she had never dialed 911. In documents released to Vero Beach 32963, Susan Teel’s family details the horrific events leading up to her tragic death and their thoughts on law enforcement’s handing of the situation. Interview transcripts were provided by the Office of the State Attorney in response to a public records request. The agency conducted an investigation into the fatal incident last July and brought its findings to a grand jury for review. The officer was cleared of both criminal and administrative wrongdoing, though an attorney for the Teel family has notified the Sheriff’s Office of intent to file a civil complaint. Susan Teel was shot within minutes of Deputy Jonathan Lozada arriving at her home. The confrontation between the distraught woman and deputy happened so fast, her husband, an emergency room physician, didn’t even make it up the stairs before his wife was shot. READ FULL STORY

New questions raised about effectiveness of Spoonbill Marsh
week of March 15, 2018

Indian River County’s controversial $4 million Spoonbill Marsh facility may be contributing to the nitrogen load in the lagoon instead of reducing it, according to two concerned citizens who have successfully petitioned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to hold a public hearing on the matter. Nitrogen, which comes mainly from fertilizer runoff and faulty septic systems, is harmful to the lagoon because it feeds algae blooms that kill seagrass and smother marine life. Barry Schapiro, a retired advertising executive and environmental activist, and Carter Taylor, former president of the Indian River Neighborhood Association and a long-time member of its lagoon committee, say nitrogen input and output numbers the county self-reports and sends to the FDEP grossly inflate the nutrient-removing capabilities of the marsh to meet an environmental benefit level the facility must show to remain in compliance with its permit. The county constructed the 67-acre Spoonbill Marsh in 2008, on the western shore of the lagoon north of Grand Harbor. It is intended to treat mineral-rich effluent left over from drinking water purification – which environmental regulations prohibit from being dumped directly into the lagoon – by mixing it with lagoon water and filtering it. READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach looking for ways to improve municipal marina
week of March 15, 2018

With the Vero Beach Municipal Marina at capacity much of the season, and well-used year around, the city government is fishing for ideas on how to run it efficiently enough to afford upkeep and much-needed renovations. The marina is technically a municipal enterprise fund, meaning it is supposed to be self-supporting, and this year, the marina’s submitted $1.7 million budget looks balanced. But that hasn’t always been the case. The city has frequently bailed the marina out, using property tax dollars, on the premise that having such an amenity enhances the overall quality of life in Vero Beach and helps boost the local economy. The marina’s website states that more than 3,000 vessels visit per year, resulting in 20,000 overnight stays. Slips and mooring ball spots are rented nightly, weekly and monthly, and people staying over on their boats spend money at stores, restaurants and other venues. City Manager Jim O’Connor recently announced a possible solution to the recurring bailout problem that could right the ship, but it would take a major infusion of cash. READ FULL STORY

Will Boca hospital join IRMC as part of Cleveland Clinic?
week of March 15, 2018

Boca Raton Regional Hospital announced Wednesday that Cleveland Clinic, slated to take over IRMC later this year, made the cut out of 12 hospital systems and is now one of five finalists to assume control of 400-bed Boca hospital as well. Boca is a bit behind Vero in the partnership process, though it appears they could catch up. According to Thomas Chakurda, Boca Regional’s vice president of marketing, he expects “to conclude the process this summer.” Indian River and Cleveland are expected to have negotiated a definitive agreement by the beginning of June, with closing anticipated by August, following state and federal approvals. For now, the Boca hospital is also considering Orlando Health, one of Indian River’s finalists, along with Miami-based Baptist Health South Florida; Hollywood-based Memorial Healthcare, parent of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital; and Novant Health, a North Carolina-based system that has not yet entered the Florida market. Boca Regional’s pursuit of a partner began in earnest last June when the hospital formed a steering committee that served much the same purpose as the Collaborative Committee in Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY

$6.9m north island ceanfront spec home coming onto market
week of March 15, 2018

North Shore Club developer Yane Zana is happy with the progress of his boutique luxury community, located on the ocean between Sea Oaks and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, and probably has good reason to feel that way. His latest North Shore spec home is hitting the market at the height of the barrier island’s busy season, when homebuyers are abundant. The county issued a certificate of occupancy in late February, and the $6.9 million oceanfront estate will make its debut at a gala open house later this month. What makes the timing even better is a lack of competing product. There are only two similar new oceanfront homes on the island, one that is nearing completion in Castaway Cove listed for $7.9 million and a spec house about the same size as Zana’s in the Estate Section offered for $9.9 million. “I try to keep my feet on the ground about pricing,” Zana says. “I think we are offering good value for new oceanfront construction on a large lot.” READ FULL STORY

County losing half of its judges to retirement
week of March 8, 2018

Come year’s end, the Indian River County courthouse will lose three of its six sitting judges to retirement. The men, who serve on both the 19th Judicial Circuit and the County Court bench, collectively have spent more than 70 years making decisions that shaped the county’s growth and development and helped protect the safety and wellbeing of the residents who call it home. They’ve put murderers behind bars, tried to ensure fair development, kept the courthouse running smoothly, made tough decisions and held lawyers accountable. Sometimes, their decisions are challenged. Other times, they are celebrated. At all times, however, their work has lasting impact. “Overall, I think we are losing three very good judges,” Bruce Colton, State Attorney for the 19th Judicial Circuit said of the impending departure of Judges Robert Pegg, Joe Wild and Paul Kanarek. “These are people who are making decisions who can affect all of our lives, even those that don’t have anything to do with the court system – large civil cases, criminal cases – they are setting the tone for how the law is enforced in our county.” READ FULL STORY

Hospital officials tour Cleveland Clinic Florida
week of March 8, 2018

WESTON – Cleveland Clinic Florida put itself on the exam table Monday, allowing a sizeable contingent of Indian River Medical Center officials to take a close look – right down to the studs – as part of due diligence before IRMC finalizes a Cleveland Clinic takeover in Vero. The 155-bed Weston facility that since 2006 has been the famed health system’s only Florida hospital gave a dozen or so Vero Beach visitors an intimate tour that included donning hardhats and dodging ladders in one section, basking in the serenity of art-filled halls in another just-completed section, and in still another area, watching over a doctor’s shoulder as a heart procedure unfolded through a glass window. “How are you doing?” asked the gregarious cardiologist, looking up at the Vero group from his monitor on the visitors’ side of the glass. “We’re doing great, and our patient’s doing great! That’s what counts!” That doctor’s eagerness to communicate his love for his work may be one of the first things Vero hospital staff members learn to emulate. As soon as the Cleveland sign goes up, communication training begins, said Dr. Wael Barsoum, an orthopedic surgeon who is Cleveland’s Florida division CEO and president. READ FULL STORY

