A tale of two cities and one utility giant

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. Last year, FPL indirectly funded a last minute attack on the councilwoman Amelia Graves. 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.”

Complete disrespect for the average voter

COMMENTARY

“FPL’s willingness to spend some $500,000 winning two referendums in South Daytona is just an example of how the company uses its considerable financial resources and political clout to get its way.”

“If a way can be found to resolve Vero Beach’s long-term contractual obligations to the Florida Municipal Power Agency and its bondholders, a sale of the full electric system to FPL may still be a good idea. But a carving up and downsizing Vero Electric just to benefit Shores residents seems exceeding unwise.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Florida Power & Light External Affairs Manager, Amy Brunjes, and Bob Brunjes, Publisher, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. Scripps' editorial board, of which Brunjes is a member, has consistently endorsed Tracy Carroll.
Florida Power & Light External Affairs Manager, Amy Brunjes, and Press Journal publisher, Bob Brunjes,

In the fall of 2011, Vero Beach voters were asked to approve leasing the power plant site to Florida Power & Light.  The wording of the referendum, which was required by the City Charter, did not seek specific approval to sell the utility, but only to lease the land, IF the City Council determined selling the utility to FPL was in the best interest of the City, its residents and taxpayers.  At the time, some were concerned that the Council would conclude an agreement with FPL without giving voters an opportunity to approve or disapprove the terms of the final agreement.

Despite FPL opposition to a referendum, voters were asked in the spring of 2013 to approve a purchase and sale agreement.  Unfortunately, the agreements, negotiated at a cost of $2 million to the City, was far from fully negotiated, with several important issues unresolved.  As it turned out, the contract was fatally flawed, has yet to be implemented and will expire at the end of this year.

Though Vero Beach did hold a vote on a specific sales agreement between the City and FPL, that referendum is not what FPL most wanted.  In fact, in the fall of 2011, when I expressed concerns that the Council had yet to commit to give voters a final say, FPL vice president of external affairs, Amy Brunjes, said to me, “it’s not a decision you want to leave to Joe Sixpack.”

Brunjes’ and FPL’s contempt for average voters is both troubling and ironic; for at the same time the company’s representatives were arguing against holding a final referendum on the proposed power sale in Vero Beach, the utility giant was spending closing to $500,000 to prevent the South Daytona City Council from buying its electric utility back without holding a referendum.  FPL first had to work through local operatives to change the South Daytona City Charter. Then it had to win the final referendum – all that to retain 7,000 largely disaffected customers.

FPL’s willingness to spend some $500,000 winning two referendums in South Daytona is just an example of how the company uses its considerable financial resources and political clout to get its way. Working through Vero Beach utility activist, Glenn Heran, whose guest columns appear with some regularity in the Press Journal, FPL spent more than $100,000 funding a political action committee and an electioneering communications organization. Those Heran-run groups pushed for voter approval of the purchase and sale agreement between Vero Beach and FPL, and in the fall of 2013 supported then Councilwoman Tracy Carroll in her failed bid for re-election.

In 2014, FPL contributed to a second ECO that supported Pilar Turner and Harry Howle. This year FPL has teamed up with wealthy Indian River Shores interests to support three candidates for the Vero Beach City Council.  This time around, FPL is supporting Laura Moss, Lange Sykes and Norman Wells, all recently introduced by Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot as members of what he describes as “the Shores team.”

FPL is expecting Moss, Sykes and Wells to reject the advice of five utility experts, and to instead sell Vero Electric’s Shores customers at a $17 million discount.  FPL first offered a paltry $13 million. It’s second offer, $30 million, though closer to realistic, is still far short of the $47 million experts have said would be needed to carve up and downside Vero Electric without having to shaft the remaining customers with higher rates.

If a way can be found to resolve Vero Beach’s long-term contractual obligations to the Florida Municipal Power Agency and its bondholders, a sale of the full electric system to FPL may still be a good idea. But a carving up and downsizing Vero Electric just to benefit Shores residents seems exceeding unwise.

Editor’s note:  When I first wrote in the Press Journal’s Newsweekly section about the contradictory positions FPL was taking in Vero Beach and in South Daytona regarding voter referendums, Bob Brunjes, the Press Journal’s publisher, instructed me to stop reporting on FPL’s accept to acquire Vero Electric. When I then wrote about it on a private blog, Brunjes, who is married to FPL vice president, Amy Brunjes, informed me that continuing the blog would be grounds for termination. At that point, I resigned and formed InsideVero.com.

2 comments

  1. All I can say is we Vero Beach residents are the ones who elect our leaders – and I’m sure many might be considered “Joe Sixpack”. So if Amy Brunjes or anyone else feel we are not qualified to make this decision, I’m sorry. It’s generally been “the American Way”. I cannot understand a big utility company having half a million dollars laying around for ‘investing’ in politics.

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