Shores-FPL attempt to buy control of Vero Beach’s City Council is staggering and unprecedented

Florida Power & Light has teamed up with a few dozen Indian River Shores residents to pour money into Vero Beach's City Council election than given all Vero Beach residents combined.
In an effort to gain control of the Vero Beach City Council, Florida Power & Light has teamed up with a few dozen Indian River Shores residents to pour more money into Vero Beach’s City Council election than has been given all Vero Beach residents combined.
COMMENTARY

 “If by spending $100,000, Shores leaders and FPL executives can elect Moss, Sykes and Wells, and thus take control of the Vero Beach City Council, they will save themselves $17 million. No wonder the rich keep getting richer.”

 “The Shores-FPL attempt to take over Vero Beach’s City Council is troubling, and should give all voters reason to wonder if and how Moss, Sykes and Wells could possibly be expected to represents the interests of the people of Vero Beach.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Perhaps never before in the history of local politics has so much money been given by outside interests seeking to influence, if not control the outcome of a neighboring community’s municipal election.

Through October 7, Laura Moss, Lange Sykes, Norman Wells, and Operation Flip Switch, a political action committee working to elect the three “Shores” candidates to the Vero Beach City Council, have received $107,500 in contributions.

Ninety-one percent (91%) of the money given to help Moss, Sykes and Wells take control of the Vero Beach City Council has been given by a few dozen wealthy John’s Island residents and by Florida Power and Light, with $40,000 coming from the Juno based utility giant.

Consider that Operation Flip Switch relied exclusively on wealthy Shores residents and FPL for its contributions. If this political action committee supporting Moss, Sykes and Wells were actually working to further the interests of the people of Vero Beach, then why was it not able to raise money among Vero Beach residents?

Further, the amount of money given by FPL and a few dozen wealthy John’s Island residents to Moss, Sykes, Wells and Operation Flip Switch is nearly double all the campaign contributions made by Vero Beach residents to all six candidates combined.

This flood of outside, special interest money pouring into Vero Beach’s municipal election is staggering and unprecedented. No one can remember a time when a giant corporation joined with residents in a wealthy enclave like John’s Island in a coordinated effort to essentially hijacking the democratic process. Make no mistake about it. Shores and FPL leaders seek nothing short of control of the Vero Beach City Council.

Since the Orlando Utilities Commission backed away from its offer to assume Vero Beach’s position in three Florida Municipal Power Agency project support contracts and power purchase agreements, FPL’s attempt to expand its customer base by acquiring municipal utilities, starting with Vero Beach, has been stalled.

This lack of progress does not look good for FPL, especially not for company President and C.E.O. Eric Silagy. Several years ago, Silagy told a group of investors FPL was poised to grow its customer base through acquisition of municipal utilities, such as Vero Electric.

As a fallback position, FPL is making a play for Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customer base. Going along to get along, Vero Beach officials have said they will consider a partial sale, so long as the downsizing of Vero Electric does not lead to higher rates for the utility’s remaining customers.

A team of five utility experts advised it will require $47 million to carve up Vero Electric without risking higher rates. FPL has offered $30 million, with $3 million of that to come from the Shores. Vero Beach City Councilman Randy Old, who is running for re-election, has said it would be a breach of his fiduciary responsibility to the people of Vero Beach to accept FPL’s offer of $30 million. He has, though, said he will consider selling at $47 million.

Two things are at stake for the Shores and FPL – ego and $17 million dollars.

Having already told investors he can increase FPL’s market share by acquiring municipal utilities, Silagy needs to deliver, even if only in a small way. In addition, for FPL and the Shores there is $17 million to be saved, if they can successfully elect to the Vero Beach City Council three members supportive of their goal.

If by spending $100,000, Shores leaders and FPL executives can elect Moss, Sykes and Wells, and thus take control of the Vero Beach City Council, they will save themselves $17 million. No wonder the rich keep getting richer.

A few weeks ago, Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot introduced Moss, Sykes and Wells as members of what he described as “the Shores team.” All three were in attendance at a community meeting held at the Shores Town Hall to discuss strategy. Moss, Sykes and Wells, “the Shores three,” have all said they support selling off Vero Electric’s Shores customers for $30 million, and none of them denies being part of Barefoot’s “Shores team.”

While there are a number of other issues of concern to the people of Vero Beach, such addressing All Aboard Florida, restoring the Lagoon, and planning for the best possible use of riverfront property now occupied by the power plant and the waste water treatment plant, no issue is more important than preserving the integrity and independence of Vero Beach’s municipal government.

The Shores-FPL attempt to take over Vero Beach’s City Council is troubling, and should give all voters reason to wonder if and how Moss, Sykes and Wells, “the Shores three,” could possibly be expected to represents the interests of the people of Vero Beach.

Despite a connection by marriage with an FPL executive, and in a break from its obvious affinity for all things FPL, the members of the Press Journal editorial board could not bring themselves to commit the act of endorsing the Shores-FPL slate of candidates.

Bowing to reason, the Press Journal endorsed Tony Young and incumbent Randy Old. Old, a retired banker with extensive experience in finance, has served the people of Vero Beach well in his first two years on the Council. Young, whose grandfather was Vero Beach’s first mayor, is a retired Army colonel, with 30 years of military service, as well a long record of community service.

