After re-negotiating Vero Beach’s wholesale power agreement with the Orlando Utilities Commission to save the City’s customers some $170 million, and successfully representing the City against legal challenges by the Indian River County Commission and the Town of Indian River Shores, Tallahassee attorney Schef Wright may soon be handed a pink slip by the new Howle-Moss-Sykes majority on the City Council.
Councilman Howle place the subject on the agenda for next Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Wright also coordinated the work of a team of five utility experts who calculated a $47 million break-even price for a partial sale of Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customers. Wright and the team were tasked with determining how much the City would need from the partial sale to prevent the move from leading to higher electric rates and higher taxes. Florida Power and Light has offered $30 million, with $3 million of that to be raised from Shores customers.
Along with Councilman Harry Howle, newly elected Council members Laura Moss and Lange Sykes have pledged to support a partial sale at $30 million. The Moss and Sykes campaigns were both heavily supported by Indian River Shores residents, and both were aided by a political action committee funded entirely by FPL and Shores residents. Moss received 70% of her campaign contributions from Shores residents, while Sykes took in more than 90% of his campaign funds from wealthy residents in the neighboring community. FPL gave $55,000 to the PAC, and that money was matched by another $60,000 from Shores residents. The PAC place advertising, mailed post cards and funded robo calls all in support of Moss and Sykes.
If Moss, Howle and Sykes dismiss Wrigth, they will be left needing to find another utility attorney to represent the City in its negotiations over the partial sale they now support. The only way to hire someone as familiar with the proposed sale as Wright would be to engage an attorney already involved on the Shores’ side of the deal. Given that Howle, Moss, and Sykes have a legal obligation to represent the best interests of the people of Vero Beach, hiring an attorney with an obvious conflict of interest could prove problematic.
Outgoing Councilman Randy Old, who lost to Sykes by 48 votes, has said he believes accepting $30 million for Vero Electric’s Shores customers would have been a breach of his fiduciary responsibility to the people of Vero Beach. If Old is correct in this assessment, Howle, Moss and Sykes may be opening themselves and the City to a legal challenge from residents and customers who do not want to be disadvantaged for the sake of Shores residents.
Howle, Moss and Sykes say they also support selling the remainder of the City’s electric utility to FPL, if and when a way can be found to resolve contract issues with the Florida Municipal Power Agency and its bondholders. Those in favor of a partial sale for the Shores have yet to make clear how the move would not render the remainder of the system less valuable, a development which would weaken the City’s chances of eventually receiving a sale price that would not require higher taxes and, worse, a surcharge on the customers to be transferred to FPL.