Having just logged each of the 112 contributions made by Indian River Shores residents to three candidates running for election in neighboring Vero Beach, I am struck with the profound irony of these proclaimed capitalists advocating what amounts to “Country Club Socialism.”
In total, Shores residents have “invested” $48,700 in the campaigns of Laura Moss, Lange Sykes and Norman Wells, representing some 75 percent of all the money raised by these three candidates. When “the Shores Three” reported these contributions, they essentially deceived the public by listing their financial backers as residents of Vero Beach, when in fact nearly all of them live in Indian River Shores.
Shores residents have contributed another $51,000 to a political action committee supporting “The Shores Three.” This PAC, Clean Sweep For a Brighter Tomorrow, also received $55,000 from Florida Power and Light.
What Shores residents want, of course, is to elect to Vero Beach’s city council three candidates who will force Vero Beach residents and the remaining customers of Vero Electric to subsidize lower electric rates for Town residents. Moss, Sykes and Wells make no secret of the fact that they are running as members of what Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot has described as “the Shores team.”
“The Shores Three” have pledged that, if elected, they will accept FPL’s $30 million offer for Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customer base. Candidates Sharon Gorry, incumbent Randy Old, and Tony Young have said they also support the sale, but are unwilling to sell for less $47 million. A team of five independent utility experts hired by the City concluded it will take $47 million to partition and downsize Vero Electric without the move hurting the remaining customers.
While this is a question of fairness, and clearly a case of the wealthy trying to use their resources to further enrich themselves at the expense of others, there is a still large issue at stake here, and that is the integrity of our democratic process. In a public statement made last month, Barefoot said he had knowledge of, if not involvement in an effort by a few Shores residents to raise at least $100,000 to elect to Vero Beach’s city council three candidates who would essentially serve as puppets for Shores leaders. What Barefoot and company have not been able to achieve through mediation, or in the courts, or before the Florida Public Service Commission they now seek by poisoning Vero Beach’s local politics and corrupting the democratic process with some truly filthy money.
This effort by Barefoot and other Shores leaders and residents to stage a hostile takeover of Vero Beach’s municipal government is an outrage. Equally outrageous is the deafening silence on the part of the island weekly, Vero Beach 32963 and the Press Journal, neither of which have reported on this unprecedented, staggering, and deplorable attempt to hijack Vero Beach’s municipal election. 32963 is a Shores-centric publication, with a publisher, Milton Benjamin, who lives in the Shores. The Press Journal may well be ignoring this story because its publisher, Bob Brunjes, is married to a key FPL vice president involved in the company’s attempt to acquire Vero Electric’s Shores customers at what amounts to a $17 million discount.
Whatever their reasons for making a travesty of the democratic process and of violating the sacred responsibility of the free press, Barefoot, Brunjes, and Benjamin should be among the first three inductees in the “Hall of Shame” for politicians and journalists, if ever one is established.