Vero to interview council hopefuls in public meeting

VERO BEACH — Left with only five applicants, the Vero Beach City Council Tuesday revamped its previous plan for private interviews in favor of questioning all of the candidates  Thursday, Jan. 14 in public session to fill the seat vacated by ousted City Councilman Charlie Wilson.

Councilman Brian Heady had been a stalwart proponent of a public process, but the request to revisit the decision was actually raised by Mayor Kevin Sawnick as he felt the small number of applicants would make public interviews feasible.  Vice Mayor Sabin Abell and Councilman Tom White, who had oiriginally pushed for private sit-downs, voted in favor of the public interviews. Those running to be considered for the open seat include third-place finisher in the Nov. 3 municipal election and former city councilman Ken Daige, Recreation Advisory Board member Tracy Carroll, Planning Commission member Richard Kennedy, and real estate brokers Al Benkert and William Mills.

Six candidates  had applied, but 30-year Vero resident and city Finance Committee member Roger Redd dropped out of the contest.

Mayor Sawnick said he had thought there would be a large number of applicants, like 20 or 30, so he had voted originally to hold the meetings in private. “It’s pretty slim pickings,” he has said of the number of applicants from which the city has to choose.

Heady, determined to make at least his part of the process open to the public regardless of how other council members conducted their interviews, had invited the media to videotape and view his interviews with the five hopefuls. Sawnick had also said he would have a city clerk take notes of his interviews, which would then become public record. Those additional measures would now be unnecessary as the interviews will be part of an advertised and televised public meeting of the city council.

Heady’s response to the council’s shift to ask questions in public was that he thought it was “wonderful.”

During the first round of questions, the five applicants will be asked to be sequestered in a room outside of earshot so the council will have a chance to hear fresh answers from each participant. City Attorney Charles Vitunac warned the council that candidates have every legal right to be in the room during all parts of the interview, and any sequestration request would be just that, a request.

A second round of questions would encourage the candidates to interact with and piggy-back off of each other’s answers. Heady pointed out that this would allow the council to see how each person communicates with and reacts to the others and to council members.

Interviews will be held in the council chambers at City Hall at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 14

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