Yesterday’s (September 4) meetings at County Commission and later at Vero Beach City Council regarding the Dodgertown Golf Course property, demonstrated the stark contrast between a body acting as a shepherd our community’s way of life and another body only concerned with turning a short term profit.
Both meetings had comments from the public, all opposed to selling off the property to a commercial developer except for the developer himself, Mark Hulbert. The first lady of Vero Beach, Alma Lee Loy, spoke at both meetings, asking at least for a moratorium on what seems like a race to dispose of as much of the City as they can before they lose their majority in the next election.
In the first meeting, County staff proposed five options ranging from purchasing the site outright to doing nothing. The discussion among Commissioners centered on not only the parking issue for Historic Dodgertown, but more on the importance of that property to our collective history, its significance to the Civil Rights movement, our environment, and the need to preserve green space. All five Commissioners agreed on purchasing the land, but Commissioner Solari voted no because he questioned the method of payment. After they decided to make the purchase, the next question was what price to offer. Chairman O’Bryan acknowledged the difficulty of negotiating in public, but Commissioners voted to offer $2.4 million, $300,000 higher than the developer’s offer.
First, the developer, as soon as the County’s offer was approved on live TV, immediately countered with $2.43 million. When the sale subject later came up at City Council, the discussion among the three pro-sale Council members centered on the economic benefits of selling and developing the land, little regard for the public’s wishes. When Commission Chairman O’Bryan and County Administrator Jason Brown stood to formally make their offer, they and most citizens attending the meeting could see which proposal the Council majority favored. (Watch Part Two of the video from last night’s meeting here…)
At one point, Councilman Zudans, who favored immediately selling to the developer, said, “There is a big risk to not doing this right now. You (developer) walk away and then the County says the City’s stuck with it so we don’t have to buy it anymore either…”. That drew an immediate reaction from Commission Chairman O’Bryan, who came to the podium and said angrily, “I find that offensive. We came here in good faith, we made you an offer, and any suggestion we are going to back down is wrong.”
Zudans tried to apologize but repeated the possibility of the County backing out, then O’Bryan shot back “you have the word of the Chairman of the County Commission.”
In the end, the City Council majority acquiesced to waiting 30 days, or until the October 2 meeting, before making a decision.
However, after almost unanimous public opinion against the sale to a developer and the County Commission’s offer to buy the property for $300,000 above the developer’s offer, City Council still seems dead set on selling to the developer, whatever facts transpire in the next 30 days.
This unholy trinity on Council was voted into office to complete the sale of Vero Electric, not sell off or commercially lease City assets in a fire sale to raise money and defray the loss of revenue caused by that sale. As much as voters were anxious to reduce their electric bills, they seem united in their fear and unhappiness about Council’s decisions since then. The public’s priority is to Keep Vero Vero, while the Council majority’s priority is apparently Sell, Vero, Sell.
At least the good citizens of Vero Beach now better understand what life could be like under autocratic government leadership where the public interest is ignored and self interest triumphs.