Nominee with most votes passed over for Vero Council seat

VERO BEACH — Richard Kennedy would have been selected to fill the vacant seat on the Vero Beach City Council instead of Ken Daige if his name ever had been put to a vote, according to after-the-fact interviews with the four sitting City Council members.

Mayor Kevin Sawnick,  Vice Mayor  Sabe  Abell, Tom White and Brian Heady each told our sister publication, Vero Beach 32963, in separate interviews that they would have voted for Kennedy if they had been given the opportunity. But in the latest strange tale involving the City Council, even though Kennedy emerged from the first round of the selection process ranked in a three-way tie at the top of the five candidates along with Daige and Al Benkert, there was no move to proceed to a new round of voting – and Kennedy’s name never came up again.

“That’s kind of where the process went awry,” Abell said. “We should have re-ranked the top three and then maybe made a vote for one or two.”

Abell left last week’s selection-election meeting with the same feelings as most of the people who watched it – more than a little dismayed at the process, and surprised, and a bit disappointed, at the result. A vote on Benkert took place first. When he failed to garner three votes, the Council voted on Daige. He was approved 3 to 1, and immediately sworn in.

Kennedy was left standing there like that last kid waiting to get picked for a dodge ball team, though we now know he could have been the only one to receive the unanimous support of the seated council if his name had ever come up.

“I don’t think they had any idea what they wanted to do with the process,” Kennedy later told Vero Beach 32963.

Critics of the city government have repeatedly pointed to its propensity to make a mess of even the simplest of things. The logistics of selecting Daige was only further evidence to support that position.

After making the best of the opportunity he had to probe the five hopefuls, focusing on asking them what they would do to bring themselves “up to speed” on the issues, Abell turned his rankings in to Vock.

Abell rated Ken Daige dead last on his list, so it was natural that he didn’t vote with the “ayes” when it came to an up-down vote.

The top pick of Abell and White, former attorney and commercial realtor Kennedy, who tied with Daige and real estate broker Benkert, didn’t even get a shot at being elected by the Council. White chose Kennedy as his top guy and said he would have voted for him, but White also seconded the motion for Daige.

It was all over before it got to Kennedy. But if the city still counts to four the traditional way, that’s how many votes he would have received. Mayor Sawnick, who also voted for Benkert and Daige, said there’s a good chance he would have thrown his support behind Kennedy.

“I wasn’t really thinking about it, but maybe I would have voted for him if it would have gone that far, but it didn’t have to so I didn’t,” Sawnick said. “I was glad we had the interviews, it helps you learn a lot of stuff.”

Heady, who cast the deciding third vote after Sawnick and Councilman White made and seconded the motion for Daige, hesitated a good long while before uttering “yes.”

We now know that Heady was bouncing the decision back and forth between his head and his gut.

“I made a matrix and evaluated all the candidates on that matrix,” Heady said. “Ken Daige came up second on my list behind Al Benkert and that’s why I voted for him.”

Heady had promised himself that he would keep an open mind and make an objective decision based on each person’s ability and willingness to answer the tough questions he posed to them.

Heady ranked Benkert first because he had the guts to name the best (Sawnick) and worst (Heady) members of the council. The other four took the political high road and declined to answer.

“I wasn’t happy with the candidates, but Ken Daige for the most part had clearly been engaged in the issues,” Heady said.

Daige performed very well on the questions, showing his vast knowledge and insight into the inner-workings of the city – knowledge only an incumbent or former insider would have.

Heady said he would have voted for Kennedy based on the fact that he understood the issues more than he expected him to, but even more for his analytical skills.

The only thing that is fairly certain is that meetings with Councilman Daige will last longer than meetings without him. Daige has attended very council meeting since he was defeated in 2008, so he may have much he’d like to tackle.

“I just don’t know what to expect,” Abell said. “At this point, there are several issues that will come up that I’m sure Ken will have something to say about, and with some issues, the vote doesn’t end the process with him.”

Daige said he will not arrive with any “to do” list as former Councilman Charlie Wilson did because the issues on upcoming council agendas will be sufficient to provide for lively discussion.

“I think we have enough on our plate,” Daige said. “We have a lot to do already. Ten months is not enough.”

Now that Daige is back on the Council, Heady has also begun to think about the changed group dynamic and how it will affect the substance and flow of the meetings. Admittedly, these factors didn’t work into Heady’s 10-point matrix used during last week’s selection.

With the perspective of a few days’ time, Heady said he hadn’t counted on this skewing his matrix toward someone he was more than a little nsure about politically.

“I really was reluctant, there were lots of things,” Heady said. “Ken asks a lot of questions and he often gets into minutia, and you have to remember that he was out of office because Kevin Sawnick beat him in an election when nobody knew the guy. But using my matrix, he ranked highly so I voted for him.”

The fact that Daige went through the scrutiny of a campaign and will have virtually no learning curve also gave him credibility with Sawnick.

“Whether I agree with him or not, Ken has been at every single meeting nd he certainly knows what’s going on,” he said. “Although the voter turnout was horrible, he did come in third out of seven or eight people.”

At first Kennedy thought Daige’s selection was a foregone conclusion and the interviews were merely perfunctory. But upon further reflection, he wasn’t sure if it was an organized effort or simply a highly disorganized effort.

“They kind of jumped the gun on me. They should have voted on all three of us in case something should happen to Ken Daige in the next 10 months so we wouldn’t have to go through this all over again,” Kennedy said. “But I have no hard feelings.”

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