Legal and utility issues to dominate Vero City Council agenda

VERO BEACH — Vero Beach citizens and ratepayers will want to pay attention Tuesday night as the new City Council takes on some weighty issues pertaining to the water, sewer and electric utilities, and considers a re-vote of the Feb. 1 resolution to fire City Attorney Charles Vitunac.

Among the items on the agenda is a presentation by County Commission Chair Bob Solari and County Utilities Director Erik Olson on matters related to a potential regionalization of utilities.

Other issues include a presentation by former Vero City Councilman Charlie Wilson about legal and personnel issues at the Vero Beach Power Plant and discussion of a complaint against the city’s electric utility filed with the Florida Public Service Commission.

With regard to the PSC complaint, the city must decide whether or not to retain legal counsel and fight allegations that it operates an “unregulated price monopoly” and is potentially overcharging the 61 percent of customers outside the city limits who have no representation on utility matters.

Also, utility activists Dr. Stephen Faherty and CPA Glenn Heran will present a review of the city’s contractual entanglements with the Florida Municipal Power Agency. The city purchases power through the FMPA from the St. Lucie nuclear plant and the Stanton I and Stanton II coal-fired plants.

In light of the Feb. 11 resignation of Finance Director Steve Maillet, the City Council will also discuss management of the Finance Department, as well as a continued conversation about performance reviews of the City Clerk, City Manager and City Attorney.

As the saga continues over the termination of Vitunac, the city has retained local attorney Helen Scott to advise the City Council in the matter of Vitunac’s separation from employment. Scott is meeting individually with members today in preparation for the evening session.

At this point, Scott has been authorized to review the documents and actions taken so far and to advise the council members of their legal position, with a budget of up to $2,500. Without further action from the council, Scott is not being instructed to negotiate any kind of a severance deal with Vitunac or his attorney, Louis B. “Buck” Vocelle.

On top of his $75,000 per year pension and a lump-sum payment of more than 1,000 hours of banked sick and vacation time, Vitunac is demanding a settlement of eight months’ pay or $88,000 in exchange for his resignation. Vocelle has argued that this action has precedent in the way Vero has handled partings before, and that not giving Vitunac the severance would hinder the city’s ability to find a new City Attorney.

At least three members of the City Council have publicly made statements that they are not interested in paying Vitunac any more than the taxpayers are already obligated to pay him upon his departure from the city. What the council will do Tuesday after the benefit of legal advice is yet to be seen.

The Vero Beach City Council meets at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The meeting will be televised on Channel 13.

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