This municipal election should be about what is best for Vero Beach

Shores-FPL PAC, ‘Flip the Switch,’ is flooding Vero Beach mailboxes with glossy flyers making outrageous claims. Will voters let themselves be duped? Let’s hope not.
COMMENTARY

“At the state level, FPL is behind Amendment 1, a sly effort on the part of the utility industry to hinder the growth of the solar power industry in the Sunshine state.  So outrageous is this attempt to perpetuate addiction to fossil fuels that the Florida Supreme Court today will hear an appeal to removed Amendment 1 from the ballot.  Like most publicly traded companies, FPL is all about profits. They care one bit about the environment, just as they have no concern for quality of life in Vero Beach.”

“When northern Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere, they brought with them gunpowder, and were thus able to destroy a way of life in order to make room for their own. Simply by bringing enough wealth with them to their winter homes in Florida, a handful of Shores residents may succeed in doing the same, namely destroying a quality of life they can neither appreciate nor comprehend.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Eric Silagy
Silagy
Brian Barefoot
Barefoot

In what can only be described as an act of supreme self-centeredness, a few dozen wealthy John’s Island residents have joined forces with Florida Power and Light to turn Vero Beach’s city council election into a single-issue referendum on FPL’s proposal to buy Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customer base.

This foray into politics may be new for some Shores residents, but it is nothing new for FPL, the state’s largest investor-owned utility. Using its considerable financial resources to poison local politics is par for the course for FPL. After all, given his background as a political operative, the political arena is where FPL President and C.E.O., Eric Silagy, prefers to do battle. In fact, it should not come as a surprise to anyone if it were revealed that he is without knowledge of the difference between AC and DC current. Silagy is likely far more comfortable working the halls of political power in Tallahassee than he is in talking electricity.

Silagy relies on his company’s ability to make generous contributions to candidates, political action committees, and electioneering communications organizations to win favor with politicians, and, when necessary, to shape the public “will.” For example, Silagy makes much of the fact that the voters of Vero Beach expressed a desire to sell their electric system to FPL. But he makes no mention of FPL’s investment of some $100,000 in political contributions in order to influence the outcome of that referendum; and he certainly doesn’t accentuate the fact that the referendum was on a specific purchase and sale agreement, the terms of which even FPL officials now admit can never be met.

Whether it is FPL spokespersons, or Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot, or Laura Moss, or Lange Sykes, or Norman Wells, (the Shores three), or anyone else, regardless of who may be claiming Vero Beach voters want to sell off Vero Electric’s Shores customers at a price that will lead to higher rates for the system’s remaining customers, they are simply wrong. No such referendum was ever held.

At the state level, FPL is behind Amendment 1, a sly effort on the part of the utility industry to hinder the growth of the solar power industry in the Sunshine state.  So outrageous is this attempt to perpetuate addiction to fossil fuels that the Florida Supreme Court today will hear an appeal to removed Amendment 1 from the ballot,  Like most publicly traded companies, FPL is all about profits  They care one bit about the environment, just as they have no concern for quality of life in Vero Beach.

That Shores leaders would stoop so low as to join FPL is a brazen attempt to buy control of Vero Beach’s city council must come as a deep disappointment to anyone laboring under the illusion that the north barrier island considers itself part of the larger Vero Beach community. Sadly, this deplorable attempt by a handful of John’s Island residents to hijack Vero Beach’s municipal election will not soon be forgotten, and the rift will not easily heal.

Shores leaders have let their egos become so invested in this issue that they cannot accept any outcome short of total victory, at any cost. They have become obsessed in their single-minded focus, much like a dog on a bone. So intent are they on getting what they want that they have been willing to squander some $1 million in Shores taxpayer money pursuing a dubious legal claim to the Town’s “sovereignty.”

Barefoot seems not to realize he is leading a municipality chartered under the laws of the state of Florida. To listen to Barefoot, who has been listening too much to the Shores’ high-priced outside counsel, you would get the sense the Shores is like Luxembourg, or Monaco, a sovereign state of the elite. In persisting in this view, Barefoot has become purely delusional; and by heading up an assault on the integrity and independence of Vero Beach’s municipal government, while at the same time claiming the struggle is all about “sovereignty,” Barefoot has turned himself into a poster child for hypocrisy.

The Shores-FPL PAC, “Flip the Switch” is supporting Moss, Sykes and Wells, a slate of candidates it claims are the only ones committed to selling Vero Electric. This assertion is simply not true. Candidates Sharon Gorry, Randy Old and Tony Young have also said they support continuing to seek ways to sell the full system to FPL. They have also said they will support a partial sale, but not at the $17 million discount FPL and the Shores are seeking. Moss, Sykes and Wells have gained the support of powerful and wealthy Shores interests because they have pledged to throw Vero Beach residents and taxpayers under the bus, all to benefit the Shores.

Lost in all the chatter and the false claims about how a sale at $30 million would not lead to higher electric rates for everyone outside the Shores, and drowned in all the nonsense about how candidates Gorry, Old and Young are somehow opposed to the electric sale, are more than a few important issues in much need of thoughtful discussion. As a community, Vero Beach must decide how best to address the Lagoon crisis. An extensive conversation needs to be had about how to make use of the power plant site once the plant is fully decommissioned.

Whether to invest some $20 million to build a new wastewater treatment site near the airport in order to make more public and available for development, including possibly commercial development, is another conversation largely missing from this election. With the Shores-FPL political action committee shouting that the election should be all about them, and what they want and think they need, Vero Beach voters have had little opportunity to consider where the six candidates stand on protecting Vero Beach’s unique character and quality of life.

That Shores and FPL leaders can bring themselves to fund a PAC supporting a candidate like Lange Sykes tells you all you need to know about whether they are concerned about the quality of leadership in Vero Beach government. Their singular priority is saving themselves $17 million by trying to persuade Vero Beach voters to elect “the Shores three” to the Vero Beach City Council.

Who knows? Come Nov. 8, FPL may gain at the ballot box what cannot be achieved in any other way, certainly not in any honorable way. If Moss, Sykes and Wells join Harry Howle in a four-person majority, a partial sale of Vero Electric’s Shores customers at a greatly discounted price will be the least of Vero Beach’s problems. Under a Moss, Sykes, Wells, Howle City Council, many decades of selfless service and forward-thinking leadership will begin to unravel.

When northern Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere, they brought with them gunpowder, and were thus able to destroy a way of life in order to make room for their own. Simply by bringing enough wealth with them to their winter homes in Florida, a handful of Shores residents may succeed in doing the same, namely destroying a quality of life they can neither appreciate nor comprehend.

Don’t let this Vero Beach City Council election be about what wealthy Shores residents and a giant corporation want. Stand up against these narrow, self-centered special interests, and stand up for Vero Beach.

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