The Vero Beach City Council this week declined to sell Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customer base at a “short sale” price of $30 million. A sale at that price, experts have said, would led to higher rates for the remaining customers. (The Council did, however, make clear it is open to a sale at $47 million.)
Given the Council’s action, candidate Laura Moss’ misleading statements made during Tuesday’s meeting came to no harm. In fact, Moss’ latest departures from the truth might well be forgotten, except that she is again seeking election to the Council. As a candidate, her veracity, or lack thereof, is a legitimate subject for scrutiny.
Moss gave two reasons why the Council should agree to a partial sale to the Shores at $30 million. First she said, recommendation of a sale at 63 percent of the estimated “break-even price” was approved by the Utilities Commission.” We spent more than an hour discussing this matter,” Moss said.
Second, according to Moss, selling 3000 of Vero Electric high-use customers, essentially carving the system up, reflects “the will of the people.”
“Something we are leaving out of the equation is the will of the people. I mean, the people have spoken on this. I just think it is so important to fulfill the will of the people,” Moss said.
Moss’ assertion that the voters of Vero Beach have addressed the question of a partial sale is a bold and deliberate distortion of the truth. The second-time Council candidate’s claim is no truer than Councilwoman Pilar Turner’s regular assertion that the people of Vero Beach have twice voted to sell their electric utility. For this blatantly false assertion, Moss deserves the Pinocchio Award.
Here are the facts, facts which Moss continues to ignore.
In the fall of 2011, knowing the City could not negotiate a sale to Florida Power & Light unless voters were willing to lease the power plant site for a commercial use, the City Council called a referendum on that question. Advertising placed by FPL, editorials published by the Press Journal, and public statements made by Pilar Turner and others, were all designed to assure the public a “yes” vote on the referendum was not a vote to sell the utility. Rather, the public was told in the clearest of terms possible that passage of the referendum would merely “allow the conversation to continue.”
After spending more than a year and some $2 million dollars negotiating a purchase and sale agreement with FPL, the Council called a second referendum. The spring 2013 referendum was to approve, or disapprove, the specific terms of the sale contract between the City of Vero Beach and FPL. With FPL spending more than $100,000 to support the referendum, it passed by a wide margin.
Some six months later, FPL was before the Council asking the City to approve a $26 million surcharge on the customers of Vero Electric as a part of a revised contract. Because a $26 million surcharge would have been a substantive change to the contract earlier approved by voters, yet another referendum would presumably have been necessary.
Before FPL’s request could be vetted by the Finance Commission, a key party to the deal, the Orlando Utilities Commission, backed out. Absent a willing buyer there can be no sale, and so the deal has been stalled for more than two years.
When Moss asserts that a partial sale to the Shores would honor the will of the people, she must be basing her opinion on something other than the 2011 and 2013 referendums, for neither of those votes addressed the question of a partial sale.
If the voters of Vero Beach were asked to approve selling Vero Electric’s Shores customers at a price consultants have said will lead to higher rates for everyone else, it’s hard to believe they would side with Moss. Now Moss expects to voters of Vero Beach to elect her to represent them on the City Council. Stranger things have happened.
A note on referendums. FPL discouraged holding a referendum on the purchase and sale agreement. “This is not a decision you want to leave to Joe Sixpack,” FPL Vice President Amy Brunjes said to me. Apparently, Brunjes does not think much of the intelligence level of the average Vero Beach voters. Ironically, at the same FPL was discouraging a referendum in Vero Beach the utility giant was busy working with political operatives in South Daytona Beach to change to that city’s charter in order to require a referendum before the City Council there could buy its utility back from FPL. In total, FPL spent more than $400,000 interjecting itself in South Daytona Beach’s local politics.