INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Six candidates, all marketing themselves as fiscal conservatives, made a last push Thursday to set themselves apart from the competition for the District 3 and 5 Indian River Board of County Commission seats.
The forum, hosted by the Indian River Tea Party and moderated by Toby Hill, pitted incumbent Bob Solari against his two challengers, Brian Heady and Nick Thomas. Three rivals for the open seat being vacated by Gary Wheeler — Republicans Tim Zorc and Bea Gardner and non-party affiliated candidate Tony Donadio — also made their pitch to the nearly 150 voters in attendance at the Vero Beach Community Center.
Thomas took swipes at both Solari and Heady. He castigated Heady for being a perennial candidate and Solari for expensive projects he’s voted for, which Thomas claims have netted no, or at best nebulous, benefits for taxpayers.
Heady joined Thomas in this line of criticism, decrying the millions spent on replenishing sand on the county’s beaches, millions more spent to prop up Vero Beach Sports Village and still millions more to purchase development rights to private ranch lands owned by prominent pioneer families.
Heady pointed out that he’s puzzled by the short-sightedness of “spending $15 million dumping sand and then laying off a lifeguard.”
Thomas said he doesn’t believe in the county’s “Bridges to nowhere and the huge pork-barrel programs.” He also blasted the county Jobs Grant programs that have been much-touted by the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, but which have, Thomas said, in reality, not produced stellar results.
“Anyone who accepts a Jobs Grant in this county, they’re gonna do us dirty,” Thomas said.
Solari, who remained rather stoic while being bombarded from Heady seated to his right and Thomas seated to his left, did not defend his votes point by point, but instead stated that he stood by his record of service on the County Commission since 2008.
“The people who live and work in Indian River County know that I’ve worked hard for them these past four years,” Solari said.
In the race for the open seat, Zorc will face Gardner on Aug. 14, but he seemed to be focused already on the general election contest that will pit the prevailing Republican against Donadio in November.
Donadio and Zorc both work in the construction industry — Zorc as a builder and Donadio as an architect. Zorc emphasized his heritage as a Vero Beach native and his strong ties to the area and knowledge of all the issues. Zorc offered himself up as someone who would continue to strive toward streamlining county government.
“I have first-hand business knowledge, I know the (county) department heads,” Zorc said. “I know their efficiencies and, more importantly, their inefficiencies.”
Donadio, who moved to Florida as a young man, talked about his values and his upbringing and how that would translate into sound judgment if voters elect him to the commission. He listed economic development, the Vero Beach Sports Village and the Indian River Lagoon as three priorities.
He said he would work toward an atmosphere “so my children and your children can live, work and give back to Indian River County.”
Zorc pointed out that Donadio has personally benefited from county purchasing policies as he contracts with the county for capital building projects. Donadio defended the way the county chooses firms by qualifications to do the job and not by price.
Seated between the two men, Gardner steered clear of the fray, maintaining a positive message touting her own experience and involvement in the community. As a small business person who, like a good portion of county residents, is now mostly retired, Gardner said she identifies with the average voter.
Gardner’s beef seemed to be more with the entire incumbent County Commission on the dais more than with her opponents.
“I sometimes get the feeling that the members of the County Commission don’t necessarily get it,” she said.
“I believe that this seat (now filled by Wheeler) has been under-served for far too long,” Gardner added.