SRMC set for expansion under new owner
week of March 8, 2018

The planned expansion of the Sebastian River Medical Center, which will include a 3-story tower with 94,000 square feet of additional space, is back on track, according to hospital president Kelly Enriquez. But it will not come close to completion by the originally forecast date of mid-2018. The project was first unveiled in June of 2016 when the Sebastian hospital was still owned by Community Health Systems, a financially-strapped Tennessee-based conglomerate, which at that time owned some 200 hospitals in 29 different states. In April 2017, the Steward Health Care System of Boston bought the Sebastian facility as well as the Wuestoff medical centers in Melbourne and Rockledge in Brevard County. “Steward has been full steam ahead on this project from both a logistics and funding standpoint since” buying SRMC, Enriquez said. “Any changes to the originally reported timeline predate Steward’s involvement.” Enriquez now projects a completion date “by the end of next year” or “possibly even sooner.” READ FULL STORY

Proposed takeover of Leisure Square by nonprofit unlikely
week of March 8, 2018

A possible suitor interested in converting the city-owned Leisure Square recreational facility into a privately operated enterprise has been shooed away by protests from parents and kids involved in Vero Beach recreation programs, but a majority of the City Council is still seeking ways to run the center more efficiently. Councilman Val Zudans last month convinced his colleagues to hold off on a vote to approve a six-figure repair job on the bathrooms, showers and locker rooms because he thought he could broker a deal with a nonprofit to come in, lease Leisure Square long-term and assume management, taking over the expense of maintaining the aging building, and staffing and marketing the classes, camps, swimming pool and fitness facilities. Zudans mentioned that a Vero foundation that has been very successful at raising funds might be interested in such a deal. That statement, which Zudans now says was made off-handedly, stirred up a petition drive and protest that packed City Council chambers on Feb. 20. READ FULL STORY

Publix hoping to build ‘upscale’ supermarket on island in Orchid
week of March 8, 2018

For the second time, Publix has approached the Town of Orchid to discuss building an “upscale” supermarket on the north barrier island, eyeing a 7-acre property on the north side of 510, adjacent to historic Jungle Trail and just outside the gates of Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club community, which makes up virtually the entire town. When Publix, a Florida-based company founded in 1930 and currently one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country, first floated the idea of a store in Orchid several years ago, the proposal was summarily shot down by the Town Council. This time around, the response has been more positive since Publix approached Town Manager Noah Powers early last month and word began to circulate. It is Powers’ understanding that Publix has a purchase contract for the property, which is owned by Orchid resident and long-time Vero Beach businessman and auto dealer Ken Puttick. “We don’t have details,” says Ofstie, “but clearly they have been talking.” READ FULL STORY

Indian River NAACP asks School Board to curb Tiffany Justice
week of March 8, 2018

The Indian River County Chapter of the NAACP is asking the School Board to rein in one of its members, Tiffany Justice, who has taken over the African American Achievement Plan Core Committee in violation of board policy and the Open Meetings Act. In a letter to board members, the NAACP cites School Board policy, which states, “To ensure that the presence of board members at committee meetings does not unduly influence or stifle committee deliberations, their attendance shall be in an observer status.” If a School Board member does speak at a committee meeting, “Statements by board members which reflect personal opinion will be clearly identified as such to committee members,” according to district policy. The NAACP said Justice has never “identified her comments or staff requests as personal opinion,” is interfering with the implementation of the African American Achievement Plan, “is functioning as a School Board member rather than as a private citizen” at the meetings, and “has given direction to District staff” at the meetings, all in violation of policy. READ FULL STORY

8050 luxury condo project in Indian River Shores ‘on hold’
week of March 8, 2018

An 18-unit modernist condominium project that had potential to raise the level of oceanfront design in Vero Beach has been taken off the market and put on hold after buyers failed to materialize. Timing seems to have been the problem. The developer wanted a certain number of signed sales contracts to start construction and anticipated a two-year build process, and buyers were not willing to put down money and commit to a $3-million purchase when it would be years before they could move in. The project began to take shape in October 2014 when Alloy Development, a partnership between Vero Beach businesswoman Katherine McConvey and New York architect Jared Della Valle, paid $7,250,000 for a prime 4.8-acre beachfront parcel north of the Carlton. The new homes, designed by Della Valle in a pure modernist style that drew raves from many, were announced with fanfare in April 2015. The plan included 3-bedroom oceanfront homes with 4 or 4.5 baths and 3,300 to 3,900 square feet of air-conditioned living space, along with 950 to 1,840 square feet of outdoor terraces and balconies. Pre-construction prices ranged from about $3 million to $3.5 million. READ FULL STORY

Cleveland Clinic seen developing major center here
week of March 1, 2018

Two months after retiring as CEO of Indian River Medical Center, Jeff Susi last week spoke out publicly for the first time about the decision by the IRMC board and the Hospital District to partner with Cleveland Clinic, terming the prospect of a Cleveland takeover “the best thing that could happen” for the Vero Beach community. “Cleveland Clinic really wants to develop a major medical center here. I think they’ll just take it to a new level,” Susi said in a wide-ranging interview with Vero Beach 32963. While Susi termed all four of the health systems that sought to take over IRMC potentially “good partners,” he said the difference “is that for some of them, we could have been a feeder to another hospital nearby.” Two of the finalists have a huge presence in Orlando, and HCA, the nation’s largest health system, owns Lawnwood in neighboring Fort Pierce. “I think that Cleveland Clinic is going to expand our footprint, draw from a broader area and grow the medical staff, grow the employment base,” Susi said. READ FULL STORY

Vero Electric clears another hurdle as FMPA exit nears
week of March 1, 2018

The Fort Meade City Commission Monday night became the last of the 20 electric co-op member cities required to approve letting Vero Beach out of the Florida Municipal Power Agency, paving the way for Vero to sell its electric utility to Florida Power & Light. Mayor Harry Howle and County Commissioner Tim Zorc traveled to Fort Meade Monday night for the discussion and vote, which took about 35 minutes. “This is truly a day to be celebrated. Many people in the community and many facets of our local governments have worked in conjunction in hopes this day would come,” Howle said. Howle and Zorc both thanked all the FMPA member cities, and also FPL for sticking with Vero in the negotiations even when it looked like there was no hope of closing the deal. Now FPL and the city’s transactional attorney Nat Doliner of the Carlton Fields law firm hope to complete the transaction on or before Oct. 1, pending regulatory approvals. READ FULL STORY

Shores Council okays John’s Island pipeline deal for reuse water
week of March 1, 2018

