New Vero Beach City Manager to attend FP&L meeting today via Skype

VERO BEACH — James O’Connor won’t be physically in Vero Beach until the end of July, but his presence using an internet teleconferencing service will help shape negotiations with Florida Power and Light about selling the Vero Beach Electric Utility.

Wednesday’s meeting, said Councilwoman Carroll, will serve to set the parameters or ground rules for the negotiations to come and she felt O’Connor should be part of those talks from the start.

“We asked and Mr. O’Connor and he was amenable to using the Skype technology,” Carroll said.

Skype allows both parties to see and hear each other using an internet connection, cameras, microphones and computer monitors, similar to watching each other on television in real time. A handful of City Manager candidates were interviewed via Skype by all the City Council members throughout April and May to save the expense of flying them to Vero Beach for the meetings.

O’Connor currently serves as City Manager of Winchester, Va. He has given the city notice he is leaving and will move to Vero Beach in late July, with a target date of July 25 for his start date.

Vero Beach officials have been talking to FP&L officials informally about a potential sale of the electric utility since November 2009, but just on April 4 did the investor-owned utility deliver a Letter of Intent to the City of Vero Beach to open up formal negotiations. In that Letter of Intent, FP&L offered to purchase the utility for up to $100 million cash, plus take on utility employees for two years and assume pension liability for those 113 employees.

The City Council made some minor changes to the Letter of Intent and approved it, leaving the document more open-ended and less restrictive on the City of Vero Beach. The $100 million price was removed and instead was inserted a phrase about a mutually agreed upon price.

Councilwoman Tracy Carroll, elected to a one-year council seat in November 2010, was appointed by her peers as the point person to help shepherd the deal with FP&L. Carroll will be meeting with various FP&L legal, management and public relations personnel in a closed-door session in Vero Beach Wednesday.

Also in attendance will be top Vero staffers and representatives from GAI Consultants, the city’s hired utility experts who have been contracted to appraise the utility and work on the deal for a pricetag of $238,000.

Former Councilman Ken Daige asked whether or not the public would have access to the meeting and was told no, but that public access to part or all of the negotiations would be one of the things the parties would be discussing on Wednesday.

Though GAI has not submitted an invoice for the first month of services ending May 15 and has not, as of Tuesday, delivered the scheduled monthly status report to the City Council, Interim City Manager Monte Falls said Tuesday that GAI has met with officials at the Orlando Utilities Commission regarding the city’s options in exiting the 20-year, $2 billion wholesale electric and services contract the city signed in 2007.

The turnover date to OUC power was Jan. 1, 2010, and the contract contains language providing for early exit penalties which could go as high as $20 to $50 million.

It was agreed that Carroll and the staff would press GAI Consultants Principal Gerry Hartmann on Wednesday about getting the city some sort of status report as soon as possible.

Vice Mayor Pilar Turner also said she wanted GAI to establish a timeline of activities so the council had some measurable benchmark upon which to judge the consultants’ progress on the four-month project.

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