Heran, Press Journal team up in a years-long misinformation campaign

COMMENTARY

“Like Heran’s now debunked claim that the power sale would lead to a $170 million windfall for the City, his current assertion that members of the City Council are preventing the sale is simply untrue. Because he knows that claim is untrue, or should know, that makes it a lie; and because the Press Journal’s editorial board also knows, or should know, that Heran’s claim is false, that, in my view, makes them complicit in his lie.”

“Heran claims several members of the City Council are opposed to the power sale because they are unwilling to sell FPL the Indian River Shores portion of Vero Electric’s service territory for $30 million. A team of five utilities experts hired by the City concluded it will take $47 million, not $30 million, to partition and downsize Vero Electric without the move leading to higher taxes and higher electric rates for everyone outside the Shores.  Heran makes no mention of the recommendation of the consultants, and for good reason.  Heran is not trying to inform. He is trying to persuade.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Glenn Heran
Glenn Heran
FPL vice president Amy Brunjes is the wife of Press Journal publisher, Bob Brunjes.
FPL vice president Amy Brunjes is the wife of Press Journal publisher, Bob Brunjes.

Utility activist Glenn Heran’s most recent of many guest columns published by the Press Journal is just the latest installment in what can only be described as a years-long campaign to misinform the public about the proposed power sale.  Together with fellow utility activists, namely Stephen Faherty, and assisted by Press Journal’s editorial board and a number of its opinion columnists, “the FPL team,” continues to mislead the public about the proposed power sale.

Years ago, when support for the power sale first began to build, the Press Journal, whose publisher is married to a Florida Power and Light vice president involved in the company’s attempt to acquire Vero Electric, was giving Heran space on its opinion pages to put forth the preposterous claim that the sale would net the City of Vero Beach some $170 million.  Rates would come down, they promised, taxes would not rise, and there would be no need for a cut in Vero Beach’s municipal services.  How wrong they were!

In the summer of 2013, Vero Beach City Council braced for the expected closing on the deal by cutting 15 percent from the city budget in what was then a three year plan to cut a total of 45 percent out of General Fund spending, cuts all made in anticipation of the sale.  Given that some 80 percent of the General Fund budget goes toward payroll expenses and post employment benefits, you can just imagine how drastic were the cuts to be made.

Three years ago, FPL funded an electioneering communications organization, Citizens for a Better Future, set up by Glenn Heran to support Tracy Carroll's failed bid for re-election. Two years ago, FPL helped fund a campaign in support of Harry Howle, III, Pilar Turner and Charlie Wilson. This year, FPL has given $20,000 to a PAC, Operation Flip Switch, that supporting three candidates recently introduced by Indian River Shores Brian Barefoot as members of what he described as "the Shores team."
Three years ago, FPL funded an electioneering communications organization, Citizens for a Better Future, set up by Glenn Heran to support Tracy Carroll’s failed bid for re-election. Two years ago, FPL helped fund a campaign in support of Harry Howle, III, Pilar Turner and Charlie Wilson. This year, FPL has given $20,000 to a PAC, Operation Flip Switch, that is supporting three candidates recently introduced by Indian River Shores Brian Barefoot as members of what he described as “the Shores team.”

Before the 2013-2014 budget was finalized, though, it became clear to everyone the contract had some issues, and would likely not close in 2014.  Heran and the Press Journal editorial board, backed up by a flood of FPL advertising, had in the spring of 2013 duped the voting public into approving a purchase and sale agreement between Vero Beach and FPL. That agreement is so fatally flawed that even the FPL team now admits it can never be executed.

Later in 2014, FPL came to the City asking to amend the contract to allow for the assessment of a $26 million surcharge on the customers of Vero Electric.  FPL proposed that, together with the $26 million surcharge, the company would pay an additional $26 million to compensate the Florida Municipal Power Agency for absorbing Vero Beach’s power purchase commitment for three years. Following those three years, the power was to be taken by the Orlando Utilities Commission.