A major infrastructure project is slated to get underway in May, when a 3.5-mile-long pipeline will be laid along Old Dixie Highway, U.S. 1 and 69th Street on the mainland before plunging deep below the lagoon and crossing to the island, where it will dispense millions of gallons of reclaimed water for irrigation in and around John’s Island. The 16-inch-diameter pipe will begin at the county’s reuse water tank north of 77th Street on the mainland and end at A1A at the north end of John’s Island. The last hurdle to the project was cleared on Feb. 25 with the Indian River Shores Town Council voting unanimously to give Indian River County a non-exclusive right to sell reclaimed water from its wastewater treatment plant to entities within town limits for the next 25 years. The main customer will be Johns Island Water Management, which signed a separate agreement with the county in December. READ FULL STORY

Laura Riding Jackson House faces an uncertain future
week of March 1, 2018

It is not clear what the future holds for the Laura Riding Jackson House, which has been located on the Environmental Learning Center campus for the past 24 years. Marie Stiefel, head of the foundation that oversees the house, said foundation board members met with ELC’s new leadership over lunch last summer to discuss the environmental center’s ambitious multimillion-dollar expansion plans and were told those plans don’t include the 118-year-old house. Stiefel said no specific timeframe was provided for when the structure would have to be moved, leaving the board uncertain about how best to proceed. After the meeting, several board members expressed disappointment that the genial 25-year partnership between the house foundation and ELC would be coming to an end. Some noted the irony that a sustainable structure built out of materials from its surroundings and designed to make best use of wind, rain and the natural light is not seen as relevant to an organization promoting harmony between people and the natural world. READ FULL STORY

Oslo Road boat ramp waters could become nation’s first protected fish spawning area
week of March 1, 2018

After winning a 10-year-long battle to protect the Oslo Boat Ramp area earlier this month, environmentalists, scientists and anglers want to capitalize on that victory, getting the area designated a protected fish-nursery habitat. No such designation currently exists at the local, state or federal level, but the group wants to change that. The County Commission finally gave up the idea of “improving” the ramp area at the Feb. 13 commission meeting, after spending countless hours discussing ever-changing plans to expand or otherwise alter the well-used boat ramp. Coastal Conservation Association president Paul Fafeita told Indian River County Commissioners the area is the only site along the 156-mile lagoon forming a nursery for not one, but four game-fish – snook, tarpon, red drum and spotted sea trout. Grant Gilmore, a renowned fish biologist who has identified deep-water-ocean spawning grounds and shallow-water-lagoon nursery grounds, wants the spawning area posted and protected. Gilmore and those working with him want to make the environmentally sensitive waters around the ramp a pilot project to get fish spawning and nursery habitat recognized and protected state- and nation-wide. READ FULL STORY

Partners program fights high infant mortality rate
week of March 1, 2018

Hospital District Trustee Allen Jones, a retired senior Merrill Lynch executive, is by his own admission obsessed with numbers. Babies? Not particularly, beyond his three grandchildren. But when he took a look at high infant mortality figures in Indian River County, he went into data overdrive, compiling an in-depth report within months of joining the Hospital District Board. The program he pegged to solve the problem wasn’t a new one; Partners in Women’s Health, a practice begun to treat pregnant women of very limited means, was formed in the mid-1990s, just as the mom-focused Healthy Start initiatives were getting underway here and across the country. What Jones saw as the solution to high infant mortality was not just the Partners clinic, but a network of prenatal and post-partum services. Today, the Partners in Women’s Health Collaborative Committee, which Jones co-chairs with IRMC board member Kathy Hendrix, aims to save the lives of newborns. A half-dozen community health agencies, all receiving Hospital District support for indigent care, are involved in services ranging from help in quitting smoking and getting off drugs to breast-feeding advice and tips for finding a safe spot for a baby to sleep. READ FULL STORY

Health Department’s tax funding for indigent care cut 60 percent
week of February 22, 2018

A change 18 months ago in the way the County Health Department is funded by the County Hospital District has resulted in a drastic drop in the number of patients going to the Health Department for free healthcare – from an average of 80 visits a day to 18 – and this in turn has forced major staff cuts and a curtailment of the agency’s adult and pediatric primary care services. According to officials, the plunge in patient visits came after the tax-levying Hospital District – which had been funding the Health Department’s clinic through an annual block grant of $2.5 million – switched to a fee-for-service reimbursement system which requires non-Medicaid or Medicare patients to bring in proof that they qualify for indigent care before they can be seen. That mundane-sounding chore – bringing in things like proof of domicile and pay stubs – has proven very difficult for people living in poverty, said clinic administrator Miranda Hawker. “It’s very challenging for our patients to bring in all that documentation.” READ FULL STORY

Texas man with big plans buys INEOS facility
week of February 22, 2018

David Frankens is now the owner of a defunct ethanol plant, 150 acres of land and a deep injection well. He’s got a half-dozen or so employees that were kept on, the skeleton crew who continued to staff the abandoned INEOS Bio facility after the bank took it back. Frankens said he just wrote a check for payroll for those folks. “And I bonused them,” the 45-year-old said from his home in Lufkin, Texas, a city of 35,000 people situated about halfway between Houston and Dallas. When he heard that the tentative deal Alliance BioEnergy had to buy the plant from the bank was falling through, Frankens said he got his helicopter ready and flew down here to look at the site. “A friend of mine knew about it,” Frankens said. “He said, David, I know this doesn’t fall exactly in your motto, but I’d like you to fly out and look at it. So I took the preacher and flew out and we prayed over it.” READ FULL STORY

Sheriff’s deputy accused of using excessive force in subduing man having a seizure
week of February 22, 2018

A Vero Beach man claims he was having a seizure at the Indian River Medical Center when a Sheriff’s Deputy slammed him into a wall, pushed him onto the ground, handcuffed him and sat on his legs while waiting for backup to arrive. An attorney for Brian Gines Jr. filed a civil complaint in the 19th Judicial Circuit alleging excessive force, negligence and battery against the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and its employees for the incident. The then 36-year-old was being treated at the hospital for a seizure disorder in 2014. The condition was so severe, his attorney claims in court filings, it could “occasionally cause him to become violent against his will.” This information, lawyer Jeffrey Fadley says, was well known to hospital staff. Gines had a second seizure while waiting at the emergency room and began acting violently and erratically, the lawyer contends in the complaint. Sheriff’s Office Deputy David Russell responded to the commotion and intervened, even though several hospital staff told him the patient should not be approached. READ FULL STORY

Broken line repaired that spewed sewage into Bethel Creek
week of February 22, 2018

