Naked aggression – Shores leaders admit to buying Council seats in Vero Beach elections

Indian River Shores leaders Bill Grealis and John McCord yesterday emailed a note thanking their supported for contributing some $140,000 over the last two elections to essentially buy seat of the Vero Beach City Council for Laura Moss, Lange Sykes, Harry Howle and Val Zudans.

COMMENTARY

Perri countered, “I don’t think FPL will change their minds about wanting to take over all the municipal utilities. That’s their goal in life.”

MARK SCHUMANN

Indian River Shores leaders Bill Grealis and John McCord yesterday emailed a note thanking their supporters for contributing some $140,000 over the last two elections to essentially buy seats of the Vero Beach City Council for Laura Moss, Lange Sykes, Harry Howle and Val Zudans.

Perri countered, “I don’t think FPL will change their minds about wanting to take over all the municipal utilities. That’s their goal in life.”

Most of the contributions from Shores residents went directly to the candidate’s campaign accounts. FPL contributed another $200,000 over the past two election, which went to fund a flood of misleading advertising placed by a political action committee, Clean Sweep for a Brighter Tomorrow.

In total, Shores Residents and FPL together spent $340,000 to gain control of the Vero Beach City Council.

So far, their investment has paid off. Having shut down its advisory commissions, the Council recently moved quickly to approve with no meaningful review a 500-page contract to sell Vero Electric to FPL.

That contract includes a provision that commits the City to sell the Shores portion of Vero Electric, should a sale of the full system be blocked by any one of 19 Florida Municipal Power Agency member cities, or other regulatory agencies that must approve the deal. This so-called partial sale would lead to higher rates for the remaining customers of Vero Electric. It might be a good deal for Shores residents, and would surely benefit FPL, but would be a bad deal for everyone else concerned.

Why, then, would Vero Beach City Council members support a move that is sure to hurt the City, its residents and taxpayers?  The only logical answer can be that their loyalties are not with their constituents, but with their generous and wealthy political contributors. Their sell-out of the City in preference for the desires of outside interests is so blatant, so egregious, that they may well be opening themselves to charges of malfeasance.

Speaking before the Fort Pierce Utilities Commission Sept. 19, FMPA C.E.O. Jacob Williams explained, “It is in our best interest to try to resolve the issues with Vero Beach. The political overlay around the state has gotten to the point where it is in our best interest if we can do that. I don’t have to tell you all. You are just south of Vero Beach, so you have seen it for 10 to 12 years.”

The “political overlay” Williams was referring to is the considerable pressure FPL has been able to exert on the FMPA through leaders in the Florida Legislature, all of whom have accepted generous political contributions from the utility giant. In fact, FPL has bought so much political influence in Tallahassee that the Tampa Bay Times editorial board earlier this year described the Legislature as “a wholly owned subsidiary of FPL.”

For all intents and purposes, the Vero Beach City Council is now also a subsidiary of FPL.

Perhaps the biggest question looming over the FMPA is whether FPL’s appetite to acquire municipal utilities will be satiated by its purchase of Vero Electric. If not, by making an exception to its contracts to allow for the sale of Vero Electric, the FMPA may be signing its death warrant. If that happens, Williams will go down in the annals of municipal utility history as the man who marched the FMPA to the gallows.

Fort Pierce Utilities Commissioner Michael Perri questioned Williams on his assumption that FPL will not use the sale of Vero Electric as a launching pad in its long-planned effort to expand its customer base by acquire municipal utilities. “FPL’s posture is to gobble up all the municipal utilities. Is this going to open the door for them to dissolve the FMPA eventually?,” Perri asked.

“I sure hope not,” Williams replied.

Williams went on to explain that in his view there are a number of factors at play in Vero Beach, including FPL’s rising rates. FPL is no longer running newspaper ads across the state touting its low rates, since in nearly every rate category a number of municipal utilities now offer rates lower than FPL. “The rate differential between FPL and the FMPA is essentially wiped out now,” Williams said, adding, “Our projection is that our costs will continue to be at or lower than FPL.”

Perri countered, “I don’t think FPL will change their minds about wanting to take over all the municipal utilities. That’s their goal in life.”

Williams hopes to secure approval from all 19 FMPA member cities with a stake in the sale by the end of the year.

3 comments

  1. Clearly this election was blatantly bought by outside interests. Would you care to elaborate on the “malfeasance” issue?

  2. Apart from the malfeasance issue is that if this contract to purchase the City of Vero Beach Electric is not completed by 2018, it reverts to a partial sale (Indian River Shores customers). What’s to stop FPL from dragging its feet – not completing the sale (Vero Beach Electric to FPL) in 2018, and FPL getting the partial sale that they really want.

    Talk about NOT representing the interests of the City of Vero Beach – while sitting on their Council. Just UGLY!

  3. If the full sale falls through and only the partial sale happens, it weakens the City of Vero Beach. This seems to be the aim of what some want because they feel like having county AND city government is a duplication of services. I just hope that those who are on city council and run on wanting to help the city aren’t pawns in a plan to dismantle the city.

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