Not surprisingly, the City Council declined to approve FPL’s proposed surcharge until it could first be considered by the Finance and Utilities Commissions.  Before those two citizen advisory commissions could take up FPL’s $26-million request, the OUC backed out of the deal.  The proposed sale remains stalled for lack of a willing and qualified buyer, for no qualifying utility other than the OUC has ever expressed even the slightest interest in assuming Vero Beach’s long-term contractual obligations to the FMPA and its bondholders.

Without a buyer, there can be no sale.  That fact should be clear to everyone, including Heran, who gives as one of his credentials that he is a Certified Public Accountant. Well, Heran may be a CPA, but that hardly makes him a utility expert.  Just consider the fact that a number of those who were instrumental in bringing down Enron just happened to be CPAs.

When the Press Journal gives Heran space on its opinion pages to claim the power sale is stalled for any reason other than for want of a willing buyer, the newspaper, and Heran, are complicit in misleading the public.

It should be noted that Heran has in the past headed up a political action committee and an electioneering communications organization, both funded almost exclusively by FPL. In the spring of 2013, FPL gave a Heran-run PAC $100,000 to push for voter approval of what is now clearly a fatally flawed purchase and sale agreement.  In the fall of that year, FPL gave Heran another $26,000 in a failed attempt to help Tracy Carroll retain her seat on the City Council.

In a guest column published in the Press Journal just yesterday, Heran claimed the power sale has not gone forward because several council members have “routinely fought against the sale.” Like Heran’s now debunked claim that the power sale would lead to a $170 million windfall for the City, his current assertion that members of the City Council are preventing the sale is simply untrue. Because he knows, or should know, that claim is untrue, that makes it a lie; and because the Press Journal’s editorial board also knows, or should know that Heran’s claim is false, that, in my view, makes them complicit in his lie.

Heran claims several members of the City Council are opposed to the power sale because they are unwilling to sell FPL the Indian River Shores portion of Vero Electric’s service territory for $30 million. A team of five utilities experts hired by the City concluded it will take $47 million, not $30 million, to partition and downsize Vero Electric without the move leading to higher taxes and higher electric rates for everyone outside the Shores.  Heran makes no mention of the recommendation of the consultants, and for good reason.  Heran is not trying to inform. He is trying to persuade.

The three Council members Heran impugned are Jay Kramer, Randy Old and Richard Winger. Kramer, Old and Winger have insisted any carving up of Vero Electric at the request of the Shores must be done in a way that does not disadvantage the remaining customers. To argue, as Heran does, that Kramer, Old and Winger are opposed to finding a way to complete the power sale simply because they refuse to violate their fiduciary responsibility to the people of Vero Beach is preposterous; and for the Press Journal to allow Heran to make that claim in print is equally absurd and irresponsible.

I won’t even go into Heran’s most recent attacks on the FMPA, except to point out that he clearly holds extremist Libertarian views about limited government. His notion that municipalities cannot and do not successfully run public utilities is simply not supported by the facts.  For example, and this is another fact Heran is careful to avoid mentioning, the three electric utilities with the highest rates in the state of Florida are all, just like FPL, investor owned utilities, with rates approved by the Florida Public Service Commission.

Further, a number of the state’s municipal utilities have lower rates than FPL, and that is before factoring in FPL’s proposed $1.3 billion rate increase, another fact Heran and the Press Journal have been careful to avoid publicizing. What Heran and the Press Journal are attempting to do together to aid FPL should make for the perfect case study in how the media, with some notable exceptions, is failing at its job.

Perhaps what is most important for Vero Beach voters to understand is that outside interests, Heran being one of them, are attempting to use FPL money, along with a flood of contributions from Shores residents, to control, if not manipulate the outcome of Vero Beach’s municipal election. What they seek is to secure a Council majority that will necessarily sell out the people of Vero Beach in order to cave to their interests.

Sadly, the Press Journal does not seem inclined to inform its readers about this attempted takeover of Vero Beach’s municipal government. Rather, with the publication of Heran’s latest propaganda piece, it seems the Press Journal is aiding in the FPL-funded effort to shaft the people of Vero Beach, and all for the benefit of wealthy Shores residents.

 

 

One comment

  1. One-sided media in Indian River County would choose to lead us to destruction – if it were not for Inside Vero! Thank you for keeping the truth out there.

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