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Sebastian River hospital gets an improved grade
week of November 15, 2018

If hospitals are to heal patients, they must first heal themselves. That appears to be just what Sebastian River Medical Center is doing after turning an F safety grade received last spring – one of only two in the state – to a more respectable C. The two-letter grade improvement came in the twice-yearly Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, issued to 2,600 hospitals and publicly posted online. The fall grades were announced last Thursday, though they had been known to hospital executives for three weeks prior. That would explain the confidence of Steward’s newly installed CEO, Kyle Sanders, and COO, Ralph Taylor, who also serves as chief nursing officer, earlier this month when they gave a tour of a $60 million renovation at the facility. Along with transforming the rear façade of the U.S. 1 campus into its main entrance, the project is expected to improve safety scores even further, executives said. “This addition is the first step of modernizing the campus,” said Jeff Nicholas, vice president of Steward Health Care real estate. “And even beyond the project, we’re doing improvements generally.” The renovation will add 90,000 square feet, with seven operating rooms, two endoscopy rooms, a bronchoscopy suite and 48 private rooms on the top two of three floors. The wing is expected to open in late 2019 or early 2020. READ FULL STORY

Plans for Publix in Orchid seem on track despite foes
week of November 15, 2018

Plans for a new Publix at the east end of the Wabasso Causeway in Orchid appear to continue to be on track, despite opposition from potential neighbors who live just outside the town. Only moments after being sworn in last Friday, the Orchid Town Council heard an update from Town Manager Noah Powers on plans submitted last month by Publix for a scaled-down 31,000-square-foot Publix and five other retail shops on Route 510 immediately west of Jungle Trail. New to the council are Simms Browning and Patti Oertie-Phaneuf. Returning incumbents include Paul Knapp, Harold Ofstie and Robert Gibbons. Ofstie and Gibbons will continue as mayor and vice-mayor, respectively. Powers and members of the council have received scores of complaints about Publix’s plans, mostly from people who live in Old Orchid and The Seasons, subdivisions outside the town of Orchid that are near the project site. Those residents are worried about visuals, noise, lights, traffic, security and quality of life. They’re also upset that they won’t get a vote in the final decision. READ FULL STORY

Vero’s TV 10 sold to Spanish-language network
week of November 15, 2018

After more than two decades on the air, WWCI-CD, better known as Vero’s TV 10, has gone dark. Owner Jose Guerra was clearing out the last of the equipment and paperwork last week after finally agreeing to pull the plug on the orders of the new owner: Spanish-language network Azteca America. The half million-dollar deal closed in August. But Guerra, 80, kept the signal up, managing to fill the station’s final weeks with re-runs of past shows and the occasional short newscast. Today, a generic message informs Comcast subscribers that former programming is unavailable. To its small-town cadre of fans, TV 10 was anything but generic, its on-air “personalities” earning cult status: Josefina, the 71-year-old body-builder, Bob and Bob, the wine guys, and Marcia Littlejohn, the popular talk show host. WWCI-CD, the longtime local “must-carry” station, aired on Comcast’s channel 11. But it also broadcast the old-fashioned way – from a TV tower behind its original home on 12th Street, with a transmitter situated south of that at the county dump station off Old Dixie Highway. Though he wasn’t sure why, Guerra said his engineers preferred to do their work there after dark. “You should have seen the rats,” he said. “They had to take a gun.” READ FULL STORY

Surprise gift adds pre-Christmas magic to fundraiser for children with cancer
week of November 15, 2018

