Editor’s note: InsideVero invited all six candidates competing for three positions on the Vero Beach city council to submit a guest column of up to 1000 words in which they could directly address voters about the issues they believe to be most important. Candidates Sharon Gorry, Randy Old and Tony Young’s columns are presented below. Candidates Lange Sykes and Norman Wells initially responded by email to our invitation indicating they would participate. They later declined to do so. Candidate Laura Moss did not reply to numerous invitations sent to her by email. All email addressed used were ones provided by the candidates to the City Clerk’s office.
Sharon Gorry: Preserve, protect and prosper
I was born and raised in this small City of now 15,000 residents we often call Paradise and fortunate to have been able to return. No matter where we lived throughout my husband’s career; my heart was always here.
When I came back to Vero Beach in 2008 to care for my dad during his remaining five years, I was quickly reacquainted with friends who either never left or had already returned to this special City we love. The one we rode our bikes throughout, without a care in the world, feeling perfectly safe in our explorations.
It is that very City, little Vero Beach, Florida, Where the Tropics Begin that I am seeking to Preserve, Protect and Prosper. It is “Our Vero, Our Home™”; to be cared for and respected as we do our dwellings, our businesses, our families, our neighborhoods. From the Ocean to the Lagoon to the Mainland – this is Our City!
I want to Preserve the services we have come to appreciate and expect, the limits on building heights, the “No short term rentals” policy in residential zoned areas and the over 200 events per year that the city hosts including Downtown Friday, Art Stroll, Christmas Tree Lighting, Fourth of July, Veterans Memorial Island activities just to name a few. These are all free to the public.
I want to Protect our uniqueness; we are a full service City. By that I mean we have an Electric Utility, Water / Wastewater Utility, Public Works, Solid Waste, and an Airport, Cemetery and Marina; 22 well groomed parks throughout our city and well maintained roads and sidewalks. As well, our protectors need protecting! Our first responders, our men and women in blue…Vero’s very own Police Department. They are there for us 24/7. We value, also the lifeguarding of our beaches; they are a group of dedicated people. We as residents of the City of Vero Beach need to remember to thank them all. Their salaries and benefits are still below neighboring cities but they continue to serve our beautiful little city….they love Vero too!
Our Vero is well situated financially and I want to continue to see her Prosper. Through the past several years, financial management has been prudent and responsible. In 2007, the General Fund expenditures were $23.4M; for 2016/17 the budget is $22.3M ($1.1M less; property taxes for the same period has reduced from $5.7m to $5.6m and employees from 295 to 226). Though at times our employees are stretched, services have been maintained to a level we expect. Kudos to each and every one of them; thank an employee when you see them.
I have some concerns regarding Vero Beach, ideas and options that a cohesive City Council could discuss, explore, research and implement. Specifically, Vero Beach Electric, The Indian River Lagoon, All Aboard Florida and maintaining our infrastructure, services and amenities.
The Vero Beach Electric (VBE) Utility and contract to sell to FPL has created a fissure in this town that may take years to heal. Yes, we will sell the Electric Utility. It is time to do so if we can. It just comes with caveats. A sale of any type (be it whole or partial) must not have a negative impact on our rate payers, tax payers and employees and have no future liability obligations for the City of Vero Beach. A viable option could be to have Municipal Utilities regulated by the PSC as are the Investor owned companies. Indeed COVB has proposed to have the PSC review its rates; we could also look legislatively for relief. It is noteworthy that three of the Investor owned (IOC) utilities that are regulated have rates which are 15% greater than VBE. Please keep in mind that our rates are higher, but the City of Vero Beach has implemented 6 rate reductions over the past several years. It is my desire to find a way to escalate that process and lower them more quickly. Customer Service is extraordinary, customers can engage face-to-face and VBE’s first – and only primary contact – is local. (Over 25% of bills are paid at City Hall)
It is my goal to continue to explore options to repair our Lagoon; to revitalize what lives and grows within its basin and on its shores. The Indian River Lagoon Council (IRL Council) and Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program (IRL NEP) have projects outlined through 2017 which includes education of our residents. Vero Beach is a member of this Council. We will benefit greatly from their knowledge, research and science.
Additionally, the City of Vero Beach has implemented the Septic Tank Effluent Pump or commonly called the STEP system, which has minimal disparagement to a yard and zero leakage into our aquifers or Lagoon and more cost effective than connecting to the City’s existing gravity system . It has been well received by the residents and is on the road to offering access to all septic tank dependent homes. In concert with these efforts, County Commissioner Tim Zorc has been exploring a project to pump ocean water into the lagoon. These are all very exciting ventures and as I said before, done in concert and with city and county residents alike making adjustments; we will actually Save Our Lagoon!
