Vero Beach to defend ‘vigorously’ against councilman’s lawsuit

VERO BEACH – The Vero Beach City Attorney’s office might not be the one to defend the city against a federal lawsuit filed by one of its sitting council member, but it plans to defend the city nonetheless.

“Rest assured, this office will see to it the city is vigorously defended,” Assistant City Attorney Wayne Coment said.

Last week, Councilman Brian Heady filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to determine if the city properly entered into the current Orlando Utilities Commission contract and if  the city restricted the public’s right to free speech.

Heady last week told our sister publication, Vero Beach 32963, that he is doing what his supporters voted him into office to do — to demand that the public business be done in the public eye and to force accountability for the actions of government.

Heady wants the court to decide the following issues:

The validity of the city’s dealings in entering into the April 2008, $2 billion electric contract with OUC;

The keeping of related documents secret from the public for two years both during and after the contract process;

The failure of the city to maintain an original contract document at City Hall;

And restrictions placed on Heady as a councilman in asking questions in public about contract proceedings.

“It’s just unfortunate,” Vice Mayor Sabe Abell said of his fellow council member’s decision to sue to the city, adding that the lawsuit will cost the taxpayers.

Abell and City Clerk Tammy Vock signed the served court papers when they arrived Friday afternoon.

Abell said that it is the council’s job to work as a team to do what is best for the city and its residents. The lawsuit, he said, makes it clear that somebody on the council is not involved in that team effort.

Assistant City Attorney Wayne Coment said that he believes the city will have to hire outside legal counsel to defend against Councilman Heady’s lawsuit because the City Attorney’s Office represents both the city and the council.

If the Vero Beach City Council were to hire outside counsel, the members would also have to decide how to pay for it.

Because the bulk of the complaint pertains to the city’s contract with the Orlando Utilities Commission for electricity, it is possible the money could be pulled from the city’s electric fund, Coment said.

Another possibility would be to take the money from the city’s general fund to pay the legal bill.

“It’s not only frivolous,” Abell said, “but also an expense to the city and the taxpayers.”

The city has 21 calendar days to file its response to the allegations in Councilman Heady’s lawsuit.

The next opportunity for the Vero Beach City Council to discuss publicly the lawsuit is May 18, unless a special meeting is called before then.

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