The City of Vero Beach last week completed final repairs to the sewer main that drains much of the northern part of the barrier island. The rusting 50-year-old iron pipe ruptured in November, dumping 3.1 million gallons of raw sewage into Bethel Creek before temporary repairs halted the spill. The city had to wait for seasonally high tides to recede – they last from October through December – before undertaking the complex repair. Even with the water table lower, the site required dewatering for work to proceed last Thursday and Friday. The break was on the east side of State Road A1A, in front of the newly-built Surf Club townhomes, near Jaycee Park. Residents were asked to limit water usage while the line, which carries waste to the city’s sewage treatment plant, was cut for repair. At the same time, 30 lift stations were shut off between Jaycee Park and the north boundary of Indian River Shores, from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday to reduce the flow of sewage. READ FULL STORY

Sheriff’s deputy who shot Susan Teel is cleared, but lawsuit likely to drag on
week of February 22, 2018

Moments before Susan Teel was shot dead, investigators say the suicidal woman swore at the deputy who had come to render aid and told him, “Go ahead, kill me.” Corporal Jonathan Lozada arrived at the home on Carriage Lake Way in Vero Beach at 8:04 p.m. July 26 after Teel’s daughter called 911 for help, according to a Feb. 1 report written by Indian River County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Justin Knott. The memorandum clears Lozada, who fired the fatal shots, of administrative wrongdoing, even though he claimed to have shot the 106-pound woman three times and an autopsy released earlier this month found she had been shot four times. A grand jury cleared the deputy of criminal charges Jan. 4. The family has notified the Sheriff’s Office of its intent to file a civil complaint, said Attorney Guy Rubin of Rubin & Rubin law firm in Stuart. There are contradictions between what law enforcement reports, and what has come forth in investigative documents, he said, including the discrepancy about the number of shots fired. READ FULL STORY

School Board member pushes her personal agenda
week of February 22, 2018

Indian River County School Board Member Tiffany Justice wants to throw out the African American Achievement Plan to adopt one she thinks will be better, pushing her plan forward over the objections of achievement plan committee members who say the change makes no sense. The committee is composed of School District staff members and citizen volunteers. Justice’s interference comes despite School Board policy that discourages board members from attending independent committee meetings, because they may “unduly influence or stifle committee deliberations.” If a board member does attend a committee meeting, the policy says they should “participate in committee discussions as members of the public,” not as elected officials with authority over School District policy, noting that “personal opinion will be clearly identified as such to committee members.” Despite those polices, Justice, whose comments are preserved in minutes published on the district website, has taken over direction of committee meetings and altered agendas while failing to clarify that she speaks as a private citizen, using her clout to direct school staff on the committee while ignoring citizen volunteers’ recommendations. READ FULL STORY

2 arrested for pulling out signs that had been posted to discourage panhandling
week of February 22, 2018

Three weeks into Vero Beach's efforts to curb panhandling at city intersections, two homeless people have been arrested and jailed for removing – or attempting to remove – signs posted to discourage the roadside beggars and the motorists who give them money. According to arrest affidavits, David Wayne Miller, 41, was charged with criminal mischief on Feb. 6, after he allegedly pulled one of the signs from the ground at the intersection of U.S. 1 and 17th Street. Three days later, Benjamin Daum, 34, was charged with disorderly intoxication after a Vero Beach police officer allegedly saw him trying to remove a sign at the same intersection. "We had three signs that were taken down," Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said. "The first one, we weren't sure who did it. The second one, David Miller was caught in the act. The third one was Benjamin Daum, who we believe was also responsible for the first one. "We've had issues with both of them," he added. "They're not cooperative and they're usually under the influence of something, usually alcohol." READ FULL STORY

Indian River continues the fight to stop Brightline
week of February 22, 2018

Even as All Aboard Florida chugs ahead with its plan to run high-speed passenger trains through Vero Beach and the rest of the Treasure Coast, local officials continue to fight the plan, which they believe would bring serious safety problems and economic harm to the area. The latest move came earlier this month when Indian River County joined Martin County and advocacy group CARE-Florida filing a complaint in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, which names the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration as defendants. The lawsuit alleges the DOT ignored safety, maritime and environmental problems and improperly subsidized the Brightline trains with tax exempt bonds, while violating the National Environmental Policy Act. “Throughout the NEPA process, Indian River County submitted comments to the [Federal Railroad Administration] demanding that the agency take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the All Aboard Florida project,” Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold said in a statement. READ FULL STORY

Indian River Charter High gets a 15-year renewal
week of February 22, 2018

Indian River Charter High School has received a 15-year charter renewal from its sponsor, the Indian River County School District, after going through a half-year review process. About a dozen School District staff members evaluated the school in their areas of expertise. They graded the charter on more than 20 criteria that included academics, fiscal management, teacher oversight, student selection and school mission. The team recommended charter renewal unanimously, according to IRCHS Executive Board Director Gene Waddell. The Indian River County School Board likewise voted unanimously to renew the charter at its last meeting in January. The charter school’s esprit de corps was easy to see at the board meeting, with charter students, faculty, board members and parents filling the hall. Cheering and applause resounded after the motion passed. “We appreciate the scrutiny district staff put us through,” Waddell said. “We enjoy that sort of thing.” The mission of the charter high school, which is known for its emphasis on the arts, is to serve students “who want or need a non-traditional structure and learning environment.” READ FULL STORY

Duke phaseout seen natural part of Cleveland takeover
week of February 15, 2018

Long before the Cleveland Clinic offered to lend its aura of renown to Indian River Medical Center, there was another momentous, if much less extensive, affiliation with a prestigious institution: Duke University Health System, whose main campus is a nationally ranked, internationally recognized academic medical center. It was 2005 when IRMC leadership decided to subscribe to the Duke Health affiliation for its planned Welsh Heart Center. It was a major stride for the community hospital and one that would shape its future in ways barely imaginable at the time. A decade later, IRMC signed on with Duke for a second center of excellence, the Scully-Welsh Cancer Center. Together the heart and cancer centers brought the aging 37th Street hospital into the 21st century, with state-of-the-art treatment capabilities, excellent doctors and in the case of the cancer center, a physical extension of the hospital that would strikingly update its rear façade. Now, it appears the Duke brand may be replaced by an even bigger name, and in a far more extensive integration. With a letter of intent due to be signed any day, the Cleveland Clinic will enter into exclusive negotiations with IRMC to take over the publicly-owned hospital. READ FULL STORY

