Vero Beach City Council tables vote on local offer to negotiate sale to FP&L

VERO BEACH — Faced with a proposal by octogenarians former Mayor David Gregg and former City Manager John Little to designate the duo to work out a deal to sell the electric utility to Florida Power & Light, the Vero Beach City Council postponed the decision until after a March 9 Utility Advisory Commission meeting where FP&L is scheduled to speak and answer the city’s questions about a potential sale.Mayor Kevin Sawnick withdrew his second to a motion by Councilman Brian Heady to allow Gregg and Little to work as emissaries for the city, effectively tabling the issue until the council meets next on March 16. “I would like to wait until Tuesday to see what FP&L has to say,” Sawnick said. As was revealed about two weeks ago, Tampa Electric Company (TECO) had also made a preliminary response to the city’s invitation, but subsequently removed itself from any further talks.This leaves FP&L as the sole power provider attending the March 9 meeting.Sawnick said he was “not prepared” to send Little and Gregg to FP&L prematurely, but that he did not want to slam the door on their offer. He said Gregg and Little could “play and important role” in the future, should the city choose at some point consider a sale.”These people have vast knowledge but I think we’re on the right path right now,” Sawnick said.City Manager Jim Gabbard said he had reached out to FP&L and was waiting for a call back to see if the company would be amenable to receiving Little and Gregg as the city’s designees for the purposes of negotiating a preliminary framework of a deal. At the time the issue came up, Gabbard was still waiting for the word back from FP&L.Gregg, who walked out of the council meeting in the middle of the proceedings, saying he would withdraw the offer if the council did not give him an up or down vote, had bristled at Vice Mayor Sabe Abell’s suggestion that Little and Gregg be required to take someone “from the city” with them to attend the negotiations. Abell suggested that former city Finance Director Tom Nason should be added to the negotiation team, as Nason served as a contemporary of Little and Gregg, but that he lives in the city limits. Gregg lives in the Moorings, which is in the unincorporated county and Little lives in Fellsmere.Councilman Tom White had also noted that “Mr. Little has been out of the electric business for a while and used to work for FP&L so I think there’s a little, little bit of a conflict there.””Mr. Little and I would not take on a project of this magnitude with a member of the city involved,” Gregg said. “You people have had 15 years to figure this out.””I am really tired,” Gregg added. “Vote yes or no and we’ll just withraw it.”Power providers interested in exploring the purchase of the city’s power plant, transmission and distribution and other power resources were invited to come to the March 9 Utility Advisory Commission meeting. FP&L responded to the letter, asking for copies of documents related to the city’s relationship with the Orlando Utilities Commission and the city’s contractual obligations for baseload generation from the St. Lucie nuclear plant and the Stanton I and II coal-fired plants. The city provided FP&L a disk with the requested information and also sent a list of 76 questions submitted by UAC members, city staff and the public.Last week, FP&L spokesperson Amy Brunjes confirmed that her company will be attending the March 9 meeting, but she did not know which members of the legal or management staff would be present. Brunjes said FP&L’s attorneys were in the process of reviewing the information sent to her by the city.In other matters, the Council approved a resolution in support of designating the Vero Man site as an Archaelogical Zone and clarifying that any artifacts found at the site are property of the City of Vero Beach. The city’s Historic Preservation Committee was also authorized to pursue having the Vero Man site listed in the National Register of Historic Places.In response to a request by Airport Director Eric Menger, the council approved a resolution accepting a $140,000 state grant toward a $700,000 project of resurfacing Taxiway C at the Vero Beach Municipal Airport. The council also approved the drafting of a budget amendment by Menger that would be required for him to seek additional federal funds to pay for most of the work. If that grant application, which will be submitted this summer, is approved, the federal and state funds could cover up to 95 percent of the cost, leaving the city with about $35,000 to pay, in addition to the staff time required to design, plan and implement the project. Menger said the surface of the taxiway is currently cracked and in need of repair.

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