Gabbard takes blame for Council Members skipping town hall meetings

By Lisa ZahnerVERO BEACH — Vero Beach City Council members were criticized for not showing up to the two town hall meetings held on Aug. 25 and 26 about the proposed changes to electric, water and sewer rates, but City Manager Jim Gabbard said on Tuesday that he had told Council members they did not have to attend.

“I take responsibility for that,” Gabbard said. “There was never an expectation that the Council would be there.”Maybe Gabbard did not expect Council members to be present, but certainly customers of Vero Beach utilities who attended the town halls had expected the elected representatives to be present. Council members took some time at the end of Tuesday’s scheduled meeting explaining why they weren’t there in person, Gabbard took the heat, saying the council members had approached him individually and asked for guidance as to whether or not they should be there, and he told them it was up to them, that it was not required.

“The Council was not to be convened or seated as a body,” he said.

Only Debra Fromang, who explained that the purpose of the town hall meetings were to give the public a chance to interact with staff and with the consultants from Public Resources Management Group, showed up to the evening meeting on Aug. 25.

Kevin Sawnick attended on Aug. 26, though he said his presence was not noted by those who criticized the elected officials for ducking a meeting that was expected to draw much empassioned public input.

Bill Fish explained that he often watches meetings from home and that he sometimes watches “two or three times, to make sure he gets it all.”

There was also criticism from the public that the town hall meetings were not televised for the benefit of citizens who could not attend in person. There is no video or audio available on the City’s website on the City Council page, the Electric Utility page or the Water and Sewer page that could be readily located and no minutes posted.

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