“Our mission is to give readers information that will help them cast an informed vote. We will not be dissuaded from that mission, not by Wilson, or by Benjamin, or by anyone else who would seek to slant the news and limit the public’s access to the truth.”
Some months ago, Vero Beach 32963 publisher, Milton Benjamin, told at least one Vero Beach City Council candidate he planned to challenge InsideVero, if the news website again this year published a print edition in advance of Vero Beach’s municipal election. Benjamin’s threat was clearly an attempt to deny a competing news outlet the ability to broadly disseminate information 32963 regularly fails to report.
Several weeks ago, in what appears to be a concerted effort to prevent InsideVero from releasing a print edition, civic activist, Charlie Wilson, sent a threatening letter to the Indian River Neighborhood Association. Echoing Benjamin, Wilson assured the IRNA that the community organization would also be the subject of an elections complaint, if it advertised in InsideVero’s annual print edition.
Yesterday, Wilson filed such a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission. The legal question raised by Wilson’s complaint may be whether in the Internet era sources of news and commentary such as InsideVero enjoy the same First Amendment protections and rights as do newspapers. (Some newspapers have transitioned to offering their content exclusively online. InsideVero’s content is available largely online, though it continues to publish an annual print edition in advance of Vero Beach’s municipal elections.)
The real news, however, may be whether Wilson and Benjamin are attempting to silence a media outlet for which neither man has ever been able to mask his contempt. Wilson is forever a devil which whom to deal. This time he may well be teaming up with Benjamin and his wealthy John’s Island patrons. To be sure, there is no love lost between Benjamin and any of his other media competitors. Benjamin has, for example, regularly used the pages of his newspaper to attack the Press Journal. (At one time the island weekly’s wifi password was a juvenile reference to Benjamin’s hoped for the demise of the Press Journal.)
Seeking to discredit InsideVero, Wilson asserted in his complaint submitted to the Commission that the online offering of news and commentary about local government and politics is not recognized by the post office as a “newspaper.” Presumably Wilson is referring to Second Class postage privileges. Perhaps Wilson is unaware that, being a free circulation publication, Benjamin’s weekly newspaper, Vero Beach 3296,3 also does not have Second Class mailing privileges. Postage status has never been a measure of whether a publication is a “legitimate” source of news or, as Wilson charges, is “an electioneering communications organization.”
Wilson also claimed InsideVero has no local address and is not a business. A home based small business, InsideVero has from its founding in 2013 had as its mailing address post office box 1016 in Vero Beach. Since its inception, InsideVero has also had a business account with a local bank. Two years ago, InsideVero publisher, Mark Schumann, moved to New Mexico. From there he continues to monitor Vero Beach’s local government and local politics, and from there he continues to operate InsideVero as a largely internet-base business.
Wilson, who was removed from the Vero Beach City Council by court order for having failed to meet the City’s residency requirements for candidates, made a number of other allegations against InsideVero. The most outrageous was his suggestion that InsideVero may receive financial support from the Florida Municipal Power Agency and the Florida Municipal Electric Association. No such contributions have ever been sought or received. Ironically, though, Benjamin has for years solicited contributions to Vero Beach 32963.
The baseless and false accusation by Wilson that InsideVero is somehow supported by the FMPA and the FMEA rises out of his worldview. Whether its forming a new “chamber of commerce,” or proposing the County expand its bureaucracy by creating a tourism or economic development division with him at the helm, Wilson’s every move is motivated by money.
Understandably, then, Wilson cannot fathom why InsideVero would, without compensation from the FMPA, explain to readers that Vero Beach’s contractual obligations to the organization and its bondholders stand as impediments to the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light. To be sure, our reporting has run against the grain and has been contrary to much of what people have read in the Press Journal and in Benjamin’s 32963. (Press Journal publisher, Bob Brunjes, is married to an FPL vice-president.)
While both newspapers called for voter approval of the purchase and sale agreement between Vero Beach and FPL, InsideVero reported on why the contract was flawed and would likely never be executed. Editorially, we have taken the position that, though the proposed sale has merits, it is unrealistic to expect contracts previously validated by the Florida Supreme Court are going to be set aside solely for the benefit of Vero Beach.
Instead of placing all hopes in a sale that is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future, we have encouraged efforts to find ways to reduce electric rates. Indeed, the Vero Beach City Council has been successful in trimming costs. All such efforts to lower rates have been dismissed by the Press Journal as insignificant, and all have been criticized and minimized by Benjamin’s island weekly, 32963.
While the island weekly and the Press Journal scoff at efforts to reduce Vero Electric’s rates, both newspapers have yet to report on FPL’s proposed $1.3 billion rate increase. Given that neither Benjamin’s 32963 nor the Press Journal seems inclined to offer full and balanced reporting, it is important that InsideVero remain as a free and independent source of news and commentary.
Recipients of InsideVero’s annual print edition will find answers to a questionnaire addressing important issues facing Vero Beach. Also included in the print edition are candidate guest columns. Of the six candidates running for three seats on the Vero Beach City Council, Sharon Gorry, Randy Old and Tony Young accepted our invitation to submit answers and guest columns. Candidates Lange Sykes and Norman Wells initially indicated they would submit content, but both later declined to do so. Candidate Laura Moss did not to respond to several emails sent her regarding the print edition. All candidates were also given an opportunity to place advertising.
The print edition also includes commentary from InsideVero regular Milt Thomas, as well as stories reporting on financial contributions FPL and a number of Indian River Shores residents have made to three Vero Beach City Council candidates.
Given Vero Beach 32963’s Shores-centric news coverage and its editorial slant, the newspaper’s management, and perhaps its anonymous Shores patrons, may not appreciate revelations about the financial involvement of Shores residents in a neighboring municipalities election. Whether this level of engagement in a neighboring municipality’s election is good or bad is for the voters of Vero Beach to decide. Our mission is to give readers information that will help them cast an informed vote. We will not be dissuaded from that mission, not by Wilson, or by Benjamin, or by anyone else who would seek to slant the news and limit the public’s access to the truth.