Carol Prezioso, managing broker for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, was feeling good as she drove home on a recent Monday night from a successful fundraiser for Sunshine Kids, an organization that "adds quality of life to children with cancer by providing them with exciting, positive group activities." Her mood changed abruptly when she got what she says was a "mortifying" phone call. The Oct. 29 "celebrity chef" event, organized by Berkshire Hathaway and held at Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse, had attracted 110 people who came to watch Berkshire agents and friends entertain guests by cooking hibachi style, assisted by Fujiyama chefs. After costs, the dinner had raised $7,500 for Sunshine Kids. The only problem was Prezioso had forgotten to give the restaurant a check for the $3,300 owed for "food, beverages, tax, tip, venue, services, master chefs who assisted and celebrity chef training” before heading home. “The call was from one of the celebrity chefs telling me I forgot to pay." Prezioso immediately called Fujiyama manager Tao Feng Zhao to apologize. He told her it was OK, she could bring a check by the next day. READ FULL STORY

Upgrades ahead for historic Jones Pier
week of November 15, 2018

Construction is set to begin in spring 2019 on two long-awaited projects designed to improve recreational access to scenic and historic preserves on the barrier island’s lagoon shoreline. The Indian River County Commission last week executed a cost-sharing agreement with the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) to fund $260,000 worth of improvements to the historic Jones Pier Conservation Area on Jungle Trail adjacent to Indian River Shores, plus another $281,700 to open the Oyster Bar Marsh Conservation Area – located a short distance north of Round Island Park – to the public. Both projects are expected to be completed in 2020, according to Beth Powell, the county's conservation lands manager. Anglers currently fish from the renovated Jones Pier docks, which were first constructed by the pioneer Seaborn Jones family in 1907 to facilitate shipping their farm produce by water. Now the historic family homestead and fruit stand are slated for restoration and, after that, expected to display museum exhibits, according to Powell. READ FULL STORY

Merchon green, defeated for school board, picked to chair racial equity committee
week of November 15, 2018

Merchon Green was obviously disappointed when she lost her election bid to become an Indian River County School Board member, but the defeat left her free to accept the chairmanship of the Equity Committee, a potentially important oversight position. The Equity Committee was created by a September court order to oversee the school district’s compliance with a desegregation order that has been in effect for 51 years. The panel has two members chosen by the School Board and two by the NAACP, which represents black students and parents. Green was chosen as committee chair on Thursday, Nov. 8, by the four members that had already been appointed to the Equity Committee. In running for the School Board, Green’s campaign planks had included addressing the 31-percent achievement gap between black and white students, as well as the school climate, in which black students are disciplined nearly three times more than white students. She was a member of the school district’s student code of conduct committee that met a dozen times over eight months for many hours in an effort to make the school climate less punitive and punishments less subjective. She was also a member of the African-American Academic Achievement Plan Committee, which was dissolved by the court order, its responsibilities transferred to the Equity Committee. READ FULL STORY

Old Vero Council may yet see completion of electric sale
week of November 15, 2018

No matter the outcome of the Linda Hillman election challenge case set to go to trial before Judge Paul Kanarek on Dec. 17, the presently seated Vero Beach City Council could, theoretically, still get the sale of Vero electric over the finish line before an election is certified. Hillman sued saying she was unfairly disqualified as a candidate and removed from the Nov. 6 ballot after a blank signature page in her qualifying paperwork was discovered. She and her Tallahassee-based attorney Mark Herron are asking for last week’s election – in which nearly 5,000 Vero residents voted – to be tossed out and for a new election to be held, with a brand-new qualifying period that would allow Hillman, disqualified candidate Brian Heady and others to jump into the race for three seats. Kanarek ordered the City of Vero Beach Canvassing Board not to certify last Tuesday night’s results, which would have returned Councilman Tony Young and Councilwoman Laura Moss to office, and ushered Robbie Brackett into the third seat, which is being vacated by Vice Mayor Lange Sykes, who did not seek re-election. Instead, the matter will be decided in court the week before Christmas. READ FULL STORY

