Vero Councilman Heady to Commissioners: ‘What do I do now?’

VERO BEACH — Despite being chastised for speaking at a Board of County Commissioners meeting in January, Vero City Councilman Brian Heady returned to the county podium on Tuesday and caused an uproar that pulled City Manager Jim Gabbard into the fray.

Heady updated commissioners  on the saga of the Orlando Utilities Commission contract which governs the city’s 34,000 customer households, about 50 percent of which are located in the unincorporated county. He also expressed his frustration in getting information from city staff, which prompted the extraordinary step of the city manager appearing unannounced at the commissioners’ meeting to refute the claims made by Heady. Heady expressed his dismay that he’d been unable to locate the original OUC contract reviewed by council members on April 7, 2008. Over the past few weeks, Heady has been on a crusade to secure the $2 billion document, so he can check the numbers to make sure they’re the same as in the final contract signed by then-Mayor Tom White.

 Heady detailed his search, concluding by saying that the document he wanted had been taken to Boston with the consultant in 2008, brought to Vero two weeks ago and then returned to Boston with the consultant. Heady also complained that his comments and questions were curtailed by Mayor Kevin Sawnick at a Feb. 2 city council meeting.

“I would like to ask for your advice on what should I do? Where should I go now?” Heady said, adding that it was his belief that the sitting commissioners would tolerate a similar situation “for about 10 seconds” from their own top staffers, County Administrator Joe Baird and County Attorney Will Collins.

Commissioners said they appreciated the update, as they are bombarded with calls from constituents upset about their electric bills. Commissioner Bob Solari, who served one term on the Vero City Council, said the problem had changed slightly from when he doggedly attempted to get reports, documents and data out of city staff.

Commissioner Wesley Davis invited Heady back to speak at any time about city issues concerning county residents. The last time Heady spoke to the commissioners he was upbraided by Councilman Tom White that he was not speaking for the entire council.

That sentiment fo Heady to make regular visits to Board meetings was echoed by all but Commissioner Gary Wheeler, who said he was not in favor of  the “lynch mob mentality” he feels is developing around the electric issue. Wheeler said that if some wrongdoing is suspected, that an independent investigator should look into it and put the matter to rest once and for all.

“I do think everybody is jumping on the bandwagon and calling everybody corrupt,” Wheeler said. “Whether or not there’s corruption, I’ll leave for someone else, but there has been an extreme lack of cooperation,” Heady said.

As a counter to Heady’s presentation, former Mayor Warren Winchester rose to the podium and chastised the commissioners for giving Heady a venue to vent his frustrations with city staff and his fellow council members.

“It’s inappropriate for you to have him here to speak about council issues. What you’re doing this morning is a great disserivce to the community and to the people who elect you,” Winchester said. “When you speak to one council member, you get one side of the story, you’re not getting the whole story.”

Winchester told commissioners that if they want to know what’s going on at the City of Vero Beach, they should consult the Mayor or the City Manager.

“Let’s declare a truce and all stop talking to the press,” Winchester proposed to commissioners.

That approach carried no water with the county commission, as several commissioners pointed out that they will not stop answering reporters’ questions or setting the record straight when claims are made at the city that don’t match up to county data or records.

Toward the end of the public comment period, City Manager Gabbard arrived and sat down next to Heady. Gabbard addressed the Board, saying he was pulled out of a meeting at the city to watch the proceedings at the county and that he was “stunned” by the allegations being made by Heady and by comments coming from members of the commission.

“I know all of you and I’ve known all of you for decades,” Gabbard said, reminding commissioners of his previous career in law enforcement. “I would not tolerate any misconduct or any violation of the law.”

Gabbard said Heady was mistaken in saying that he’d never seen the original, contract dated April 7, 2008.

“The comments made by Mr. Heady are absolutely false,” Gabbard said. “He’s had it in his hand, I don’t know what’s going on with him.”

Gabbard said the electric issue has been a hard road, that it’s taken the city five years to get out of a bad deal and that they don’t take the matter lightly.

“There is nothing nefarious going on,” Gabbard said.




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