Zudans, seeking County Commission seat, sees no conflict with city duties


Vero Beach City Council member Tracey Zudans, who is seeking a seat on the County Commission in the 2024 election, said she doesn’t expect to confront in the coming year any significant issues on which the best interests of the city and county conflict.

But if she does?

“Right now, as an elected official for the city, I have a fiduciary duty to Vero Beach,” Zudans said last week, after a newly configured council held its post-election organizational meeting.

“That’s my first responsibility.

She quickly added, however: “I really don’t anticipate any problems. I can’t even think of an issue where there would be a conflict. Most of the issues the city and county are facing are community issues that impact everyone here.”

To address those issues, in fact, the City Council and County Commission already have held the first of what is expected to be a series of joint workshops designed to encourage cooperation and improve the bodies’ long-contentious relationship.

The city sees such an effort as necessary as the continuing population surge in the county puts more stress on Vero and its limited budget, which must absorb an increasing demand from non-city residents who flock to Vero Beach each day.

That’s why Zudans said she believes it’s important for city officials to build relationships with their county counterparts, adding that “getting a greater understanding of how local government works” produces more opportunities to solve problems and make the community better.

“It’s always better to work together when you’re dealing with community issues,” she said.

“We might not all want it done the same way, but we all want a solution.”

First-term incumbent Laura Moss, Zudan’s opponent in the County Commission District 5 race, also served on the Vero City Council – including stints as mayor and vice mayor – before being elected to her current position in 2020.

She agreed that the new, more-amicable tone between the city and county should remove many of the potential conflicts Zudans might otherwise have encountered during the campaign.

“There are still some issues we need to work on, but I think everyone has figured out that things don’t always have to be contentious,” Moss said. “I believe we’ll see more collaboration between the city and county with our new county administrator, John Titkanich.

“The relationship had been adversarial for a while, but I think that’s in the rear-view mirror now,” she added. “People don’t want to see squabbling. They want to see solutions.”

City Manager Monte Falls confirmed that his working relationship with Titkanich, who was hired earlier this year, is noticeably better than it was with previous county administrators.

Also, both city and county officials have expressed optimism that the new joint workshops will be productive.

Still, Moss warned, there are issues that have not been resolved, including the city’s push to get more of the tourist-tax dollars that are generated in the city but go to the county.

She also mentioned the county helping cover the costs of recreation, particularly lifeguards on the city’s beaches, which attract seasonal residents and visitors from all over the county.

But if Zudans, who must expand her appeal to voters beyond the city to unseat Moss, does find herself in a position where she is forced to choose?

“The city is your beat,” Moss said. “If you’re a City Council member, you’re representing the city. The city’s best interests come first.”

As for a council member reaching out to county voters, Moss said, “You stand on your record. That’s what I did four years ago.”

Moss cited her efforts while on the City Council to finally close the deal to sell the city’s electric utility to Florida Power & Light.

Moss’ District 5 predecessor, Bob Solari, said he never felt compromised when running for the commission while serving on the council.

“I always tried to look at all residents of Indian River County as county residents,” Solari said. “I don’t recall making a distinction, based on whether people lived within the boundaries of the city. Nor do I recall having too much difficulty making decisions work for the best of the county, as well.

“I have seen some council members who go on to serve on the commission and think they represent the city – that they were voted in as Vero Beach’s representative,” he added. “But that’s certainly not how I viewed it.”

Solari, who served on the commission for 12 years, said he believes county residents accept that commission candidates who are campaigning while serving on city or town councils must put first the best interests of the people who elected them.

“I don’t think county voters have any problem with that,” he said. “They understand if you’re serving on the Indian River Shores Town Council, for example, you’re fighting for what’s best for the town. The same with voters in the city of Vero Beach.”

The issue with the greatest potential to present Zudans with a conflict is Indian River Shores’ pending decision on whether to renew its long-term water-sewer franchise agreement with Vero Beach.

The Shores has until April 1 to provide the city with formal notice of its intent to renew the deal in 2027. The renewal would lock the town into 15 more years of paying higher rates that would help Vero Beach finance its plan to relocate its wastewater-treatment plant from the lagoon to the city’s airport.

A protracted legal battle between the town and city ended in October, when the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear the case, forcing The Shores to explore other options – including getting those services provided from an alternate source, perhaps the county.

Surely, Zudans would welcome support from the posh, seaside town for her campaign. But she said she wouldn’t shun her commitment to Vero Beach.

“Even as an elected official for the city, I still want the best for the entire community,” she said. “But I represent the city.”

Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno said the “potential exists” for Zudans – or any city council member running for county office – to be confronted with such a conflict.

“Other than that,” he added, “I have no comment.”

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