“It seems some who have recently moved to the community, or who have grown weary of following the electric issue, do not know, or have forgotten that a purchase and sale contract between Vero Beach and Florida Power & Light has existed since the spring of 2013, and remains in full force until December 31 of this year.”
A recent column by Indian River Neighborhood Association Chair, Honey Minuse, has some asking, “What electric system sales contract?”
Minuse referenced the purchase and sale agreement between the City of Vero Beach and Florida Power & Light when she made the point that the IRNA has never opposed nor endorsed the sale. According to Minuse, the only position the IRNA has ever taken on the proposed power sale was to urge the City Council to hold a referendum before committing one way or another.
It seems some who have recently moved to the community, or who have grown weary of following the electric issue, do not know, or have forgotten that a purchase and sale contract between Vero Beach and Florida Power & Light has existed since the spring of 2013, and remains in full force until December 31 of this year.
The agreement, which took a year to negotiate, and cost the customers of Vero Electric some $2 million dollars in legal fees, was put to a vote on March 12, 2013. Council members Tracy Carroll, Craig Fletcher and Pilar Turner called for the referendum and signed the contract, overlooking or ignoring at least one important detail. There was no contract for voters to approve, at least not a fully negotiated contract, for the City had yet to resolve its issues and obligations with the Florida Municipal Power Agency.
At the February 5, 2013 Council meeting, Richard Winger urged Carroll, Fletcher and Turner to postpone the referendum until the proposed sales agreement between the City and FPL could be fully negotiated and finalized. With fellow Councilman Jay Kramer out of town, Winger could not get a second for his motion.
On February 25, 2013, just three weeks ahead of the referendum, Carroll, Fletcher and Turner cut a cake, signed a contract full of blanks and holes and toasted to their success. Council members Richard Winger and Jay Kramer voted against approving the contract. It was not that they disapproved of the sale of Vero Electric to FPL, they both said. Rather, they believed that by leaving key issues unresolved Carroll, Fletcher and Turner were committing to contract conditions the City could never meet.
Following still another year of negotiations, FPL came to the City Council asking to amend the purchase and sale agreement to allow for the assessment of a $26 million surcharge to be paid by the customers of Vero Electric. That $26 million, along with another $26 million from FPL, was to compensate the FMPA for assuming Vero Beach power purchase commitments for the three years before the Orlando Utilities Commission was prepared to step in and take on Vero Beach’s contract obligations.
At the time, Fletcher and others acknowledged the proposed change was substantial and would require another referendum. Before FPL’s proposal to assess a $26 million surcharge on the customers of Vero Electric could be vetted by the City’s Finance and Utilities Commissions, the Orlando Utilities Commission, a key party to the deal, backed out.
With the OUC’s withdrawal from the negotiations, Vero Beach and FPL were left without a willing and qualified party to assume Vero Beach’s long-term position in three FMPA power projects. To this day, there has been no progress in finding a buyer to take on Vero Beach power purchase agreements and power support contracts.
The proposed sale remains stalled, not because Council members oppose it, but because major contract obligations the City has with the FMPA and its bondholders have yet to be resolved, and because no buyer has stepped forward who can legally assume Vero Beach’s position in three FMPA power projects. In fact, despite what utility activist Steven Faherty and others continue to claim, there are no “anti-sale” Council members, or Council candidates.
Since the contract signing in 2013, and the deal’s unraveling in 2014, there has been a serious effort to persuade the Florida Legislature to pass special legislation that would somehow enable the sale to go forward. Proposed legislation introduced in 2014, 2015 and 2016 by State Rep. Debbie Mayfield never reached the floor of the House or the Senate for a vote. Even at that, Mayfield’s proposed legislation was far short of what would be needed to make the sale possible.
The Vero Beach City Council, including members Richard Winger, Jay Kramer and Randy Old, voted to support Mayfield’s efforts. That support hasn’t keep Faherty and others from demonizing Winger, Kramer and Old as somehow “anti-sale.”
In the fall of 2015, as a candidate for the City Council, Harry Howle promised he could get the electric system sold. Nearly a year has passed since Howle eked out a narrow, 53-vote victory over Amelia Graves. After a year on the Council, Howle has yet to make even one suggestion or proposal that would enable the sale to be completed.
Now come candidates Laura Moss, Lange Sykes and presumably also Norman Wells, all recently introduced at a meeting in Indian River Shores as part of the “Shores team,” and all promising that they can “fix it,” that they know how to persuade the Florida Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court to set aside long-standing contract law, or to force the breakup of the FMPA. (Never mind that more than 20 member cities are pleased with their association with the FMPA.)
Quite simply, the campaign promises Moss, Sykes and Wells are now making about being able to move the sale forward are hollow, empty and worthless. Even worse, these promises are disingenuous, if not deceitful. By failing to explain to their readers just how hollow are Moss, Sykes and Well’s promises, the Press Journal and the island weekly are being equally deceitful.
What the voters of Vero Beach need to understand is that Moss, Sykes and Wells are not running to serve the people of Vero Beach. Rather, they represent the interests of a group of plutocrats who believe the entire barrier island should be its own incorporated municipality, and that the County should control all of the mainland south of the City of Sebastian. To that end, they seek by whatever legal means possible to weaken Vero Beach financially to the point where it must eventually disincorporate.
How can Moss, Sykes and Wells be seen as candidates standing up for Vero Beach, when, in fact, they are endorsed and funded by Indian River Shores interests? The Shores, as everyone should know by now, has already spent $1 million dollars, and seems to be prepared to spend millions more, suing the City of Vero Beach. What a shame it is for the people of Vero Beach that three of their City Council candidates, (Moss, Sykes and Wells), if elected, will be beholden to the hostile outside interests.
Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot and the Town’s special utility counsel, Bruce May, often speak of the importance of protecting the Shores’ “sovereign rights.” Nonsense! Just the opposite is true, for the candidacies of Moss, Sykes and Wells, all members of what Barefoot describes as the “Shores team,” represent an attempt at a hostile takeover of Vero Beach.
Make no mistake about it. The underlying issue in the current Council election is really NOT about the electric sale. It is about preserving the independence of the City of Vero Beach by resisting narrow-minded, selfish, self-centered barrier islanders and their allies at the County who seek to create in south Indian River County another Town of Palm Beach and unified government on the mainland.