It is ironic that on the eve of our celebrating its 100th birthday, Vero Beach is hosting its fight of the century. Hugely unpopular decisions by the current City Council were the lowlight of their most recent (August 21) meeting. Despite impassioned pleas by citizens, City Council approved the sale of the downtown post office building, one of the city’s most important anchors, to a developer. Then they approved a request for proposal to take over the City Marina and proceed with another developer’s bid to buy the Dodgertown Golf Course property. All of these decisions met with overwhelming disapproval by citizens attending the meeting. Council’s last decision, made at the end of the marathon meeting with no one left in the room to offer required public comment, was to move the hugely popular Beachside Farmer’s Market into a more confined space, potentially crippling the event that funds many beachside public activities. That decision was met with a petition on change.org that in a few days has garnered over 3,000 signatures. (see accompanying story, “Changes to Beachside Farmer’s Market provoke citizen reaction”).
Over the years City Councils have debated issues, but in the end they have made decisions that moved the city forward. Every city starts out small, but as they grow they make decisions the impact of which may not become apparent until many years later. For instance, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were once like Vero Beach, small towns that became overcrowded and overbuilt, overly commercial, no longer possessing the charm that was once the reason people moved there.
Vero Beach was different. Each City Council made decisions that were built on the foundation laid by those who came before them. As the county grew, it followed the same pattern set by the trustee City Councils. As a result, people still move here today for the same reasons my family moved here 62 years ago. Now Indian River County is the same size as Ft. Lauderdale was back in the 1950s. But while Ft. Lauderdale became the kind of town people want to leave, Vero has remained true to our forefathers’ original intent.
But now we are in a battle for the very soul of our community. On one side stands the citizens of Vero Beach, many of them long time, multi-generational families who saw the town grow yet keep true to its roots. Newer residents and business owners moved because they fell in love with this city and everything it stands for. On the other side is a City Council majority who see Vero Beach as a business opportunity in need of exploitation.
Nowhere has that conflicting view of our community been exposed for all to see than at the last two City Council meetings. The unholy trinity of Mayor Harry Howle, Vice Mayor Lange Sykes and enforcer Val Zudans have acted as a wrecking crew, ripping apart the very fabric of our community by viewing every green space as an opportunity for development and tone deaf to the pleas of their constituents – the very people who elected them to “Keep Vero Vero.” The hostility they have shown in City Council meetings towards citizens, other council members and anyone who disagrees with them, is palpable.
Even Alma Lee Loy, a lifetime resident, community leader, former county commissioner and the only person with a bridge named after her while she is around to appreciate it, made an impassioned plea to simply slow down selling or leasing out Vero’s assets without a long term plan or any professional or citizen input. At the July 17 meeting, her words fell on empty chairs because two of the three-man wrecking crew making those decisions chose not to be present, nor did they reschedule the meeting for when they could attend. Then at the next Council meeting on August 21, she again stood before the full Council to plea for mercy. She politely asked Council to develop a specific plan for recreational areas, green spaces and developing waterfront properties based on citizen and professional input. In the meantime she said, “We need a moratorium until the results of the surveys are available with no changes until the desires of our constituents are in hand.” She ended by thanking Council for their “kind attention and thoughtful consideration.”
Instead and without any reference to Alma Lee’s pleas, City Council voted to move forward with the downtown post office building sale, an RFP to take over the City Marina, sale of the Dodgertown Golf Course property and restrictions on the Beachside Farmer’s Market without public input.
The unholy trinity does not limit their condescending treatment to Vero Beach citizens. Councilwoman Laura Moss has been similarly disrespected by those three as she has tried to actually represent the people who elected her. She apologized to the community for City Council’s behavior.
The next City Council meeting will be held on September 4. Council Chambers will surely be packed with upset citizens and happy developers, everyone holding their collective breath as Howle, Sykes and Zudans decide where to next attack our beautiful city’s institutions and its very soul.
Here is the plea to City Council from the City’s most distinguished and loved citizen, Alma Lee Loy:
“First, we need a specific plan for our recreation areas, green spaces and developing waterfront properties as they become available. The citizens of our city are anxious to help. We need backup materials by way of a survey as to their hopes for the future of Vero Beach. Now is the time to get a bonafide record of the citizens’ desires on which to make future decisions to save and protect this something special city. The initial survey should be conducted by a professional who will inventory all our parks to verify the accuracy of what we have and the areas they serve. This would be followed by a survey of our citizens with results coming to the City Council. Second, we need a moratorium until the results of the surveys are available with no changes until the desires of our constituents are in hand. With the thoughts of celebrating our city’s 100th anniversary each of you as elected officials have a golden opportunity based on the recommendation of these surveys as the blueprint for future developments of parks and waterfront development to keep Vero Beach a something special city. Thank you for your kind attention and thoughtful consideration.”
Not a single motion was made by City Council on any part of her request. In fact, Council proceeded as though she never spoke.