Fellsmere leader John Little, former Vero Beach manager, passes at 86

FELLSMERE – The man credited with blazing the trail in Fellsmere for future city managers, John Little, died Monday at the age of 86.

Little had been in and out of the hospital recently, but even from his hospital bed was known to “hold court” and talk politics with visitors.

He was a man who was a force to be reckoned with in Vero Beach politics for decades, and continued to call officials to task just months ago.

Little served as an administrative assistant to the City of Fellsmere after leaving the City Manager’s post in Vero Beach.

“We couldn’t call him that,” Fellsmere City Councilman Joel Tyson said, referring to the “city manager” title.

At the time, Fellsmere didn’t have such a position.

Just the same, though, Little helped the city establish and streamline its utilities and keep city leaders on track.

“John was a rough old codger,” Tyson said, recalling one particular council meeting when he was Mayor.

During that meeting years ago, the representatives of Garcia’s Grocery were applying for a beer-sales license over the objections of the church members across the street.

The church representatives did not speak during public input, which was established policy, Tyson explained. Instead, they tried to speak when the matter of the license was addressed.

Over Little’s objections, Tyson allowed the church members to speak.

Tyson said that Little scolded him during the meeting, telling him to never do that again.

“That was the way he was,” Tyson said.

He also recalled a plaque on Little’s desk that read: “Be Reasonable – Do Things My Way.”

“He was a good guy,” Tyson said.

While the “administrative assistant to the mayor,” Little modernized Fellsmere’s systems and instituted a more professional city management apparatus, readying it for the rapid growth it would experience over the past 15 years.

As Vero Beach’s longest-serving City Manager from 1973 to 1991, Little is known as the architect of modern-day Vero Beach. Little came to Vero with a strong utility background, having worked for Florida Power and Light and other utility companies.

It was under Little’s leadership that the Vero Beach government expanded to provide a robust variety of services to its residents.

Not everyone agreed with this massive expansion of the city’s government and Little often found himself embroiled in controversy.

The City of Vero Beach’s high spending on basic services that is today a part of the city government’s engrained culture, mushroomed under Little’s service.

“If you want Cadillac services, you pay Cadillac prices. If you want Ford services, you pay Ford prices,” Little was quoted when the question came up in the 1976 city council election.

Little prided himself on developing the city staff under him. He earned their respect and stayed close with many long-time city employees long past his tenure as City Manager.

A dynamic public speaker, Little continued to be involved in the public arena long after retirement.

In 2008, he was described as giving “an incredible history” of the area before the Vero Beach Utility Advisory Commission.

Little was a vocal proponent of selling the Vero Beach Electric Utility to FP&L. He and former Mayor David Gregg tried to sell the utility to FP&L in 1976 and continued negotiations for nearly three more years until the sale was finally nixed by federal regulators.

In 2010, Little and Gregg came out of retirement to deliver impassioned speeches to the Vero Beach City Council and to offer their services to the city to negotiate a sale with FP&L once again.

The City Council, which at the time was not convinced a sale was the way to go, politely declined the offer.

Little is survived by his wife, Barbara.

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