New Vero City Council members emphasize public input

Vero Beach City Hall [Photo: Kaila Jones]

Political newcomers and island residents Rey Neville and Joe Graves, who won seats on the Vero Beach City Council in last week’s municipal election, will enter public office with similar objectives.

The men, who finished at the top of a crowded field of eight candidates in the nonpartisan election in which approximately 4,400 ballots were cast, both emphasize the importance of public input in decision-making.

The current City Council in recent weeks garnered criticism and attracted protestors at city hall after making a hasty decision to close the popular swimming pool at Leisure Square without sounding out the community first, only to reverse its decision following public outcry.

Both newly elected council members, who will replace outgoing Mayor Val Zudans and Councilman Harry Howle – neither man sought re-election – have pledged to keep the pool open indefinitely and protect other city assets.

Graves, 56, a well-known local attorney who touted his position as a fiscal conservative during the race, won overwhelmingly with 1,144 votes or 26 percent of the ballots cast, according to unofficial results from the Indian River Supervisor of Elections. The city has a total of 12,260 registered voters.

Along with his pledge to seek citizen input, Graves says fixing beachside and downtown parking shortages, swiftly moving the waterfront wastewater treatment facility inland and improving the health of the ailing Indian River Lagoon are at the top of his priority list. He also sees redevelopment of Centennial Place and the Vero Beach City Marina as important issues.

“I don’t think that our city should be selling its assets, because once it’s sold, it’s gone,” Graves said. “That’s really concerning and especially when it comes to [Centennial Place], because I think it’s a valuable piece of property, but it’s not something that should be just turned into condos or sold off to an out of town investor.”

Graves raised $18,410 for his campaign – nearly three times as much as Neville, who ranked second in the crowded field – from notable names such as Alma Lee Loy, Corporate Air, Property Appraiser Wesley Davis and Sheriff’s Office Major Eric Flowers, who is running for sheriff.

Neville, 77, a retired Air Force colonel and former plastic manufacturing executive in St. Louis, got into the race to carry out the will of the people regarding city projects including the redevelopment of Centennial Place and the Vero Beach City Marina.

He raised $5,855, garnering donations from Vice Mayor Tony Young and the Realtors Political Advocacy Committee, and captured 823 votes, or 18.7 percent of the ballots cast.

Neville’s goals include making the city a leader in protecting the environment – especially the lagoon – ensuring public spaces are properly maintained and building public trust in city government.

Neville and Graves defeated Nick Thomas, Brian Heady, Jeff Nall, Bob McCabe, John Cotugno and Estelle Panagakos.

Both will be sworn in on Nov. 18 at 10 a.m. at city hall. A new mayor and vice mayor will be chosen by the council on that date. The salary for a council member is $900 per month, while the mayor makes $1,125 per month.

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