Vero Council election saga not over yet
week of November 8, 2018

Just when it seemed the Vero Beach City Council election mess couldn’t get any more baffling, a court order set this Tuesday’s election and would-be candidate Linda Hillman’s court case on parallel journeys – with a plot twist. Hillman sued to be included on the ballot as a candidate for City Council in a special election, claiming she was unfairly removed from Tuesday’s ballot. By the terms of the ruling, Tuesday’s regular city election omitting her was allowed to move forward, but voters were to have no clue if the results would ultimately count. The only thing known for sure was that the current five-member Vero City Council will remain in office until the mystery unravels and new members are seated. READ FULL STORY

Beaches back to normal after unprecedented red tide siege
week of November 8, 2018

The island’s ocean beaches are again open, the sea air is fresh and clean, and strollers on the Conn Beach boardwalk and sunbathers on the sand below are once more enjoying the best of what this seaside community has to offer. The noxious red tide that closed island beaches, caused respiratory problems, and killed tons of ocean fish is gone from Vero and the rest of Indian River County. But the local tourism eco- nomy was taken by surprise and hit hard by the toxic algae's totally unprecedented two-week siege. "It's safe to say losses are close to a million dollars for beachside hotels and restaurants," said Allison McNeal of the Indian River Chamber of Commerce Director of Tourism, who conducted a survey of local businesses. "They've all suffered losses." The Chamber is encouraging small businesses to apply for no-interest, short-term loans of up to $50,000 being offered by the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program in counties afflicted by the red tide. READ FULL STORY

New Shores Community Center coming along slowly
week of November 8, 2018

The original timetable for completing the Indian River Shores Community Center was overly ambitious. The project was slated to be done in time for Election Day, so that the center could be used as a polling place. Now the hope is it will be open by Valentine’s Day. Just to be safe, town officials are not booking any meetings, weddings or other functions into the facility until April 2019. The new center will replace a donated 1,200-square-foot modular building that had been on the site since 1982. Its sagging floor was in need of repair, and could have eventually become a safety hazard and a major expense. The old structure was taken down in April. A half-million dollars was budgeted for a modest 2,000-square-foot center, but after some debate over how large and elaborate a facility the town wanted and needed, the budget was upped to $800,000. Change orders have since added to that amount. When completed, the center will span 2,995 square feet under air, plus have a large covered patio and covered driveway, for a total of 4,326 square feet, according to engineering reports and contract documents executed with project contractor Summit Construction. READ FULL STORY

MLB seen making Vero hub of youth programs
week of November 8, 2018

Peter O’Malley's lifelong affection for Vero Beach and connection to Dodgertown has been well-chronicled, especially in recent years, as he fought to make sure Vero Beach's once-iconic spring-training complex didn’t dissipate into a foggy baseball memory. That’s why the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner rode to the county-owned facility’s rescue in 2011, putting together a five-way partnership that pumped money and life into the place, preventing it from being shuttered after Minor League Baseball failed to turn a profit and announced it was pulling out. That’s why O’Malley made it his mission last year to find a successor to take over Historic Dodgertown’s multi-sport operations, which county officials say has a $15 million annual impact on the local economy. That’s why O’Malley, at age 80, was genuinely thrilled to learn last week that his efforts to bring together the county and Major League Baseball were successful – that the two parties had agreed in principle on a long-term lease for Historic Dodgertown. READ FULL STORY

School district cheats employees on health insurance
week of November 8, 2018

When the county school district ran up a $7 million deficit in its self-insured employee health plan two years ago, the School Board imposed stiff rate increases on employees to make the fund solvent going forward, but pledged not to make workers pay off the shortfall, which had resulted from poor management. Now the outgoing School Board has reneged on that promise. At the time the $7 million deficit came to light, the teachers’ union tried to fight off stiff premium hikes, claiming the district had the cash to make the fund solvent, but lost that fight when negotiations ended up in impasse. The School Board imposed the rate hikes on 1,100 teachers and the rest of the district’s employees in December 2016. But in several public meetings, the School Board promised the premium hikes would only be used to cover current costs – not make up the deficit, which the School Board and the school district committed to paying off out of district funds over a four-year period. READ FULL STORY