Johnny Benjamin’s woes started with Michigan pot bust
week of February 15, 2018

Dr. Johnny Benjamin’s legal troubles and alleged dealings with illicit drugs started nearly a year before Indian River County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested him at his island home. The doctor was later charged by federal agents for alleged attempted possession and distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death, namely the dangerous opiod cocktail of fentanyl-laced oxycodone. Newly filed court documents suggest the Vero Beach spine surgeon, who is behind bars in Miami awaiting trial, struck a plea deal in Michigan after a state trooper stumbled upon a suspected marijuana grow operation linked to him. Benjamin, 52, was booked in the Sanilac County Jail Dec.14, 2016, two months after police responded to an alleged electricity theft at the home. The property in rural Sanilac Township had been deeded earlier that year to Marsha Benjamin, a woman the doctor claims he married years ago in Vero Beach, though federal prosecutors point out the county has no marriage certificate for the two on file. Benjamin was charged with violating Michigan’s Controlled Substance Act, accused of marijuana production and the possession of dangerous drugs, according to records obtained by Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY

Polish-American group wins lengthy legal battle to reclaim club on U.S. 1
week of February 15, 2018

A group of Polish Americans won a major battle in a long-running legal dispute Monday when an Indian River County judge ruled that a 2015 takeover of the old Polish-American Social Club was unauthorized. The Hon. Paul Kanarek found that action by an insurgent board of directors that dissolved the old club and transferred its assets to a new Vero Beach Social Club violated the original club’s articles of incorporation. “The articles are clear: the dissolution of this corporation required the vote of the general membership and approval of the general membership,” he said. “If they didn’t have authority to dissolve the corporation, they didn’t have authority to distribute the property.” Kanarek’s order comes two-and-a-half-years into the legal battle over the clubhouse on U.S. 1 near 39th Avenue and an estimated $1.25 million in assets once set aside to promote the culture and heritage of the Eastern European nation. Following years of disagreement over club’s direction, the board of directors then in place formed a new corporation – the Vero Beach Social Club – in 2015. It then transferred the Polish-American Club’s assets to the new nonprofit and, without a vote by its membership, dissolved the original corporation. READ FULL STORY

Christmas tree-like cell tower rises over Shores town offices
week of February 15, 2018

Indian River Shores’ stealth “monopine” cell tower went up almost as quickly as Jack’s famous beanstalk, hoisted into place and adorned with green fiberglass branches, adding a 115-foot pine tree-type structure to the town’s landscape. The main tower structure was delivered in two pieces by truck on Feb. 6 and assembled like a Christmas tree. Then the “branches” were installed and covered with special “socks” designed to mimic pine foliage, but not to block radio-frequency waves. “I was pleased with how fast the tower was up and branched,” said Town Manager Robbie Stabe. Stabe said there were no surprises in the construction, which made up a little bit for all the many delays in years -long planning, approval and permitting process. “The tower is exactly how Larson Camouflage depicted it and I personally think it looks even better than the pictures they sent us,” he said. “Every resident that has shown up at the site had positive comments. Several said ‘It’s not as tall as I pictured it would be.’” READ FULL STORY

County eyes Aviation Blvd. extension to the hospital
week of February 15, 2018

With 37th Street – lined by dozens of medical offices, rehab facilities and imaging centers – nearing its maximum traffic capacity, county officials are devising a plan to make it easier to get to Indian River Medical Center from the west of town by extending Aviation Boulevard from U.S. 1 northeast to the hospital. "We're very early in the process," county Public Works Director Rich Szpyrka said last week. "Right now, there's not much more than a sketch of where we think we're going to put the road." The proposal, presented to county commissioners by Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Phil Matson two months ago as an alternative to widening 37th Street, calls for the extension of Aviation Boulevard across U.S. 1, through mostly vacant lots and intersecting with 35th Lane on the south edge of the hospital property. Matson said the project – from purchasing the right-of-way needed for the road to its construction – probably will take five years to complete, "assuming we have the funding." READ FULL STORY

Medical center again outsources emergency room
week of February 8, 2018

While all eyes were on last week’s vote to pursue negotiations with Cleveland Clinic to take over Indian River Medical Center, the IRMC board of directors hired a new company to run the hospital’s emergency room. Envision, parent company of physician outsourcing giant EmCare, is the third outside company in four years to staff the medical center’s ER. The last group, Apollo, was let go in May 2016 and the hospital resumed staffing the ER with its own physicians for the first time since 2009. The IRMC board of directors approved its patient care committee’s recommendation of Envision just weeks after the Justice Department announced the company settled a massive fraud case dating back to 2008. The $29.6 million settlement with Envision and its ER services division, EmCare, involved the company’s contracts with the now-defunct Naples-based health system giant, Health Management Associates. Whistleblowers alleged that the for-profit HMA was paying off EmCare doctors to admit ER patients as inpatients when their conditions didn’t warrant it. The alleged fraud cost taxpayers millions of dollars in higher Medicare costs, since Medicare pays about three times as much for inpatient care as it does for outpatient. READ FULL STORY

Impact of future Cleveland Clinic changes weighed
week of February 8, 2018

Indian River Medical Center officials continue to show concern not just for lives, but livelihoods, as they negotiate a hospital takeover agreement with Cleveland Clinic. The hospital, with 1,750 workers, is second only to the school district in number of employees locally, and the potential economic impact of changes at IRMC weighed heavily on the minds of hospital board members and Hospital District trustees as they considered their votes last week. Jamie Burgdorfer, the investment banker who has advised hospital officials through the partner-selection process, told the boards that there would be change no matter which of the four finalists they picked, including new construction, the hiring of employees, and physicians moving to the area. But with Cleveland Clinic, Vero can expect the “super-dramatic impact” of a national brand, with reverberations in everything from philanthropy to the housing market to enrollment in schools, including the barrier island prep school, St. Edward’s. “The economic impact could be significant and therefore represent dramatic change,” said Burgdorfer, wrapping up a presentation in advance of the Jan. 30 votes that selected the Cleveland hospital company. READ FULL STORY

The Moorings plans major expansion of the club’s racquet sport facilities
week of February 8, 2018

The Moorings is planning to embark in May on a $2 million project to upgrade and expand its racquet sport facilities. The project is the next step in an ambitious capital improvement campaign that in 2015 saw the island club purchase the Hawk’s Nest Golf Club – a long-sought, championship-level course that has helped The Moorings club grow its membership to more than 1,000. The racquet-sports plan includes the relocation of two tennis courts and the conversion of a third into a stadium court that can be used for exhibitions, inter-club team competitions and the annual King of the Hill fundraising tournament. HydroCourt underground watering systems will be installed beneath all three new courts, which also will have LED lighting. Fixed bleachers will be built adjacent to the stadium court, which is currently Court 4. The relocation of the two easternmost courts – Courts 5 and 6 will be shifted to the northwest, behind the new stadium court and closer to the St. Edward’s School property line – will allow for the construction of a four-court pickleball complex, which also will include LED lighting. READ FULL STORY