All Aboard Florida is a “Sleeping Dragon”; it will awaken again to threaten our way of life and disrupt the rhythm of our daily lives. I oppose the project, but if it cannot be stopped, steps need to be in place to maximize our safety, property values and businesses; not to mention access to medical facilities. As well as not burdening the City – and taxpayers – with capital and ongoing maintenance expenses.
With that being said, again, I am Sharon Shelton Gorry, I have a lifetime of community service and I am seeking an opportunity to serve on your City Council, to Preserve, Protect and Prosper “Our Vero, Our Home™”. Please vote for me on Nov. 8.
Randy Old: Electric, Lagoon, All Aboard Florida
I enjoyed my first term. One term is not enough. There is a great deal to learn and understand so that a council member can make decisions that are informed and responsible. The City Council not only determines the City’s budget, but it must manage its five businesses, or enterprise funds, which are Vero Electric, Sewer & Water, Solid Waste, The Airport, and the Marina. Their total expenditures are six times the size of the city. My background in finance and business helped a great deal in my first term, so I feel that given another term, I could contribute significantly in the areas of planning, financial stability, job creation, and communication. The three main issues facing the City are Vero Electric, the Lagoon, and All Aboard Florida which are complicated, difficult issues, and the more experience one has the more one can contribute.
I grew up in the Boston area as one of five children, which provided my first learning experience in the power of negotiation. After spending three years in the Army as a Japanese linguist, I attended the University of North Carolina where I received my BA with a major in Political Science and a minor in Chinese. I was then hired by Chase Bank. After training in New York City, I was sent with my wife and three children overseas for 13 years where I specialized in petroleum-related clients in Singapore, worked on loans to large Japanese companies in Tokyo, and had the opportunity to work with a growing economy in Jordan, opening Chase’s Branch there.
Since the mid 1970’s, I’ve managed a bank in Jordan and started an American Express card-servicing company in four Middle East countries. I set up a Middle East/Africa Division in London for a Midwest bank, by doing political risk studies on 30 countries, hiring and training staff for the office, and introducing the banks management to important countries and people in Africa and The Middle east. By request of the Federal Reserve and the Central Bank of Jordan, I helped close down a Jordanian bank in Washington D.C.
I believe that my more than 40 years of business experience on four continents in nearly 70 countries places my credentials far above any of the other candidates running for City Council. I have been on the City Council for the last two years and hope to continue serving Vero Beach by being re-elected.
The Main Issues
The three top issues facing the City of Vero Beach are Vero Electric, the Lagoon, and the Fast Train.
The prolonged attempt to sell either part or all of Vero’s electric business over the past several years has created much debate and is now winding its way through the court system. The initial issue was that Vero’s rates were higher than many providers of power; then the controversy widened to the assertion that Vero practiced abusive monopolistic practices without representation, in part claimed by the county and strongly held by Indian River Shores. While the courts and the PSC have upheld the City’s positions related to these matters, the issues divide our community and create a toxic atmosphere. Two widely held solutions are a partial sale or a full sale. Theoretically, either could work, but a full sale would be best. The problem is to set an appropriate price. The prerequisite for either sale is that the people left behind are not hurt. Because I have served on the board of FMPA, been a diligent student of the issues, and represented the City at many meetings and debates on the electric business, I feel I am the most qualified candidate to represent the City’s best interest in these matters.
The lagoon’s health is a major concern to Vero Beach. It is important economically as its health directly relates to our property values and it is equally vital to our recreational and environmental welfare, affecting the quality of boating and the variety of wildlife in the lagoon. The City has been diligent in reducing the nitrogen coming into the lagoon, which is thought to be the main pollutant, by controlling the use of fertilizers, introducing an alternative to our existing septic system (the STEP system), and developing a storm water utility that will help control run off which brings pollutants into the lagoon. Further, the City has become part of the Lagoon Council, and is considering undertaking an aeration project. Because I have been part of each of these efforts and am aware of their progress, I feel that I am the most qualified candidate to solve the issues surrounding the health of the lagoon.
The Fast Train (All Aboard Florida) project initially seemed like a preapproved project over which we had no control, influence, or leverage. The project received approval before its plans were developed. Gradually, with relentless pressure and effective legal challenges, the tide seems to be turning– the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Railroad Administration have asked to review the plans in detail to ensure that they abide by regulations which guarantee safety, preserve historic property, and protect our wetlands. I have been involved in this process all along as Chair of the Vero Man site, whose importance is recognized by the international archaeological community. Being located on both sides of and under the track, the site would undoubtedly be harmed by the planned construction. To date, All Aboard Florida has all but ignored the site’s existence. Once again, I am the most involved and knowledgeable candidate to effectively address this issue.
