Vero candidate forum before Taxpayers’ Association

VERO BEACH — In their second forum in less than 24 hours, 10 Vero Beach City Council Candidates were asked to think on their feet by the Taxpayers Association of Indian River County.

The forum, led by Taxpayers’ President Paul Teresi, not only gave the two women and eight men the chance to introduce themselves to the 80 or so people present in the casual setting of Joey’s Bistro, it required them to respond to rapid-fire questions focused on the city budget and utility matters.

Incumbent Councilman Sabin Abell is being challenged by Al Benkert and Tracy Carroll for the one-year seat up for grabs. Incumbents Mayor Kevin Sawnick and Councilman Ken Daige have lots of competition for the three two-year seats open.

Challengers who participated, in alphabetical order, were David Fromang, Richard Kennedy, Jay Kramer, Michael Thomas, Pilar Turner and, the only one not present, former Mayor Craig Fletcher, who was attending a military reunion.

As the forums wear on, the lines become more and more distinguishable between the challengers and the three incumbent Councilmen Ken Daige, Sabin Abell and Mayor Kevin Sawnick.

Generally, at least two of the incumbents — Sawnick and Abell — when asked to make a call, have been more apt to defend city staff and practices and the status quo versus pushing for change.

One example was a question about whether or not they would outsource solid waste services. The city’s solid waste facility, fleet of collection trucks and union workers with substantial salaries and benefits have often been criticized because private industry could do the job just as well at less cost to the taxpayer.

The challengers’ responses ranged from “absolutely” to acknowledging that they would request bids for outsourcing.

Sawnick emphasized that “the solid waste department is doing a great job” but said he would consider the idea. Abell, after hearing all the rest of the field, said it “doesn’t hurt” to ask for bids on solid waste services.

On the issue of red-light cameras, County Commissioner Gary Wheeler asked candidates to state their positions on this issue, which Police Chief Don Dappen and high-level city staff and attorneys have fought hard to keep.

Daige maintained his position of being dead-set against red-light cameras, but Sawnick and Abell stuck with the city staff.

Sawnick saying it is a matter of public safety and Abell citing that he’d almost been “T-Boned” several times in the city and that he thinks red-light cameras would prevent this.

Kennedy broke with the challengers and came out for the cameras. Kramer stated that if the city wants to use them, they should be concentrated in areas where pedestrians are most likely to come into contact with cars, such as school zones.

Benkert, who is running against Abell and Carroll for the one-year seat, took a shot at the incumbent on this issue.

“Sabe, haven’t you read ‘1984’? No cameras,” Benkert said.

Other issues which came up included whether or not candidates would cut the county and Indian River Shores electric customers loose from a 30-year territorial agreement with the city, which would allow them to get their power from FPL. Answers varied widely among the 10 candidates, with the only consensus being that more information would be needed to make that decision.

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