Vero City Marina to finally get needed repairs, renovations
week of February 8, 2018

The Vero Beach City Council was set to award a contract this past Tuesday night for desperately needed renovations to 30-year-old bathrooms and laundry facilities at the city marina, which is brimming with boats this time of year. Longtime Harbormaster and Marina Director Tim Grabenbauer said the marina’s business has been bolstered by a rebounding economy, brutal weather up north and conditions at competing marinas that still have unrepaired storm damage dating from Hurricane Irma in September 2017 and Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. As of Monday, the Harbormaster said he had about 90 vessels bobbing around the marina’s mooring ball field, plus another 25 to 27 new guests renting out slips each week. Ahead of the council vote, staff recommended the $114,600 renovation contract be awarded to Vero Beach-based Bill Bryant Construction, which was the lowest in-county bidder, within 5 percent of a Brevard County firm that bid slightly less – close enough to trigger the local preference provision in the Vero city code. READ FULL STORY

County gears up for next round in battle against All Aboard Florida
week of February 8, 2018

In the wake of multiple fatalities, officials in Martin and Indian River counties are gearing up for a second expensive legal battle against All Aboard Florida in an attempt to derail plans for the high-speed passenger train before it hits the Treasure Coast. Hundreds gathered last week in downtown Stuart at a meeting of the Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida to discuss legal, political and advocacy efforts against Brightline’s planned expansion north from West Palm Beach to Orlando. Among those in attendance at the Lyric Theater were Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari and County Attorney Dylan Reingold. Concerns over safety have increased following Brightline’s introduction of service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, starting with VIP runs Jan. 12. Two people were killed and a third injured by the high-speed engines in the first days of operation after they tried to cross the tracks despite safety warnings. There was another fatality and a derailment during trial runs on the West Palm to Lauderdale route. READ FULL STORY

School Board split over size of raise for Rendell
week of February 8, 2018

Despite problems and failures at the Indian River County School District under his leadership, Superintendent Mark Rendell is getting a raise. The only question is how much. Rendell recently pushed through a $1,200-a-year increase for upper-level management – principals and above on the organizational chart – and at a recent workshop a couple of board members said that should be the raise he gets as well. But one board member – Tiffany Justice – pushed for a bigger increase for Rendell, and board Vice Chairman Charles Searcy seemed to agree. “Several superintendents around the state are getting raises,” Justice said, claiming proposed legislation could eliminate elected superintendents, leaving only board-hired superintendents. “Appointed supervisors will be in demand. Perhaps we need to renegotiate his contract for additional money.” “We got some pretty good grades over the last three years and we need to reward him,” Vice Chairman Charles Searcy said. Board Member Laura Zorc said she was “satisfied” with the $1,200 bump and wouldn’t consider a bigger raise unless Rendell’s whole contract was opened up for renegotiation. Board Member Dale Simchick agreed. READ FULL STORY

Shores delays approval of John’s Island reuse water pipeline
week of February 8, 2018

Indian River Shores needs more time to review its utility pact with the City of Vero Beach before signing off on a plan for John’s Island and Indian River County to bring 1 million gallons of reuse irrigation water to the barrier island daily via a new 16-inch pipeline under the Indian River Lagoon. The matter came up at the most recent Shores Town Council meeting, with representatives from the gated community and Indian River County Utilities – but not the City of Vero Beach – present. Town Attorney Chester Clem said he wasn’t prepared to give the legal all-clear for the deal, because he wanted to make sure the town does not run afoul of a May 2012 renewal franchise agreement it signed with Vero for water, wastewater and reuse water. “We need to get all the parties together and make sure everybody is in agreement, that we’re all on the same page,” Clem said, adding that a lawyer could read the documents in various ways. READ FULL STORY

County urges state lawmakers to keep beaches open
week of February 8, 2018

The Indian River County Commission has weighed in against bills that have been introduced in the Florida Legislature that could allow owners of oceanfront houses to bar the public from the beach in front of their homes. Commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to legislators in Tallahassee stating that all 24 miles of the county’s ocean beaches should remain accessible to the public. According to the Florida Constitution, in accordance with traditional common-law understandings of property rights, beachfront property owners do not actually own the beaches. Article X, section 11 of the constitution states, "The title to lands under navigable waters, within the boundaries of the state, which have not been alienated, including beaches below mean high water lines, is held by the state, by virtue of its sovereignty, in trust for all the people." Three counties among the 67 in Florida – Volusia, St. John’s and Walton – also currently have laws on the books proclaiming beaches must be accessible to the public under the “Customary Use Doctrine,” which asserts the public’s long and historic use of beaches establishes a right of continued use over and above any private interest. READ FULL STORY

Vero puts up signs in bid to put a damper on panhandling
week of February 8, 2018

Responding to residents' complaints about the increase in panhandling at some of Vero Beach's busiest intersections, city officials last week erected signs it hopes will discourage motorists from giving roadside handouts. The signs read: "DUE TO PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS, PANHANDLING IS DISCOURAGED" in red lettering, with "Please Donate To Local Charitable Organizations" underneath in smaller black letters. The signs were installed at four locations where panhandlers have been most visible: State Road 60 eastbound at U.S. 1; U.S. 1 southbound at 17th Street (near Walgreen's); 17th Street westbound at U.S. 1 (near CVS); and 17th Street eastbound at U.S. 1 (near the Chevron station). City Manager Jim O'Connor said he approved posting the signs after consulting with City Attorney Wayne Coment and Police Chief David Currey on the wording. "Panhandling is not illegal, so we had to be careful with the wording," O'Connor said. "Wayne and I looked at what they were doing to address the problem in other cities across Florida, and there was a wide array of signage. READ FULL STORY

Disney Vero Resort guest says mold caused health problems
week of February 8, 2018

A couple from Indiana is suing Disney Vacation Club Management alleging mold in their room during a 2013 stay in Vero Beach caused serious health concerns. The complaint filed in Indian River County claims negligence at the island resort located a block south of the Wabasso Causeway. Disney denied wrongdoing in court filings. An Orlando-based spokeswoman for the company told 32963 the lawsuit was unfounded. “We disagree with the allegations in the complaint and will respond to them, as appropriate, in court,” said Kim Prunty. Neither Disney nor its attorney offered any further comment. Thelma K. Walls, of Nashville, Indiana, stayed at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort in 2013 from Nov. 29 through Dec. 2. It was during that visit, she claims, she was exposed to mold. Walls filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Dec. 4, just days after her trip. She told regulators her room smelled and the stench lingered even after the owner cleaned the carpet, according to records from the Department’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants. READ FULL STORY

