Speaking before the City of Vero Beach Finance Commission earlier this week, City Manager Jim O’Conor said he agrees with and stands behind the assessment that it will take some $42 million, plus a $5 million allowance for contingent liabilities, to ensure a sale of Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customers does not negatively impact the remaining customers over the next 30 years.
By agreeing to accept just $30 million, O’Connor said the new City Council majority of Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes will be shortening by 10 years the period of time over which Vero Electric’ remaining customers will be protected from rate increases resulting from the sale. This carving up of the utility is being done at the request of, and for the benefit of the Shores.
Why would Howle, Moss and Sykes make a $17 million concession that in no way advantages their constituents or the future customers of Vero Electric? Quite simply, they are voting under the influence of Shores leaders and Florida Power & Light.
In the most recent election, Sykes received 90% of his campaign contributions from Shores residents. Moss took in 70% of her campaign funds from the Shores. Both were also supported by a political action committee that raised all of its funds from Shores residents and from FPL. With more than $100,000 in its war chest, this Shores-FPL funded PAC flooded local media with advertising claims clearly intended to mislead the voting public. The Shores-FPL funded political action committee was, quite simply, a ‘PAC of lies.”
Similarly, Shores leaders supported Howle when he won a seat on the Council in 2015. And what a return Shores residents and FPL are receiving on their electioneering investment! By spending some $150,000 to elect Moss and Sykes, they stand to save $17 million in their proposed purchase of Vero Electric’s Shores customers.
No one is suggesting Howle, Moss or Sykes are guilty of taking bribes. Yet, it is undeniable that money creates IOUs. As James Marc Leas wrote in an op-ed column for Truth-out.org, “Elected officials are pressured by the possibility that large electioneering money from electioneering investors won’t be there again for their re-election campaign if the IOU is ignored. Elected officials may be even more pressured by the possibility that this money may indeed go to their primary or general election opponent if they ignore the IOU.”
In his op-ed piece, Leas offers a 54-word model rule that would make a valuable and important addition to the City Charter:
No member may vote upon any matter with respect to which the independence of judgment of a reasonable person in his or her situation would be materially affected by electioneering contributions or independent expenditures directly or indirectly from any one or more persons or entities that have a special pecuniary interest in the matter.
At a meeting held in the Shores in advance of the fall election, Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot introduced Moss and Sykes as “members of the Shores team.” Given that they are now making unilateral concessions to the Shore and to FPL that are coming at the expense of the residents of Vero Beach and the customers of Vero Electric, it is hard to argue that their judgment has not been “materially affected” by the enormous financial support they received.
Howle, Moss and Sykes are casting their Council votes under the influence of money.