VERO BEACH — Councilmen Brian Heady and Ken Daige stand alone, often on a similar mission to pry information out of the City of Vero Beach so they can give answers to the populist movement that produced some amazing upsets in last fall’s municipal election.
But as time passes, it is clear that Heady and Daige consistently come up one vote short on their efforts for openness, and to get much done in City Hall. In the past few months, as Heady railed over whose hands held the original copies of the utilities contract with Orlando, Daige has tried to help open up the debate and to assist Dr. Stephen Faherty get a 4-month-old records request filled for some critical data related to the sale of the electric utility.
But neither man was able to accomplish much, except for throwing a temporary “unofficial” wrench into the plans to install red-light cameras.
The three other council members – Tom White, Sabin Abell and Mayor Kevin Sawnick — seem to be the current voting bloc that prevents much of Heady and Daige’s efforts to bring change and openness to Vero government.
“I often know what the level of support is from the rest of the council and on some things I just know it’s not there,” Heady said.
Daige seemed less resigned, more hopeful.
“I bring everything out on the table, out on the dais,” Daige said. “The people who have supported us expect good government and they expect me to do my job and move things forward. The point is to debate and maybe the votes will be there to keep things moving.”
For his part, Heady views the November 2009 election as a mandate.
“People were angry enough to elect me and Charlie Wilson. That’s saying something,” Heady said. “They sent me here for a reason.”
Daige also ran on a platform of change — a less mutinous form of change, but change nevertheless — but was defeated in the election. He subsequently was named to the seat vacated by Wilson more because council members could tell he’d done his homework.
During his 14-month hiatus from the council between November 2008 and January 2010, Daige tried to get to the bottom of what he saw as many efforts at subterfuge on behalf of the city.
Daige tried to find out why it appeared as if the city was already constructing a controversial $11 million deep-well injection facility at the airport prior to final approval from the council.
Concerned about the growing black hole that was the city’s pension plan, Daige pressed for answers and filed an untold number of public records requests. He was often met with delay, resistance and even bills for hundreds of dollars for documents and staff time in order the meet his requests.
Daige often spoke from the podium, presenting facts and figures to no avail, as he and his arguments were generally ignored by both elected officials and staffers. Daige’s supporters have reportedly urged Daige to recapture that spirit of skepticism they saw while he was out of office and bring it to the dais once again — and their support in November might depend upon it.
“I got the message about utilities. I got the memo,” Daige said. “People don’t want the long version of the story, they just want their bills to go down,” he said. “It’s my job to keep an eye on the bottom line of that bill to make sure it continues to go down.”
Heady, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about an election until 2011. He said the things he’s learned since he’s been on the Council are far worse than things he suspected the city and its officials might be doing over the years he attended council meetings as a vocal outsider.
As for his most recent push — the epic saga of the hunt for the original electric contract with the Orlando Utilities Commission which was kept in Massachusetts for 22 months — Heady said he was trying to transform what seems like a minor point into a larger argument over what’s important.
“I lost people because I went on too long about the city manager and the city attorney having not safeguarded a $2 billion document. I think that’s worth going on too long about,” he said. “Despite what people might think, it’s not enjoyable for me to sit up there and debate what may or may not be a cause for action of the termination of two of the charter officers.”
Where Heady is abrasive, Daige works more quietly, methodically, chipping away at issues trimming and pruning here and there. Daige agrees that the devil is truly in the details, so he burrows into documents, meets with constituents and matter-of-factly clues the public in to private meetings and to city business that doesn’t make its way to the council agenda.
Heady refuses to meet with top city staffers in private, often inviting “witnesses” from the public or the media in to see, hear and do things with him — by ambush, if necessary.
“Jim Gabbard keeps saying that I need to come to his office to meet with him. I don’t have private meetings with the city manager because I don’t have any private business with him,” Heady said.
Daige still goes into the private meetings with Gabbard, but he brings a city clerk and a tape recorder with him. Then, during his matters at the end of meetings, he lists the dates and topics of these “private” meetings and invites the public to read the minutes, thus leaving staff scratching their heads as to why they bothered with the private meetings.
Working with the people he’s got to work with, Daige said he’s been trying to instill a sense of urgency into a city whose culture it has been to delay and deflect issues until they reach the level of a crisis. He hopes he can get more done, and quickly.
“If you’ve noticed lately, I have been using the word ‘now’ and putting time limits on doing things, what part of ‘now’ don’t they understand?” Daige asked.