Indian River Shores residents win battle to block sidewalk
week of November 8, 2018

The road through Indian River Shores might be repaved with good intentions, but not even the Florida Department of Transportation’s compromise proposal for resurfacing nearly seven miles of the A1A through the seaside town made everyone happy. Not yet, anyway. FDOT Project Manager Donovan Pessoa was cheered by the standing-room-only crowd gathered in a conference room at Vero Beach’s Holiday Inn Oceanfront when he announced, “The sidewalk on the east side is no longer.” He was referring to FDOT’s decision to remove from the $7.3 million project a planned sidewalk along the east side of A1A. The decision came in response to a flood of letters, emails and phone calls from town residents and elected officials who pointed out there’s already a not-much-used sidewalk along the west side of A1A in the project area. Under the compromise proposal east-side sidewalk construction will be limited to two short sections in relatively “commercial” areas. READ FULL STORY

Islander accused of murdering his wife struggles in court
week of November 8, 2018

Asbury Lee Perkins, who is representing himself in his first-degree murder case, hasn't gotten any more skillful at lawyering since his last court appearance year ago. At a hearing on Oct. 30, Judge Cynthia Cox rejected 10 out of 12 motions filed by Perkins, as he scrambles to find documents and evidence to build a defense against changes of premeditated murder in the shooting death of his estranged wife at her South Beach home on Seagrape Drive. Perkins, 60, was arrested Nov. 4, 2015, and charged with the shooting death of Cynthia Betts. 63. When Indian River County Sheriff Deputies arrived at the house in Oceanside, they found Betts’ body wrapped in carpet in the laundry room with multiple gunshot wounds. Deputies said at the time that Perkins admitted to killing her because she took money out of a bank account without his knowledge and said she continually nagged him. Perkins told investigators that he had planned to put his wife’s body in the trunk of the car and drive it into a lake, but ran into “complications with his plan,” according to the arrest affidavit. READ FULL STORY

No good outcome seen in bizarre Vero election saga
week of November 1, 2018

Circuit Judge Paul Kanarek could have quietly retired from 31 years on the bench on some easy, boring, low-profile case, but instead he got Linda Hillman’s bizarre election challenge related to a blank page missing a signature in her candidate qualifying packet. Hillman is asking for an emergency injunction to invalidate the Nov. 6 City Council election, claiming that she was wrongly removed from the ballot. Rich in small-town politics, the controversy dragged longtime city and county officials to the stand to be sworn in and cross-examined. Palace intrigue showed up, too, in Hillman’s seemingly wild speculation about whether or not her enemies on the City Council tampered with public records after hours. Last week’s drama dredged up players from the past like former councilman Randy Old, former Vero first lady Alla Kramer and even former councilman Bill Fish, bringing them back from the annals of city history to pack the third-floor courtroom. Though Hillman claims she’s always been a pro-electric-sale gal, the gallery was filled with people who opposed the sale of Vero’s electric utility to Florida Power & Light over the past decade, all their hopes poured into Hillman as the underdog bucking City Hall. READ FULL STORY

From the air, it looks great. But maintenance problems abound
week of November 1, 2018

Among the still-unresolved issues in the county’s efforts to convince Major League Baseball to take over operations at Historic Dodgertown is how much each side will contribute to renovate, upgrade and maintain the aging facility. It needs it more than most people realize. “Part of any deal we have with Major League Baseball is going to include who’s paying for what,” County Administrator Jason Brown said during a Vero City Council meeting last month, where the city rejected the county’s $2.4 million offer to buy the former Dodgertown Golf Club property adjacent to the sports complex. “I will acknowledge there are some deferred maintenance items there, and the county is going to be responsible for a significant portion of that in the deal,” he added. “But Major League Baseball is saying the place has to be up to Major League Baseball’s standards before they run anything there.” Apparently, that will take considerable work. READ FULL STORY

