VERO BEACH — On the eve of the great debate Thursday about all the proposed Amendments to Florida’s Constitution, local county candidates Wednesday evening weighed in on proposals related to growth and class size.
The forum, hosted by the Indian River Chapter of the American Association of University Women at the Garden Club of Indian River County near Downtown Vero Beach packed the hall with nearly 150 attendees who came to hear candidates from all political parties who are running for Vero city council, the Board of County Commissioners and School Board races.
After brief introductions, the audience offered questions and that’s when the amendments came up.
Amendment 4 has splintered Indian River County voters somewhat, with the Indian River Neighborhood Association advocating for the proposal and the Indian River County Tea Party and other groups advocating against it.
Despite the fact that he was endorsed by the IRNA this year and in 2006, County Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan, who prevailed in the Republican primary, responded that he is opposed to Amendment 4, but did not offer much commentary, instead deferring to reasons given by others.
The crux of Amendment 4 is that it would require certain decisions and changes to local land use regulations to be approved by voters in a referendum, taking major questions about development out of the hands of politicians, who some fear are often swayed by powerful business interests and campaign contributors. Currently, elected boards weigh the options, take public input and make those calls.
O’Bryan’s challengers, Vero Beach High School football hero and former NFL player Kenny Holmes, the Independent Party candidate in the race, boiled the issue down to a faith in representative government.
“That is why we have this process, you elect some heads to kind-of make those decisions,” Holmes said. “And hopefully you vote correctly to put the right people in office to make those decisions.”
Democrat Stephen Deardeuff, who has a master’s degree in Public Administration and who worked for several years in the Indian River County Planning Department on the very issues Amendment 4 would affect, opposes the ballot initiative because “there’s just too much ambiguity in the law,” he said.
Deardeuff also reminded voters that dozens of groups have threatened to sue to stop Amendment 4 from going into effect. This could mire the State of Florida in costly litigation for years to come, he said.
The District 2 County Commission candidates were a little more divided on the issue. Former Sebastian City Councilwoman and environmental activist Carolyn Corum has some out for Amendment 4 because she said she is in favor of making growth work for — not against — Florida and Indian River County. Corum described a recent zoning change made by the County Commission and said that voters should have been allowed to have a voice in such decisions.
“It’s good for our economy,” she said.
Commissioner Joe Flescher, the Republican incumbent, offered a lengthy explanation of his position, in which he criticized Amendment 4 for being too long and complex for people to understand.
“It’s mired with a lot of challenge for us here in Indian River County and for everyone else in the state,” Flescher said.
Flescher said Amendment 4 would, by sending issues to the voters instead of to boards like the BCC, eliminate public input and make it tougher for counties like Indian River to become more business friendly.
“We want to have that public input at an educated level and not at a disoriented level when you have to guess what 75 words look like on a ballot that represent a foot of paper,” he added.
Democrat David Snell also relied upon his master’s degree in Public Administration to try to understand the measure, said he still came up with the conclusion that it’s too unclear a measure to vote for as presented. He polled the people in the room and almost no one claimed
Snell urged the audience to oppose Amendment 4, citing that, ‘if this is something that you don’t understand, and regardless of your degree of education,” he said, adding that there are “seen and unseen things” in the proposal and “what you don’t know is what we fear.”
“Amendment 4 is too convoluted,” Snell concluded.
Amendment 8, which would partially overturn the controversial “class size amendment” approved by voters a few years ago, sparked much less discussion, as both Kimberly Keithahn and Jeff Pegler have come out supporting the measure.
“It allows flexibility while maintaining class size,” Keithahn said, giving examples of how the measure would work and would focus on average class sizes for different grade levels and save money for school districts. She cited that one class could be over or under by a student or two as long as the school’s average size, for example, for its primary grades were in line with the law.
“I agree with Kimberly 100 percent,” Pegler said when asked for his response.
Pegler and Keithahn, both Republicans, are in a runoff race after neither netted 50 percent of the vote in the primary. They will be joined by write-in candidate Althea McKenzie, a Democrat, who opposes Amendment 8.
Nine of the Vero Beach City Council candidates also debated their positions at Wednesday’s forum, but were not asked to give opinions about the proposed amendments.
Tonight at the Emerson Center, all of the proposed Amendments will be discussed and Amendment 4 will be debated. The major candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture will also face off about their race.
The event begins at 5:30 p.m. and tickets cost $10 per person, with proceeds benefitting local charities. For more information, go to www.TheEmersonCenter.com or www.TheEmersonCenter.org.