“If the County’s strategy was to be decided this morning over donuts, then why did Zorc, Reingold and Self need to strategize over dinner last night at an expensive French restaurant? More importantly, how much more will this misadventure cost Indian River County taxpayers?”
Indian River County’s outside attorney, Floyd Self, went before the Florida Public Service Commission in Tallahassee Tuesday morning and withdrew the County’s request for a declaratory statement from the PSC. The County is seeking approval from the PSC to force Vero Beach to withdraw its electric utility service from the unincorporated areas of the County when the franchise agreement between the City and the County expires in 2017.
County Commissioners Tim Zorc and Peter O’Bryan, County Administrator Joe Baird and County Attorney Dyland Reingold all took the time and incurred the expense to be in Tallahassee for the anticlimactic PSC meeting. Utility activist, Glenn Heran, and island weekly reporter, Lisa Zahner, were also in Tallahassee for the anticlimactic PSC meeting. Clearly surprised by Self’s move, Heran reportedly turned to Zahner and asked, “Did you know about this?” Zahner reportedly replied, “No.”
Heran and Zahner were not the only two who were caught by surprise this morning. Vero Beach Mayor Richard Winger and the City’s special counsel, Schef Wright, were also at the PSC meeting, and both were prepared to present arguments on behalf of the City.
Self indicated he will submit a revised request by early next week. The PSC will then have 90 days to respond to the County’s amended request. Presumably, Self’s amended request will seek the PSC’s declaratory response, not to a list of hypothetical questions, but to one central issue. That issue is whether PSC service territory assignments are subordinate to franchise agreements between local governments and utility providers. More narrowly, the question is whether Indian River County has the right to force Vero Beach to abandon its electric customers and utility infrastructure located in the unincorporated areas of the County when the franchise agreement between the County and Vero Beach expires in 2017.
A new or amended filing by the County will likely trigger a renewed round of responses from the state’s public and private utilities, all of which have lined up against the County, including Florida Power & Light.
Just last night, Zorc, Reingold and Self reportedly ate dinner at A La Provance, one of Tallahassee’s finer restaurants. Given the travel expense incurred by Zorc, O’Brian, Baird and Reingold, one has to wonder when they learned of Self’s plan to withdraw the County’s request. One person in attendance at the PSC meeting this morning reportedly heard Self say the decision to withdraw was made this morning when he and others were having breakfast at a donut shop.
If the County’s strategy was to be decided this morning over donuts, then why did Zorc, Reingold and Self need to strategize over dinner last night at an expensive French restaurant? More importantly, how much more will this misadventure cost Indian River County taxpayers?
Never mind, for a moment, the cost of treating Zorc, Reingold and a high-priced attorney to some of Tallahassee’s finest dining. If the County had to foot the bill for 100 plus hours of PSC staff time required to prepare a 38-page response to the initial filing, or if the County had to reimburse the City for its staff time, travel expenses and attorneys fees, or if the County had to reimburse the utilities across the state who also sent representatives to this morning’s PSC meeting, then the Commission might have less of an appetite for gambling with taxpayer money.
As it is, the County may have gained a short-term tactical advantage, for if the PSC has dismissed the County’s request or ruled against the County, the result would have been to further weaken the County’s position going into the mediation session set for December 17. That so-called mediation session is likely to be little more than another charade, another circus, a public spectacle in which elected officials and their attorneys attempt to “mediate” in public.
Even without a PSC ruling, the December 17 mediation will almost surely amount to nothing more than another episode in Vero Beach and Indian River County long-running comic tragedy.
Reingold and Self can “wordsmith” the County’s petition all they want, but fact remains the County is asking the PSC to abrogate its statutory authority and responsibility to maintain an reliable, stable power grid throughout Florida. As they say, though, the inevitable is inevitable. Eventually the County will have to withdraw its request for good, or settle for an answer it does not want.