Students voice teen concerns at Vero candidate forum

VERO BEACH – Despite the hot-button issue of escalating utility rates, more than two dozen students from both Vero Beach and Indian River Charter high schools grilled Vero Beach City Council candidates on issues important to them Wednesday night at a forum sponsored by the Indian River Tea Party.

The seven candidates for the two open City Council seats started their day in a forum sponsored by the Indian River County Taxpayers’ Association where they dealt with a number of questions pertaining to utility rates, but at this second event they dealt with issues important to high school students many of whom will not be able to cast a vote in the Nov. 3 election. Incumbents Bill Fish and Debra Fromang and challengers Ken Daige, Brian Heady, Jack Shupe, Susan Viviano and Charlie Wilson listened to their audience and tried to answer their concerns. Tea Party organizers had expected a crowd of up to 1,000 people, but the attendance appeared to be closer to 250.

Shiva Beard, a senior at Vero Beach High, wanted to know about street festivals and green markets. Another student, from Indian River Charter High, wanted to know in general what plans they have for the town’s teens.

The candidates’ answers ran the gamut, from acknowledging that the city already hosts Downtown Friday events and farmers’ markets to recognizing that the city should do more to promote family friendly festivities.

The candidates, in their own ways, encouraged the student to provide input by sharing their own ideas with the city council – none offered their own suggestions.

Indian River Charter High School freshman Justin Lahman said that he noticed that the candidates sometimes did not address the audience’s questions. Both he and his mom, Jennifer Lahman, said that they would have preferred the candidates directly answer the questions rather than talk around them.

The candidate forum, hosted by the Indian River Tea Party, was held in part with Vero Beach High School’s government classes.

Originally, government teacher Martin O’Neal planned to offer extra credit to his 150 students in hopes of encouraging them to attend the forum and get a firsthand look at the political process at work.

However, after some parents raised concerns with Principal Eric Seymour, O’Neal took the forum out of his class plan.

O’Neal told students Wednesday he would not be offering the extra credit. Without the promise of extra credit, only a limited number of students from the high school showed up. However, some from Indian River Charter High School were there as part of their own class assignment.

Beard said after the forum he attended the event on his own accord, knowing he would not receive extra credit.

“It wasn’t extreme at all,” Beard said, adding he did not think it was a one-sided political forum.

Though of voting age, Beard has not yet registered vote, he said, adding that even if he could, he was still unsure of who to vote for.

“One forum is not enough” to make a decision,” he said.

And while he doesn’t expect to get extra credit for attending the forum, Shiva said that the event helped him realize he needs to be more involved in local politics and get to know the local issues more.

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