Vero Beach City Council candidates conclude group appearances

VERO BEACH — With five days remaining until election day and many voters having already cast early ballots, eight Vero Beach City Council candidates met together for the last time as a group before Rotarians at the Quail Valley River Club.Sabin Abell, Tracy Carroll and Al Benkert, who are running for the one-year seat, and Ken Daige, Jay Kramer, Pilar Turner, Michael Thomas and Craig Fletcher, who are running for the two-year seat, gave two-minute speeches to the crowd of about 70 people. Kevin Sawnick and David Fromang were represented by members of their campaigns and Richard Kennedy was not present. Each candidate was allotted two minutes to give a short biography and to explain their platform.Incumbent Sabin Abell described his background hailing from Burlington, Vermont, his career in sporting goods sales and his service to the city and on various committees.”The big issue is electric rates,” Abell said as time was called on his speech.A volunteer of the Kevin Sawnick campaign reiterated Mayor Sawnick’s well-worn slogan that he’s running “To move Vero in the right direction” and praised Sawnick for voting to bring Florida Power and Light to the table, reducing the city budget and lowering pension costs.Challenger Tracy Carroll was very much at home amongst fellow Rotarians and explained her reason for running by using the Rotary Four-Way Test of fairness.”Is it fair to everyone and to you folks out there in the county on city electric to have rates 30-40 percent higher than FP&L?” she asked rhetorically. “Is it fair that the City Council is saying they’re doing everything thie can for you but the rates are still too high?”Incumbent Ken Daige praised the City of Vero Beach and said it is a place envied by many communities, but said that it’s “under fire because of utility issues.””We have to redo our business model to get the costs down,” Daige said.Challenger Jay Kramer explained that he learned about the personal pain being felt from high utility rates from low-income people he worked with as a volunteer tax preparer for the Internal Revenue Service.”After doing these peoples’ taxes I realized what the impact was of the utility system,” Kramer said. “If you think the high electric bills are hard for you to take, think of a guy with an income of $20,000, that’s really hard on him.”Former Mayor Craig Fletcher explained that as a third generation Vero native, he has a big stake in what happens in the City of Vero Beach and he sees a few things as urgent.”We must take back control of the city,” Fletcher said.”Get the budget out in the front, you can’t be spending money that you don’t have,” he added.A civil engineer who also has vast business experience, challenger Pilar Turner proposed a better way to manage the city with more and better information — she called it a “financial vision.””It’s appalling the lack of facts and figures, we’re not getting any financial data on which to make decisions,” she said. “We have to know what it’s going to cost today and tomorrow.”Architect Michael Thomas, who is challenging incumbents for one of the two-year seats, said he was motivated to run after several years of watching Vero Beach City Council meetings on television.”It’s my favorite soap opera, the first reality TV, you know the cast and you know the charaters,” he said. “It used to be just entertainment, but over the past couple of years it got more upsetting.”Oceanside Business Association President Al Benkert, who is running against Abell and Carroll for the one-year seat, outlined the highlights of his turnover plan for the city. He said the power plant an eyesore and predicted its demise — but he cited a time period of 30 years for it to be gone.”We’ve got a City Council, and I’m sorry to Sabe and Ken, but a City Council that has been stonewalling on the elctric issue,” Benkert said. “I am in real estate, I sell Vero Beach and people do not want to move into the city because of the electric rates.”Former Councilwoman Debra Fromang spoke for her husband and challenger for a two-year council seat, Dr. David Fromang, who was working in his urology practice. She explained why he was not in attendance and asked for voters’ support.Kennedy, a commercial Realtor and retired regulatory attorney, did not send anyone in his stead.One of the first issues that will face the new Vero Beach City Council once sworn in on Nov. 10 will be to conduct a search for a city manager to replace Jim Gabbard, who retired on Oct. 15.

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