Rare jewelry heist in broad daylight jars The Moorings
week of November 1, 2018

Police continue to investigate last month’s theft of more than $50,000 worth of jewelry from a home in the Porpoise Bay section of The Moorings but so far have no suspects. The robbers struck in broad daylight while John and Jennifer Elmore, who own and operate Jennifer Elmore Interior Design and A Shade Better, were at work. The couple didn’t notice anything amiss when they returned home that evening. It wasn’t until the next day when Jennifer Elmore was getting ready for work that the theft came to light. She opened a dresser drawer to grab a piece of jewelry and noticed an entire section of her jewelry box was missing. “At first I thought I wasn’t seeing it right,” Jennifer Elmore said. “I was in disbelief. I was in shock that our house had been invaded.” She began yelling for her husband, who ran upstairs to see what was wrong. He quickly called the sheriff’s department. When police arrived, sheriff’s detective Ismael Hau noticed that a kitchen window was slightly opened and the latch that locks the window was missing. READ FULL STORY

School District once again has to borrow millions to pay bills
week of November 1, 2018

The School District, which gets nearly $280 million a year from taxpayers, has run out of money again, according to Superintendent Mark Rendell, who asked the School Board to approve a bridge loan of $10 million last week while insisting that the shortfall is not due to his mismanagement of school finances. Borrowing millions at the last minute to make payroll for October was the last action taken by the sitting School Board before three of its five members are replaced after the election. It is possible the new board, unlike the outgoing one, will refuse to rubber-stamp Rendell’s requests – like this one to take out a multimillion-dollar loan – without demanding evidence, analysis and prior notice. Financial expert and recent school district Audit Committee Chairman Bob Auwaerter was given three minutes to speak about the financial move at the Oct. 23 School Board meeting. “You’re missing the justification for it from a financial perspective,” he told the School Board, pointing out that documentation of what the money is needed for and a cash-flow analysis should be provided to the board and the public to show why the money is needed and prove the borrowed amount is correct. READ FULL STORY

Unlicensed building contractor charged for 3rd time
week of November 1, 2018

An unlicensed building contractor with a long history of swindling homeowners by taking payments and not doing the work is facing new charges. This time he is accused of trying to bilk a Vero homeowner out of more than $10,000. Richard Roy Bohlen, 52, has been in jail since June 6 for violating probation he received after entering a ‘no contest’ plea to Third Degree Grand Theft in May 2017 in a similar case. He was charged in September for the most recent incident. Bohlen was first arrested in 2015 for allegedly cheating homeowners. According to police reports, Vero Beach resident Jennifer Rotondo hired Bohlen and paid him a total of $16,800 to remodel her kitchen. After demolishing the kitchen and removing the granite countertops – which he said he was donating to someone in need – Bohlen never returned to do any more work. Bohlen entered a ‘no contest’ plea in that case and was sentenced in May 2017 to two days in jail and put on probation for 60 months. READ FULL STORY

Indian River Land Trust restoring 30 acres of habitat along U.S. 1
week of November 1, 2018

Driving south on U.S. 1 past Oslo Road, you may have noticed cleared land with scattered piles of debris on a former citrus grove on the east side of the highway. Relax. It is not the future site of a big-box retailer. You are looking at beginning stages of the Indian River Land Trust's restoration of 30 acres of the Coastal Oaks Preserve – a 220-acre jewel in permanent conservation extending from U.S. 1 to the Indian River Lagoon. Bounded roughly by the Grove Isles development to the north and Vero Shores to the south, the preserve envelopes a rich mix of habitats – wetlands, pine flat woods, mangrove forest and coastal oak hammock. The Land Trust acquired 190 acres of the property in 2011, followed by the 30 acres fronting the highway in 2016 – land that had been slated for construction of more than 500 homes. The Trust paid for the property with private donations as well as mitigation money from the St. Johns River Water Management District. READ FULL STORY