Cleveland Clinic closer to putting Vero on its map
week of February 1, 2018

After three years of ruminating on how to lift Indian River Medical Center out of financial decline, the boards of Vero’s publicly-owned hospital have picked a path from small-town to world-class. Tuesday afternoon, following a morning of presentations, Indian River Medical Center officials selected Cleveland Clinic as their partner of choice, the IRMC board of directors voting unanimously and the Hospital District trustees splitting four to three. They now move into the negotiation phase of a deal for Cleveland to take over the hospital. If all goes well, by the end of the year, Vero Beach will join Abu Dhabi and London’s Belgravia neighborhood – with views of Buckingham Palace – as the latest entry on the Cleveland Clinic’s map. The system, with eight regional hospitals in northeast Ohio, also has facilities in Las Vegas and Toronto. Its only Florida hospital – until now – is in Broward County. If plans presented to Vero officials in Cleveland last month work out, Cleveland Clinic Weston will soon be joined by not only Vero but as many as five other hospitals in the state, all in a three-year time frame. READ FULL STORY

IRMC board is unanimously for Cleveland
week of February 1, 2018

Two months ago, a starry-eyed Indian River Medical Center Board of Directors picked out Cleveland Clinic from among eight carefully curated healthcare systems that had put together preliminary proposals to take over the hospital. And that was it; they wanted to stop right there. No, no, no, their advisor told them. You have to pick some more. Turns out, they had it right the first time. Though it was wise to go through the process, Cleveland had their hearts. “It was exactly a year ago that Marybeth (Cunningham) and I talked about the future of IRMC and the right structure going forward,” Board Chairman Wayne Hockmeyer said, as if he were beginning a toast to something momentous, even before the ‘aye’s’ were spoken. “This has been a very deliberate, thorough, careful, diligent process,” said Hockmeyer, the retired chief of immunology at Walter Reed Medical Center and founder of the biotech firm Medimmune. READ FULL STORY

Hospital district picks Cleveland on 4-to-3 vote
week of February 1, 2018

The Indian River County Hospital District’s 4-to-3 vote to enter into negotiations with Cleveland Clinic masked the fact that each of the four suitors of Indian River Medical Center had at least one advocate among the seven trustees. In fact, during discussions that preceded vote, the takeover candidate that had the broadest support was the Adventist Health System, the first choice of Dr. Michael Weiss and the second choice of all six of the other trustees. As the discussion went around the table Tuesday, each of the first four trustees to speak had a different view as to which health system would be the best partner for IRMC. Weiss, the first to speak, said he favored Adventist. But Ann Marie McCrystal, up next, said she had come to conclude “for our hospital and this community, our best placement would be with Cleveland Clinic.” “Not so,” said the third speaker, Tracey Zudans. “I was not impressed with my visit to Cleveland Clinic on a touchy-feely basis,” she said. “I was turned off by the idea of standardization and efficiency. HCA would be my first choice.” READ FULL STORY

Johnny Benjamin claims his stash of pills seized illegally
week of February 1, 2018

Attorneys for Dr. Johnny Benjamin, the Vero Beach spine surgeon facing life in prison on federal drug charges, has asked a judge to suppress evidence they say was illegally obtained at the Melbourne International Airport. Benjamin, dressed in medical scrubs, was stopped Oct. 6 with thousands of pills that appeared to be oxycodone tablets and a ticket to Philadelphia. He was arrested six days later. Donnie Murrell, a West Palm Beach defense attorney, asked in a Jan. 12 motion that the pills found in Benjamin’s backpack at the airport, videotape of the seizure and statements the doctor gave to the police not be allowed as evidence. The DEA had no probable cause to search Benjamin so its agents asked the airport police to look in his bags, argued Murrell, who did not respond to a request for comment. “This was illegal.” More than 40 years ago, the courts anticipated law enforcement would try to take advantage of warrantless, administrative searches and ruled evidence obtained this way should be inadmissible, he said. Airport searches are strictly limited to preventing firearms or explosives from being taken onto a plane. READ FULL STORY

Long-awaited Shores cell tower to be delivered to site next Tuesday
week of February 1, 2018

The long-awaited Indian River Shores “monopine” stealth cell tower will be delivered by truck on Tuesday to the construction site at the rear of the Shores Public Safety Complex if all goes as planned. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said as of last Monday afternoon plans were still on for the 115-foot-tall structure to arrive in two primary sections and be fitted together atop a concrete foundation poured more than a month ago and cured for durability. Once upright, the tower will be adorned with fiberglass “branches” that will be attached to the main pole. The branches will arrive the same day as the tower and be stored on-site until crews are ready to install them. More important than the green tree boughs is the cellular transmission equipment that will go atop the tower. Verizon Wireless has signed on to lease a spot on the tower. The town’s contractor, Datapath Towers is still in negotiations with AT&T. Town Council members have stated that residents have been telling them they’re switching their mobile services to Verizon, and are excited about getting service strong enough to use inside their homes. READ FULL STORY

Click. Click. Have you voted yet? Click. Click.
week of February 1, 2018

The keys to happiness in Vero Beach, according to Coastal Living magazine, can be found on your personal computers, laptops and smart phones – and the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce wants you to reach for them. Then click every minute of every hour of every day. From now until 5 p.m. Feb. 6. That's when Coastal Living's online-only voting ends for its "America's Happiest Seaside Town" contest, which includes Vero Beach among its 10 finalists for the 2018 title. And the local Chamber is taking this event seriously, fully embracing the non-scientific, criteria-doesn't-matter, anyone-can-vote-as-much-as-they-want rules of the contest. Already, the Chamber has sent out press releases to local businesses and media, alerting them to the contest and urging people here to vote in an effort to "make it to the No. 1 spot and earn the official designation" as America's Happiest Seaside Town. The release includes the necessary link – – accompanied by the words: VOTE NOW. READ FULL STORY

Riomar oceanfront lot sells for ‘bargain’ $4.4 million
week of February 1, 2018

One of the last prime pieces of oceanfront development land in Riomar sold last week for the “bargain” price of $4.4 million. Treasure Coast Sotheby’s agent Rory O’Dare, who handled the transaction and also owned the property, said the buyers were a local family who live in John’s Island. He said they plan to build “a modest home” that will be about 5,000 square feet. Situated behind a live reef that shelters the accreting shoreline and creates Hawaii-style surf when conditions are right, the 1.5-acre property at 1930 Ocean Drive has 154 feet of Atlantic Ocean frontage, with a deep buffer of dunes and sea grass. It’s also a golf course property, stretching for 267 feet along the southern edge of Riomar County Club. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime legacy property,” said O’Dare, who has a long history with the scenic piece of land. “There is nothing else like it and it will never be reproduced. They are not building anymore golf courses on the ocean in Florida.” READ FULL STORY

