Republican men get sampling of Vero Council candidates

Update  | 5:07 p.m.

During the last 30 minutes of the qualifying period, Realtor and President of the Oceanside Business Association Al Benkert changed his filing from the two-year seats to the one-year seat. So that pits Benkert against incumbent Vice Mayor Sabin Abell and challenger Tracy Carroll, a local businesswoman, Rotarian and mom.VERO BEACH — Five of the 10 people who have pulled papers for Vero Beach City Council spoke to and fielded questions from the Republican Men’s Breakfast group Friday morning.

Beachside businesswoman and Rotarian Tracy Carroll announced that she will be running for the one-year seat on the council as a challenger to incumbent Vice Mayor Sabin Abell.

The monthly breakfast meeting at Quail Valley River Club has historically hosted lively candidate forums that often make news and Friday morning’s session was no exception.

Customarily, Vero Beach City Council terms are for two years, but Councilman Ken Daige was appointed to fill former Councilman Charlie Wilson’s seat only until the next election, leaving four seats up for grab and Councilman Brian Heady as the only safe seat on the dais this year.

Political newcomer Dean Heran, who had intendend to run for the one-year term seat,  announced through his brother, utility activist Glenn Heran, that he will not be submitting his completed qualifying papers today due to family reasons.

Heran and Caroll share similar positions on the future of the Vero Beach Electric Utility — they are both strong proponents of a sale to Florida Power and Light.

The race for the single-year term seat poses a stark comparison and a very clear choice for voters in November, as Abell has staunchly defended the city’s right to keep the Electric Utility and its continuing practice of transferring nearly about $8 million per year to support the city’s general fund.

The other four candidates present are running for three open, two-year seats. Former Mayor Craig Fletcher, Vero Finance Committee Member Pilar Turner, commercial Realtor and retired attorney Richard Kennedy and local businessman Jay Kramer showed up to tell the Republican men why they deserve a vote for one of those open seats.

The forum was only a sampling of the candidates who will be on the ballot. Organizer Mark Mucher stood up and reminded the members present that not all the candidates were invited due to the Republican nature of the club. Those of differing political affiliations are not allowed to address the Republican group.

During the question and answer portion of the forum, candidates laid out their positions on everything from utility issues to ways to support local businesses to how they would handle Councilman Brian Heady.

Answers to the Heady question varied widely.

Carroll and Turner empathized with what Heady has been trying to accomplish, while Kramer said Heady should be allowed to speak his peace, “diffuse the energy” and move on,.

Fletcher, who called Heady “disruptive,” explained how Heady could, within the city charter, be forcibly removed from council meetings.

Kennedy told the audience that he would treat Heady with “kid gloves” at first, but then after time,  “the gloves would come off.”

In regard to bringing in new businesses and supporting existing business, the consensus was that the City of Vero Beach could do more to help in that area, from providing incentives, actively recruiting, to getting utility bills under control to reduce overhead.

During the first candidate forum, Fletcher blasted the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce and got into a back-and-forth with Chamber Vice Chair and Tea Party leader Toby Hill, owner of The Hill Group.

Fletcher said the Chamber had morphed into a political organization and said the local Chamber — despite having no affiliation with the Florida Chamber — would suffer for the state Chamber’s involvement in nasty politics.

Specifically, Fletcher took exception to the Florida Chamber’s funding of attack ads on Vero Beach attorney Erin Grall who ran for a House seat. Though she won Indian River County, she did not garner enough votes in the rest of the district.

“You are by association condemned, change your name,” Fletcher told Hill.

Those absent from the candidate forum included Sabe Abell, who was unavailable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, Kevin Sawnick – a registered Democrat, and Michael Thomas – a registered Independent.

Local Realtor and president of the Oceanside Business Association Al Benkert, who filed on Thursday, was not present at the forum, though it is unclear why.

Mucher said he was not sure about Benkert’s party affiliation.

Councilman Ken Daige was invited via a message left at City Hall because the city would not give event organizers Daige’s mobile phone number, according to Mucher.

It is not clear whether Daige will in fact file paperwork by the end of the day, though he has expressed his desire in office.

Councilman Tom White declared this week that he will not seek re-election after more than decade on the council.

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