VERO BEACH — After repeatedly removing nearly one dozen items from its agenda to prevent Councilman Brian Heady from airing what he views as the city’s dirty linen in public, the Vero Beach City Council Tuesday finally allowed Heady to work through his list of concerns.
Ironically, the issues have been pushed off so long that many of the 11 things on the agenda are now moot.
Near the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Kevin Sawnick led the Council in what has become a routine of voting to nix all or most of Heady’s requested items, but this time he was stopped by Councilman Ken Daige. With Vice Mayor Sabin Abell absent, Daige’s vote was needed to pull the items from the agenda.
“He feels that he has not been heard,” Daige said. “I’ll support one through 11 to hear Mr. Heady out.”
Daige commented that the City Clerk’s office had devoted a lot of time to compiling backup documentation for Heady’s items and that the effort should not be wasted.
“It’s about that thick,” Daige said, motioning to depict a large stack of paper.
Having his concerns squelched is a major complaint Heady has addressed in a federal lawsuit filed against the city, which has now cost $20,010 in attorney fees to fight. The suit, which asserts that Heady’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were infringed upon, is set for trial in late February unless it can be resolved through mediation.
The city’s attorney has filed a Motion to Dismiss, which is still pending.
Several of Heady’s agenda items had been pushed off so many times that they had passed the deadline to do anything about them this year, including the idea of placing a non-binding referendum on the ballot to give city voters a choice as to whether or not to sell the electric utility to Florida Power and Light.
Another item which is too late to get on the ballot is a change to the city charter that would shift the managerial responsibilities from a high-paid city manager to a strong mayoral figure making less money.
The council must put an interim manager in place once Jim Gabbard serves out his last five weeks in the job, ending Oct. 15.
Had Heady’s idea been vetted earlier and agreed to, a charter amendment could have been placed on the ballot, but the deadline has passed for the November election.
The council discussed the possibility of having utility activists Dr. Stephen Faherty and CPA Glenn Heran make a formal presentation to the council about options and potential outcomes of a sale of the electric utility to FPL.
The council denied Heady’s request to put Faherty and Heran on the agenda, but said they are welcome to present during the public comment section of the meeting, “like everybody else,” said Councilman Tom White, who added, “after the election.”
“I’m not blowing this deal,” White said.
White said airing the electric utility model in the public would say to FPL, “We’re ripe, come pick us.”
Daige pointed out that Faherty and Heran have already presented the model to executives at FPL, so the details of its contents are no longer a secret to the potential buyer of the system.
Four council seats are up for grabs in November, with 11 candidates — including incumbents Sawnick, Daige and Abell — vying for the positions. Those running have begun to distinguish themselves on the electric issue, with camps forming of the “sell” faction and the “status quo” faction.
Though the rest of the council took it’s attorney’s advice and did not speak on the item related to Heady’s lawsuit, Heady spoke and told the city that it could easily make one of his lawsuits go away by taking a retroactive vote on the changes made to the 20-year, $2 billion Orlando Utilities Commission electric contract.
“Ratify the contract attached to the signature page and you eliminate my cause of action,” Heady said. “But you continue to do things the hard way.”
White, in an effort to curtail Heady’s rhetoric responded, “Point of order, he’s just rattling.”
The next discussion revolved around the federal Honest Services Fraud law and how the federal statute has recently been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
All told, Heady’s 11 items took 65 minutes to address and Daige had City Clerk Tammy Vock make a special note of the time that was spent on the discussion of Heady’s concerns.
During the debate, verbal barbs were hurled back and forth, mostly at Heady, who took a couple of opportunities to return fire. At one point he called Daige “thick” for not getting a point he was trying to make.
Daige retorted, “You called me thick, I’ve been called a lot worse.”
Though Sawnick informed Heady that he would not be able to exhume any of the issues considered at the meeting once they died for lack of a second and no action was taken, Heady said he would bring things back if and when they needed to be re-examined.
The council meets again on Sept. 21 at 5:01 p.m. for a final hearing of the city budget and a regular council meeting to follow at 6 p.m. in council chambers.