VERO BEACH – A grand jury has decided not to look deeper into how the City of Vero Beach came to select the Orlando Utilities Commission, the State Attorney’s Office said Thursday.
State Attorney Bruce Colton said an initial investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing or criminal activity. Among the issues the grand jury reviewed were the criteria the city used to select the electric provider, including the fairness of the bidding process.
Colton said the grand jury voted Wednesday not to pursue the matter, though if new information were to become available, it could reopen the investigation. Also, a new grand jury will be seated in February – and if asked – might take up the issue.
The grand jury began investigating the city at the request of one of the sitting grand jury members, according to Colton. That member did not provide specific allegations of wrongdoing, but wanted to review how the city selected the OUC.
Colton said that the grand jury was presented with an overview of the preliminary investigation’s findings on Wednesday, and was asked if it wanted to launch a formal investigation.
Had the grand jury decided to do so, witnesses would have had to be subpoenaed and documents filed. It could have taken as long or been as detailed as the grand jury requested, according to Colton.
Colton said that it is not the State Attorney’s Office or the grand jury’s responsibility to issue an opinion on whether or not the City of Vero Beach should be in the electric business.
“That is a political decision,” he said.
One area the investigation apparently considered was possible bid-rigging as reported in our sister publication, Vero Beach 32963. Florida Power & Light, which was ranked second in the bid process, confirmed to the paper it had been contacted by investigators about the bidding procedure and cooperated with the probe.
“FPL was contacted by the State Attorney’s investigator,” said FPL spokesperson Jackie Anderson. “He recently met with a few of our employees and asked general questions regarding our involvement as a bidder.”
Bidders were ranked by some as yet undisclosed criteria, and OUC was declared the winner over FPL – even though electric customers’ rates are expected to be 27 to 35 percent higher than FPL after OUC takes over in January.