Ex-Mayor Fletcher joins race for Vero Beach City Council

A game-changer is about to be unleashed on the race for Vero Beach City Council.

Former Vero Beach Mayor A. Craig Fletcher – a seven-generation Vero native — plans to seek to return to the City Council to help get the city out of the electric business, and work to take back control of Vero Beach from city staff.

  As electric costs soared and the debate over getting Vero Beach out of the electric business raged, City Hall insiders often dismissed those who opposed the city’s power operation as carpetbaggers — most of them living outside the city limits.


That won’t fly against Fletcher, whose grandfather moved to Vero Beach in 1903 and built the first bridge across the Indian River. His father was a former mayor of Vero and his brother was an Indian River County Commissioner.

Like the rest of Vero ratepayers, Fletcher skeptically waited until January for the promised drop in electric costs. The bill he received for January — double what his bills were last summer — proved the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Encouraged by his wife Arlene, a long-time Vero resident and activist in many local causes, Fletcher began assembling a small group for advice and support in his decision to run again after a six-year absence from the City Council.

“The first point isn’t how we’re going to get out of the electric business, the next point is that we do get out of it,” Fletcher said. “This is going to be the first step of getting the control of the city back in the hands of the City Council.”

Fletcher, 68, said he’s tired of backroom deals and the public being kept in the dark about issues vital to their lives and their pocketbooks. He said he is running because he realizes that residents have lost control of their own city.

Former Vero Beach Councilman Charlie Wilson said Fletcher’s bold announcement represents a sea change in the conversation, which has been viewed as a city versus county battle, pitting those outside the city who account for 60 percent of the electric utility’s customer base against the city taxpayers.

“This is an indication that even the establishment realizes the importance of selling the electric system,” Wilson said.

After two terms on council, a stint as mayor and a six-year break, Fletcher is ready to come back and tackle the issue that he was itching to take on back in 2004, but the political will was just not there to do it.

Getting out of the electric business, for Fletcher, is a no-brainer. He said a deal should be brokered for the sale of the transmission and distribution assets, if the city can find a willing buyer in FP&L.

As for the aging power plant itself, he sees it as basically irrelevant going forward.

“Personally, I’d like to sell that thing off at 18 cents a pound and get it off that beautiful piece of riverfront property,” Fletcher said.

Five minutes spent with Fletcher and there’s no doubt he’s intelligent and deeply engaged in the issues facing the City of Vero Beach.

While on council for four years, he said he read every piece of paper that came across his desk and that he was the first council member to ask for a computer in his office, to aid in his research and communication with staff.

Just the thought of the city council not reading the complete $2 billion OUC contract in its entirety gets him really steamed.

“They just want the Cliff Notes version, they want it broken down for them and when you do that, you rely on the staff interpretation or the interpretation of consultants who work for the staff,” he said.

When asked if he would have the will to participate in radical change in the city’s top staff, Fletcher was quick to recall that he spearheaded the effort to terminate City Manager Rex Taylor.

He said he also was opposed to hiring City Attorney Charles Vitunac after his less than stellar career with the Board of County Commissioners.

But Fletcher places much of the fault for goings on with the council, as one would blame a parent for an out-ofcontrol child.

“The City Council needs to take control of the city back from the staff,” Fletcher said. “The current staff needs to be given clear policy statements — clear directives to follow and they need to follow them.”

In November, Fletcher will take on one incumbent who successfully defeated him in 2004. Vice Mayor Sabe Abell, with the help of the Indian River Neighborhood Association, unseated the two-term councilman.

“At the time, everyone was concerned about growth and I agreed with them, but I didn’t agree with them as much as others did,” Fletcher said. “The IRNA told me they would show me how much power they had and the way to do that was to get somebody out.”

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