In Summary, I ask for your vote. I have the background, experience and determination to do what the job of City Council deserves. I have had a successful first year, as it has educated me in the issues of the City, and I have been active in getting the short term rental laws secured, have helped establish the STEP program, have undertaken studies on the Storm Water Utility, have served on the board of FMPA, and served on both municipal and regional planning boards. I feel I can be even more productive in a second term. Please vote for me, November 8th.
Tony Young: Defining our future
I was asked to run for City Council six months ago. Now, I ask for your help to make that a reality. I hope to represent you because Vero Beach is important. We deserve leaders that share our vision, “I believe in Vero!” When Vero Beach prospers so does Indian River County. The Vero Beach Regional Airport has a steady stream of residents and guests. Downtown Vero and the Oceanside Business communities are thriving. We have been “discovered” again.
My background is a proven record of public service. Over 30 years, I rose through the ranks to Colonel and became one of the most senior officers of the Army Medical Service Corps. I have demonstrated academic accomplishment attaining a Masters of Business Administration and Strategic Studies from the College of William and Mary and the Army War College. Following military service, I continued to serve. As president of the Veterans Council of Indian River County, the Chair of the Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary Committee, and the Indian River Genealogical Society president, I always sought to give back to our community.
I am truly vested in the success of our village by the sea. The Young Family is among the pioneers that established Vero Beach. The 1940 Indian River County Voter Registration lists my grandfather, A. W. Young as registering on March 20, 1916. That was almost 100 years to the month that I filed to run for City Council. “Uncle Tony,” as he was known, also helped author our county in 1925.
Vero Beach is confronting multiple challenges. The most significant issue is defining the future character of our home. Our attraction comes from maintaining the small-town charm. Between July 2015 and July 2016, the median price for a single family detached home rose 20% in Indian River County. The median price for a condominium home rose 65% according to statistics developed by the Realtors Association of Indian River County, Inc.
Safeguarding our lagoon is a second major challenge. Years of neglect must be addressed. It is in our own self-interest to join with others and reduce the septic discharge, manage relief canal impact, and address the continual muck accumulation while protecting recreational use. Taking lead with a proposed muck aeration pilot project may generate larger scale applications.
All Aboard Florida’s impact could bring significant long-term negative consequences. Mitigating the adverse impact must be done even if preventing the change looks unlikely. Our case needs to be made. The Vero Ice Age archaeological site lies squarely in its path as does access for the western half of Vero Beach.
The most heated issue is the sale of Vero Beach Electric and the partial sale to Florida Power and Light. A full sale would be the best outcome. But a partial sale may be the more achievable. In either case, the devil will be in the details. No community should be the one left with short shrift. My objective is constant: to obtain the lowest sustainable electric rate for all Vero Beach Electric customers.
My priority is to support decisions that maintain the character of our community. My intent will be to focus on encouraging a multigenerational-oriented diversified economy by promoting local businesses that complement our community-centered, eco-friendly, coastal lifestyle. Also, I will sustain Vero’s founding vision by serving all of our residents and protecting this exceptional quality of life.
Our decisions stem from what we hold dear, and to me, Country, Community, Family and Faith are essential priorities. Over ten percent of our city’s population are veterans. Their sacrifice is a shared understanding. Growing up here is an asset. It affords me a special awareness of the history that distinguishes our home. The Ocean Grill, the Florida Theater, Holman Stadium, McKee Gardens, VBHS sports, the lagoon and our beaches give us a “Sense of Community.” Generations of families provide texture. Their names surround us in our parks, roads and buildings. Crestlawn Cemetery has significance in this town. The recent success in adding it to the city charter exemplifies Vero’s strength of character. Likewise, our diversity of faith is a point of pride. Honoring all walks is a freedom that we respect as a basic liberty. It was a core feature in the dedication of Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary.
As we look to the challenges our city faces, Alex MacWilliam exemplifies the right approach. He would assert that generations to come would expect this generation to forge a cooperative strategy to address our local concerns and opportunities. Vote to bring a drive and determination to the Vero Beach City Council that fosters a positive collaborative vision. We ought to tap the expertise of our neighbors allowing all of us to prosper.
As a veteran, with the strength of our nation, I helped bring the opportunity for free elections to Bosnia and Iraq. I was part of the liberation of Kuwait. I am proud of being a kid that graduated from Vero Beach High School, completed ROTC with distinction, and then swore an oath to protect and defend our constitution. Many servicemen and women are still in harms-way today. Their families continue to bear the price of our freedom. Let us never forget. My debt of gratitude is served by continuing to passionately labor with you for our home. God bless you and your family.
Tony Young – Colonel US Army (Retired)