VERO BEACH — An incident that occurred at a Sept. 21 Vero Beach City Council meeting became the topic of a nasty exchange Wednesday night when challenger Tracy Carroll took advantage of a coincidence.Candidates were responding to a question about opportunities for Vero’s young people. There happened to be some teenagers in the room, and also teenagers involved in a recent dust-up on the dais at City Hall.
Students from the Indian River Charter High School were helping out with audio equipment and microphones at Wednesday’s forum, hosted by the American Association of University Women. Charter High School students have also been regularly attending Vero Beach City Council meetings for a class assignment.
A group of about 25 students from the Indian River Charter High School showed up at the Sept. 21 meeting to listen to a presentation about the electric utility by Dr. Stephen Faherty and CPA Glenn Heran and the rate disparities with city customers paying 30 percent higher rates for electric than FPL customers.
A speaker got up during public comment and, addressing the students – and the council – reminded the city that the School District is paying $1 million per year more for electric than it would to FPL.
He said, “you are robbing” the schools, these students, etc., of that money to fill your own coffers.
These comments agitated Councilman Sabin Abell, but also motivated one of the students, Roman Grigoriev, 17, of Vero Beach, to get up and speak on behalf of the plight of his generation in relation to the current economic conditions.
“I’m turning 18 and going to be living on my own, what am I going to do about this?” (referring to the electric rates). Grigoriev described the financial worries of his classmates, their concerns about being able to live, pay their utilities and fund a college education.
“I don’t know, but if you don’t change it how we’re going to be able to afford all this,” he said.
Following his earnest comments, the students – and everyone else – were so moved that applause erupted in the council chambers. This had happened a couple times before and Mayor Kevin Sawnick had scolded the crowd for clapping and hooting.
This time, Heady heard Abell say that Sawnick should “throw them out” of the meeting for applauding and he told the public what Sabe had said and made a point out of it.
Carroll used the presence of the high school students as an opportunity to bring the issue up at Wednesday’s forum.
Abell attempted to explain his comments, saying that he was referring to the “adults who were out of order” and not the young people. Abell also challenged the way Heady had characterized his comments at the meeting and the fact that Carrol was quoting Heady, not Abell.
“I’m sorry Mr. Abell, but that’s on tape,” Carroll countered.
The sparring between Abell and Carroll concluded the evening’s debate and was by far the most strident exchange in the forum, during which the candidates were generally civil to each other