Editor’s note: The following commentary was published Aug. 25, soon after it was learned Utilities Commissioner Laura Moss communicated directly with the Chairwoman of the Florida Public Service Commission. Moss did not copy the City Clerk’s Office on her communication. Rather, the correspondence came to light when it was shared by the PSC with the City’s special utility counsel. A local blogger, who regularly serves as an apologist for Moss, seems to think InsideVero “essentially attacked” Moss.
While Moss’ communication with the PSC may not have been illegal, given her position on a City commission, it was not wise. We stand by that assessment. We also stand by our view that Moss’ actions and public statements raise serious questions about whether she seeks to serve the people of Vero Beach, or to make mischief acting as a pawn for the Shores Town Council.
Further, Moss is making too much of the Utility Commission’s “unanimous” decision. A number of members of the commission were not present for the meeting at which the UC voted to recommend acceptance of Florida Power & Light’s $30 million offer. More importantly, the Commission is not charged with and does not have the expertise to assess the larger impact of the proposed sale of Vero Electric’s Shores customer base – for $1 dollar, for $30 million dollars, or for $47 million dollars. If the Finance Commission had recommended the City Council accept FPL’s offer, that would be a different matter. Unfortunately, FPL made so many proposals, and set such a short deadline, that proper and full analysis by the FC was simply not possible.
The PSC is to rule on the Shores’ petition this week. If a majority of the commissioners follow the PSC staff report, Vero Electric will continue to have the right and responsibility to serve its Shores customers. One of the points made in the PSC staff report is that any change in service territory assignments must benefit ALL customers.
At least based on the advice of five utility experts hired by the City, if the City Council had followed Moss’ recommendation and that of her fellow utility commissioners, they would have agreed to a deal sure to benefit Shores residents, while disadvantaging Vero Beach’s taxpayers and the remaining customers of Vero Electric. Moss is proposing to dismiss the recommendation of five utility experts in preference for numbers cooked up by Robert Auwaerter, the Shores’ representative on the Utilities Commission. Auwaerter’s supreme self-confidence does not make him right.
In explaining why he joined Councilman Richard Winger and Mayor Jay Kramer in not accepting FPL’s $30 million offer, Vice Mayor Randy Old wrote, “The City Council position I felt carries with it the fiduciary duty to protect the citizens of Vero Beach who elected me. I felt that voting for any number less than our experts suggested brought risk to the remaining ratepayers, and for that reason could not vote to sell for less than $47 million.”
“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.”
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.