Given its support for Old and Young, why the newspaper also endorsed Laura Moss is a mystery. Moss, a contrarian to the bone, is cantankerous, self-serving, and fully committed to shafting the people of Vero Beach to benefit her patrons, namely wealthy Shores contributors and FPL. Perhaps its endorsement of Moss was a way for the Press Journal to throw FPL boss Eric Silagy a bone.

As a third vote, Sharon Gorry is by far a better choice than Moss. Unlike Moss, Gorry has met with every department head within the City, and, unlike Moss, she sees the larger picture. Gorry may have some learning still to do, but unlike Moss, who is often wrong but never in doubt, Gorry is willing to learn and is open to reason.

Unlike Moss, Gorry understands the community. She also supports continuing effort to find a way to sell the full electric system to FPL, and, in contrast to “the Shores three,” she clearly cares about preserving quality of life in Vero Beach.

Voters inclined to stand up for Vero Beach and resisting the efforts of wealthy Shores interests and FPL to buy this election, should consider supporting Sharon Gorry, Randy Old and Tony Young.

7 comments

  1. No this isn’t as bad as the national election, just think the same thing happens in Washington, with our elected officials and the Lobbyists! But first we must be able to elect honest candidates, people with vision! If we in the Shores did not have this impending problem with electric rates, we would be able to buy and annex the City of Vero, and the only thint we would raise are your speed limits on A1A.

  2. How fast can we go through Indian River Shores (which has no ‘downtown’? (Not that many of us have occasion to travel north on A1A.) I think we have more pedestrians and certainly more cross streets with traffic lights. No comparison. I’m wondering what vision Mr. Wapnick has? I’m sure I.R.S. folks could buy and sell us like stocks on Wall Street, but that’s immaterial. What I.R.S. has spent on lawsuits and contributions to 3 people who claim they can take over Vero without batting an eye, is monstrous. What we’ve had to spend to meet these lawsuits (and those of Indian River County) is a shameful waste.

  3. Dear Kathy, Of course you have more pedestrians and cross streets, but we have more “Cross” residents that have been spending more than 30% higher for electricity than our neighbors just across Old Winter Beach Road. When I look at the 30 pieces of Eight in the picture I also feel betrayed because we in Indian River Shores are not responsible for the many errors your City Council has made. We should not be paying for poor decisions that were made in the past, perhaps the alleged candidates we are supporting will make better decisions, and then all of us will benefit!
    I do agree that the lawsuits are a “shameful waste”, but to just remain idly by is even more shameful!

  4. Mr Wapnick’s statement that” if we in the Shores did not have this impending problem with electric rates, we would be able to buy and annex the city of Vero.” has exposed the real aim of Indian River Shores. I am happy that Mr Wapnick put in writing what Indian River Shores really wants. However, 99,999% of the city of Vero does not want to be annexed by anyone, Indian River Shores or the county. What makes anyone think the residents of the city would want anything to do with the pompous ,egocentric bullies running IRS.The only persons that might want to be annexed are the “Shores Three” and other toadies. Need i remind everyone that envy is a terrible emotion. I suggest IRS invest in their own dog park, recreation sites, open spaces, museum, and anything else they desire but leave us alone. KEEP VERO, VERO !

  5. Larry, It is better to remain idle that to do harm. Surely you have heard the expression, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.” You can argue that past City Councils have made mistakes, but it is difficult to make the case that the decisions about which you are no so critical were obviously unwise at the time they were made. Consider this: The folks at Duke Energy may have been foolish in attempting to cut costs on regular maintenance at the company’s Crystal River nuclear plant, but that has not prevented the Florida Public Service Commission from allowing Duke Energy to pass on to its customers some $2 BILLION in uninsured losses resulting from what turned out to be a monumental mistake. In the utility world, the measure is whether the decision seemed prudent at the time it was made. On that basis, if Vero Beach’s rates were to be revised by the PSC, all the charges on your current Vero Electric bill would be upheld – ALL of them. To suggest, as you have, that the manner in which those decisions were made, and the intention of those making them constitutes betrayal is unfair those those who have done their best to serve the City and ALL its electric customers.

  6. Dear Mark, Remaining Idle is not the answer. I am not blaming the present government in Vero for the mistakes, it is unfortunate for them to struggle with the present electric situation instead of moving on and doing great things for the city. For the past city council to fall prey to the events that turned their decisions into travesties warns residents to get more involved in their cities management and to carefully vette council members that are experienced enough and qualified to make sound decisions. This not only applies for Vero, but for all government in this country.

    To Mr. Church: Indian River Shores is not as you say,” run by pompous ,egocentric bullies”. As many of our residents have done well with finances and investments, we are really no different than any other American Citizen. Many of us have served our country, have contributed many times to all local charities and have worked hard to better our lifestyles. To assume differently, and to assume that we should gladly pay higher rates for electricity challenges all wisdom of equality and integrity.

  7. Good,gladly petetion the psc to deny the coming 27 percent increase in rates.surely you won’t mind a profit by fpl that is double what Vero makes. Fair is fair.

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