With email to PSC, has Moss overstepped her bounds?

COMMENTARY

“Further, in writing the PSC in her official capacity, Moss’ action may be a violation of her oath of office, for she is working against the city she claims to serve. Moss’ is an appointed position, not an elected one, and it is not for her to speak for the City of Vero Beach or its residents and taxpayers.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Laura Moss
Laura Moss

Acting in her capacity as the Chairwoman of the Vero Beach Utilities Commission, but without authorization from the City Council, Laura Moss recently wrote an email to the Florida Public Service Commission supporting the Town of Indian River Shores in its petition against the City of Vero Beach. In her communication with the PSC, Moss sought to ensure the Commission is aware of the advice the citizen advisory committee she chairs gave the City Council.

Moss sent her email Aug. 11, nearly a week before the City Council met to consider FPL’s third and final offer. Contradicting the City’s ultimate official position, Moss, a candidate for City Council who is supported by Shores interests, is clearly working against the City and on behalf of the Town.

According to the City Clerk’s Moss did not provide them with a copy of the email for the public record. Moss’s email was provided to the City, not by Moss, but by the PSC.

Without question, the Shores’ petition to the PSC sets up an adversarial proceeding. It is as if Moss is communicating directly with a judge on behalf of a plantiff in a case in which the City is the defendant.  At the very least, Moss’ communication with the PSC is inappropriate and an example of poor judgment.

At issue is the Shores’ request that the PSC change its long-standing territorial orders assigning Vero Beach the right and responsibility to provide electric service to a large portion of the Shores, and to other areas outside the city limits. Specifically, the Shores is asking the PSC to assign approximately 3000 Shores residents and businesses from Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light.

Vero Beach, the Town and FPL recently  attempted to negotiate a sale of the 3000 meters in question, but could not reach an agreement. FPL offered $30 million, with $3 million to be paid by Shores residents in the form of a surcharge. FPL’s offer, described by Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot as “generous,” fell $17 million short of the number a team of five utility consultants set as a break-even price for Vero Beach.

According to City officials, the so-called break even number represents the price Vero Beach would need to get for partitioning Vero Electric without putting the City’s taxpayers and remaining electric customers at risk of higher rates.

By a 3-2 vote, the City Council rejected FPL $30 million offer, but made it known the City would entertain a sale of its Shores customer base and associated utility infrastructure for $47 million. Council members Pilar Turner and Harry Howle voted to accept FPL’s offer. Mayor Jay Kramer, Vice Mayor Randy Old and Councilman Richard Winger insisted on staying with the number recommended by the City’s consultants.

Shores leaders and Moss continue to make a point of the Utilities Commission’s 5-0 vote advising the City Council to accept FPL’s offer. It is true the citizen advisory board, with an average tenure on the board of 9 months, encouraged the Council to sell Vero Electric’s Shores customers base at a price experts say would lead to higher rates for everyone else. But it is worth noting that two of the five members of the Commission present for Moss’ special call meeting are not residents of Vero Beach, and none of them are charged with making recommendations to the Council on the likely financial impact of such a decision.

More importantly, the Utilities Commission’s recommendation is not and cannot be based on a broad financial analysis, for Moss’ group is not charged with or qualified to assess the likely financial impact of its recommendation beyond the electric enterprise fund.

That much boarder work is the responsibility of the City’s Finance Commission. Because FPL gave such a short deadline for the City to accept or reject the offer, Commission Chairman Peter Gorry said he saw no reason to ask the Commission to render an opinion when there was, in his opinion, not adequate time for due diligence.

In urging due diligence, Gorry pointed out that the 2013 purchase and sale agreement between the City and FPL, negotiated at a cost of some $2 million to Vero Electric’s customers, was rushed to voters before key issues could be resolved. That agreement, by everyone’s estimation, is fatally flawed and cannot be executed.

If the Finance Commission, which is made up entirely of city residents with an average tenure of four years, saw no danger to the City, its taxpayers and remaining electric customers in accepting FPL’s offer, then a case might be made that the City Council was rejecting sound advice, and possibly for political reasons.

What we are left with is a Utilities Commission vote in which five persons with average tenure of just nine months, three of them not even residents of the city, rejected sound financial considerations for political reasons.

Further, in writing the PSC in her official capacity, Moss’ action may be a violation of her oath of office, for she is working against the city she claims to serve. Moss’ is an appointed position, not an elected one, and it is not for her to speak for the City of Vero Beach or its residents and taxpayers.

 

6 comments

  1. In my earlier post of 8/24, I stated that Laura Moss is in this thing over her head. The actions written about in today’s Inside Vero proves I was right . She doesn’t understand she can only make recommendations to the city council and nothing more. She does not speak for the people. What are her true motives? She is in this over her head with her letter writing, and just doesn’t understand and refuses to be objective for political reasons. When you look at who appointed her to this position ,you can see why she is not objective and will never be. Add all of this to the fact that she has run for city council before and lost with the support of Pilar Turner and Harry Howle and plans to run again. Check to see where her money for her campaigns comes from and it will tell all you need to know ,and why she says what she says. Lastly , if she received campaign money from FP&L or a PAC funded by FP&L she should be removed from the Utilities Board at once.

  2. EXACTLY, Mark Schumann! And ditto to Mr. Church’s comment. We didn’t vote on the members of Utilities Board. Why do we allow non-residents of Vero Beach to serve on this Board? Thank goodness PSC shared a copy of Mrs. Moss’ email to them…..for public record, which Mrs. Moss must know is highly suggested if she were ever elected to any office. That may be a moot concern.

  3. Whoever appointed Moss to the utilities, as I understand it’s done now, should remove her. She has definitely abused her position and the sunshine laws. Does it take a private citizen to make a complaint.

  4. Jeanette, I wrote more than a few stories reporting on illegal email communication between members of the Indian River Shores Town Council, but nothing happened until I brought the issue to the attention of the State’s Attorney’s Office. (Over several months, the island weekly and the Press Journal steadily ignored the story.) You, or any private citizen, can call these emails to the attention of Mr. Colton’s office. Here’s what I wonder. Given that Moss and Auwaerter have been willing to communicate via email, what telephone conversation may have taken place? At this point, it may not be unreasonable for the State’s Attorney to subpoena the telephone records of each and ever member of the Utilities Commission.

  5. What has happened to our city? I have lived here since 1937 and can’t remember such times as now. I recall all those dedicated council member who freely gave of their time and efforts to make Vero Beach what it is today. I wonder what some of those whose photographs are displayed through the council chambers think of some of the things going on today! I cannot recall any time when we have had so many outside interests trying to influence our lives.

  6. Thank You Jim, I haven’t been here quite that long but feel the same way. What are people thinking when they elect some of these people to the council.

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