Partial sale of Shores customers tops tomorrow’s City Council agenda

NEWS ANALYSIS

“Last year, Howle argued a sale of the full system is possible, if only the Council would, with resolve, implement his proposed five-point plan. Now Howle seems more interested in providing immediate rate relief for Shores residents, leaving his own constituents to wait in hopes a partial sale does not make a sale of the remainder of the system more difficult.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Winger
Winger
Howle
Howle

Vero Beach City Council members Laura Moss and Lange Sykes, whose campaigns were funded almost entirely by Indian River Shores residents and by Florida Power and Light, seem set to join with Harry Howle tomorrow in pressing ahead with the proposed sale of Vero Electric’s 3500 Indian River Shores customers to FPL.

The City now has in hand a letter of intent from FPL to purchase the Shores portion of the electric system for $30 million, including $3 million to be paid by Shores residents through a three-year surcharge. The Shores Town Council last week approved the surcharge, which would be assessed by FPL.

Councilman Richard Winger has also placed two electric issue items on tomorrow’s agenda. When a team of five independent utility experts calculate it would take $47 million to downsize Vero Electric without the move leading to higher rates and higher taxes for the residents of Vero Beach and for the remaining customers of Vero Electric, that total included $4.8 million in contingent liabilities. The $4.8 million represents the Shores’ proportionate share of all of Vero Electric’s contingent liabilities. Winger is proposing that the Shores offer Vero Beach a “hold-harmless” provision as a part of any partial sale.

Winger is also proposing to push for a sale of the full system by following up on proposals made by Howle when he ran for election. Last year, Howle argued a sale of the full system is possible, if only the Council would, with resolve, implement his proposed five-point plan. Now Howle seems more interested in providing immediate rate relief for Shores residents, leaving his own constituents to wait in hopes a partial sale does not make a sale of the remainder of the system more difficult.

At the Council’s Nov. 22 meeting, Howle, Moss and Sykes fired special utility counsel, Schef Wright, who had, since 2013, representing the City in its disputes with the Shores and the Indian River County Commission.  By all accounts, Wright successfully turned back challenges by the Shores and the County, in circuit court, before the Florida Public Service Commission and, most notably, before the Florida Supreme Court. Claiming to lack confidence in Wright’s ability to conclude a partial sale to the Shores, Howle said he would be glad to pay another attorney twice Wright’s hourly rate.

Tomorrow, Howle seems set propose the Council consider hiring Nathaniel L. Domineer of the law firm of Carlton Fields. In submitting his agenda item, Howle did not indicate who brought Domineer to his attention, but one has to wonder it it wasn’t FPL. The last attorneys suggested by FPL cost Vero Beach $2 million dollars, but failed to negotiate an executable purchase and sale agreement.

Councilman Tony Young is proposing that the City should first issue a request for proposals before hiring an attorney to negotiate a sale of Shores customers to FPL.

Also tomorrow, Steve McDonald, who has studied Vero Beach’s bond covenants and credit ratings, will give a presentation explaining the limitations on how any proceeds from a partial sale can be used. McDonald touched on the subject at the Nov. 22 meeting. What seems clear is that the money cannot legally be used in any of the ways proposed by the political action committee that supported Moss and Sykes in the recent election. That committee raised all of its $106,000 in donations from Shores residents and from FPL.

7 comments

  1. Moss and Sykes and to some extent Howle are doing the biding of Indian River Shores. It is bribery pure and simple. They certainly don’t represent the citizens of Vero Beach. What part of its been tried before don’t they understand.

  2. If they don’t represent the residents of Vero Beach, how did they get elected? No, they are doing what the City officials should have done after they got into this electrical mess, that is get back into functioning the way they were with out this electrical albatross around their necks. They are very much caring and dedicated officials of the beautiful City of Vero Beach.

  3. How did they get elected? As a resident of Indian River Shores, surely you know the answer to that question. They were elected with backing from a political action committee that used more than $100,000 is contributions from Florida Power & Light and from Indian River Shores residents to flood Vero Beach mail boxes with political flyers full of lies.

  4. They got elected by the votes of the residents of the City of Vero Beach. That is the answer! If you are saying that money bought this election, and that these city officials are puppets and shills for FP&L, then I would say “lock them up”. However I do not believe that this is the case and I know the City will be better off after this debacle is over.

  5. Larry, in the interest of transparency regarding possible motives and biases, readers should know that you are a resident of Indian River Shores.

    Howle, Moss and Sykes, especially Moss and Sykes, were elected as a result of unprecedented meddling in a Vero Beach municipal election by wealthy, even extremely wealthy Indian River Shores residents who care only about themselves. Moss received 70 percent of her campaign contributions from Shores residents, Sykes 90 percent. They were both supported by a political action committee that raised ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of its funds from FPL and from Shores residents.

    Howle, Moss and Sykes are indeed puppets and shills, not only of FPL, but also of Indian River Shores leaders. For all intents and purposes, Brian Barefoot and the Shores Town Council is now calling the shots in Vero Beach. You choose to believe otherwise, but that is purely wishful thinking.

    Further, Vero Beach’s ownership of a municipal utility is not, as you say, “a debacle.” FPL’s rates continue to rise. And now, thanks to the Florida Legislatures, FPL customers will be covering the company’s losses in fracking ventures. While FPL’s rates continue to rise, Vero Beach’s rates are going down. Vero Electric’s 1000 kWh per month is now less than 10% higher than FPL’s. Given the significant benefit to the community of retaining the return on investment to pay for municipal services, rather than to line the pockets of FPL executives, the loss of Vero Beach’s municipal utility is what is going to lead to a debacle. There is no plan, absolutely no plan in place for absorbing the loss of some $6 million in electric earnings now used to help pay for municipal services, such as police protection, recreation programs, parks maintenance, etc.

  6. Dear mark, I do agree with much of what you are saying, however votes are a power that citizens have. The election of these people are the “voices of the citizens”, representing a majority vote . Their paths to office are in accordance with their constitutional rights, and now the City’s decisions rest in their hands. We can compare this election with the National Election, Promises were made to so many groups to overturn and override laws and projects, and they are being done. I am not happy with this as I understand that you are not happy with the Electric decisions, this is why I know that both of us will always fight to make a difference. We can both start at “Global Warming”, sincerely, Larry

  7. A failure of the “fourth estate” — Larry, assume for a moment that the municipality where you live, the Town of Indian River Shores, were being sued by the City of Vero Beach. Now, assume persons running as candidates for the Indian River Shores Town Council had received the vast majority of their campaign contributions from residents of Vero Beach seeking to elect Shores Town Council members who would be sympathetic to Vero Beach’s claims against the Shores. Would you not expect the local media to inform you of the unprecedented level of outside money pouring into an Indian River Shores Town Council election? This outside money may not be good, and it may not be bad, but it is certainly newsworthy.

    For our democracy to work, especially in this era of big money politics, the voting public must be informed. In this case, neither the island weekly not the Press Journal made any effort to inform Vero Beach voters that three of the persons running in the most recent Vero Beach municipal election were essentially Shores-FPL-sponsored candidates. Increasingly, ours is a dysfunctional, if not failed democracy. This is especially true when the press fails to do its job. The island weekly and the Press Journal may not be failing financially, but they are failing in every other way that matters. The island weekly only reports the news that serves Milton Benjamin’s business and political interests, and those of his backers. In the case of the Press Journal, let’s not forget that the newspaper’s publisher is the husband of a key executive at FPL.

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