Contractors sued over collapse of Portales De Vero parking lot
week of February 1, 2018

A massive hole left behind after a 50,000-pound truck-mounted crane collapsed the parking lot of an Ocean Drive building last year required more than $33,000 in repairs. Now, the insurance company for Portales De Vero wants the contractors involved to pay up. Frontline Insurance Unlimited filed a civil negligence complaint with the 19th Judicial Circuit in Indian River County, arguing liability for the accident rests with Jimmy’s A/C and Refrigeration and Beyel Brothers Crane and Rigging of South Florida. Portales De Vero, a white two-story commercial complex with a large breezeway and popular dining options located at the intersection of Ocean Drive and Flamevine Lane, retained Jimmy’s A/C to install a 4,000-pound air conditioning unit on April 25, the lawsuit contends. The Vero Beach company then subcontracted Cocoa-based Beyel Brothers to lift the two-ton machine onto the roof. But the air conditioner hardly got off the ground before a frightening accident ensued, according to the complaint drafted by attorneys Phillip Sheehe and Karen Fultz on behalf of Frontline and Portales De Vero. READ FULL STORY

Speed bumps, but no road blocks, for Vero electric sale
week of January 25, 2018

No barricades have been thrown up yet to block the sale of Vero Beach electric to Florida Power & Light, but a handful of Vero’s sister cities in the statewide power co-op may act as speed bumps as the city rushes to exit the electric utility business for good. Nineteen equity member cities in the Florida Municipal Power Agency must approve releasing Vero from its long-term obligations to the co-op in exchange for $108 million. After tedious negotiations – which saw the FMPA’s chief legal counsel put 4,000 miles on his vehicle traveling around the state with CEO Jacob Williams selling the Vero exit plan to the cities’ elected boards – more than two-thirds of the cities had voted in the affirmative as of press time. Four cities – Lake Worth, Alachua, Clewiston and Fort Meade – raised a variety of issues or concerns, but both Williams and Vero leaders believe those can be successfully addressed. READ FULL STORY

Who will take over hospital? Final vote Tuesday
week of January 25, 2018

Marriage metaphors are getting a workout as Indian River Medical Center officials gear up for a final vote this coming Tuesday, Jan. 30, to pick one of four heathcare systems vying to take over Vero’s hospital – but, so far, no one has used the term ‘bridezilla’ in the two-month intensive courtship. Hospital leaders intend to keep it that way after a key adviser warned that weary suitors could get cold feet. Key to averting that outcome is the pace of the process, a timeframe so tight it had officials visiting eight hospitals in four days. “Time is your enemy,” said Jupiter Advisory’s Jamie Burgdorfer, who has shepherded the two boards – IRMC and the County Hospital District – through the partnership process since August. Last week there were some last-minute jitters about those boards having only two days to review the final proposals. But once an accord is reached on a finalist this coming Tuesday – or later, if the boards can’t agree – the pace should slow, at least for the boards. IRMC officials will produce a non-binding letter of intent and the partner of choice will have exclusive rights to begin negotiations in earnest, typically for 90 or 120 days. That means a binding definitive agreement should be reached by late spring. READ FULL STORY

George Heaton strikes plea deal in Vero Beach Hotel and Spa financing scheme
week of January 25, 2018

George Heaton, developer of the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, faces up to five years in prison after entering into a plea deal last week to a single felony charge of conspiracy to make false statements to a federally insured institution. Heaton, 74, thus escaped more serious charges, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, for his role in a complex scheme whereby he deceived banks about the sale of condo units at the Vero Beach Hotel to obtain the money he needed to finish construction. He also was ordered to pay some $263,000 in forfeiture to compensate for the financial crime, and could well be forced to reimburse banks for the estimated $3.5 million federal prosecutors said they lost in the scheme. During the real estate slowdown a decade ago, Heaton needed to show a certain number of condo sales in order to get construction financing released for the luxury hotel and condo property on Ocean Drive. READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach Rowing hires director to take club to the next level
week of January 25, 2018

As Austin Work drove east through Texas last Saturday, eager to embark on his new job as the full-time rowing director of Vero Beach Rowing, his 7-year-old Australian shepherd was resting comfortably on his lap. “Her name is Stella,” Work said, “and she’s a great boathouse dog.” All she needs now is a boathouse – and that’s in the works. “This club is ready to take off,” said Work, “and I’m excited to have the opportunity to be a part of it and nurture its competitive aspirations.” The rowing club launched in January 2017 a campaign to raise the $2.3 million needed to build a 12,000-square-foot boathouse and rowing center on leased, city-owned land at MacWilliam Park, under the east side of the Barber Bridge. The center, which will include an already-completed, 100-foot-long floating dock, would provide a base for the club’s operations, training facilities and secure storage for its boats. Thus far, the club, which was founded in 2008, has raised $1.8 million and hopes to reach its goal by the end of March, with plans to break ground early this summer. READ FULL STORY

John’s Island real estate market hot after a record year in 2017
week of January 25, 2018

Realtors around town are talking about the bustling real estate market in John’s Island. “JI is always popular and with recent upgrades it has become a lifestyle choice once again,” says Sally Daley, owner of Daley and Company. “It is very active,” says Premier Estate Properties broker associate Kay Brown, whose parents lived in the club community. “I have a lot of friends up there and there is very little product available. They had the best year last year, as far as I know, that they have ever had.” John’s Island Real Estate Broker Bob Gibb confirms, “It was a record year for us. We had 141 properties closed or pending by the end of December, and our dollar volume was up 40 percent over 2016.” The 141 sales number understates the company’s accomplishments. While most realtors count transaction “sides” – meaning they count it as two if they represent both seller and purchaser – John’s Island Real Estate counts properties. READ FULL STORY

Vero approves extra $200,000 for emergency beach repairs
week of January 25, 2018

Hurricane Irma’s appetite for Vero’s dunes at Conn Beach and Humiston Beach Park, on the heels of her sand-chomping predecessor Matthew in 2016, is proving to be costly for Vero Beach taxpayers. The City Council last Tuesday approved a $200,000 change order expanding the scope of a post-Matthew dune repair project to shore up those two beaches, even though there is no money in the 2017-18 budget for the repairs and the expenditure will eat up nearly a quarter of the city’s emergency fund. The matter was approved on the council’s consent agenda with no discussion, bringing the total cost of emergency sand for Matthew and Irma up to $272,000. When asked his feelings about spending unbudgeted money for emergency sand, Mayor Harry Howle said he would prefer not to spend $200,000 on beach replenishment, but that it is a necessary to retain one of the top amenities and biggest tourist attractions in Vero. READ FULL STORY