I suggest you all go out and pick up a few copies of Vero Beach Newsweekly and make copies and pass out to city voters. Bea-isms sentiments exactly.
Vero Beach Newsweekly
Power referendum is not a straw poll
Voters should understand implications of approving referendum
In a choice that is deceptively simple, the Vero Beach electorate is being asked to allow the City Council to lease the power plant property. Far from clear to many voters, though, are the full implications of approving the Nov. 8 referendum.
Contrary to what many are leading the public to believe, the city council already has authority to negotiate with Florida Power and Light. This referendum is not necessary in order for the Council to pursue negotiations.
What the City Council is not authorized to do without voter approval is to lease the power plant property as part of a sale of the utility. That permission is what the Council now seeks, even though, with negotiations still in the early stages, important details of the lease and the sale are yet unknown.
With increasing persuasiveness, some are making the case that a “no” vote on the Nov. 8 referendum is the only means votes have of paving the way for a second referendum, one that might be held in early 2012, when negotiations between the City and FP&L have concluded. Voters will then be in a better position to make a more informed and considered decision.
If the City Council is able through the Nov. 8 referendum to secure permission to lease the power plant site, that governing body, apart from Mayor Jay Kramer, appears determined to sell the city’s electric utility without ever coming back to voters for their consent to a fully and finally negotiated agreement.
To date, the City Council has not been willing to pass even a non-binding resolution expressing support for a second referendum. If they would take that simple step, many who now question the wisdom of this referendum would be more inclined to support it.
With the Nov. 8 decision less than two weeks away, here are a few points to consider:
A yes vote is not necessary for negotiations to continue.
Curiously, some civic leaders are telling us that Florida Power and Light will walk away from an opportunity to acquire more than 32,000 new customers, if the poorly timed, vaguely worded Nov. 8 referendum is rejected by voters.
That claim does not square with the facts. For example, at a public information event held last week, members of the FP&L’s negotiating team were clear that they have NOT
taken the position that the company will necessarily break off negotiation if the referendum does not pass.
FP&L’s negotiators may very well be able to appreciate that some who vote “no” on the referendum will be doing so, not in opposition to a sale, but as the only means available to them of expressing their desire to vote on a fully and finally negotiated agreement.
This referendum will be binding on the public.
Several City Council members, as well as a number of business and civic organizations, are all in one way or another saying this referendum is non-binding. Whether doing so intentionally or otherwise, they are misleading the public.
In characterizing this referendum as “non-binding,” proponents are gaining support from voters who might otherwise reserve their approval until the full and final details of the lease have been negotiated.
While passage of this referendum does not obligate the Council to lease the property, or to sell the power plant, it will, if approved, commit voters to accept the terms of a lease that has yet to be negotiated.
Some maintain that the city charter requires that a lease be approved by voters, and not just the concept of leasing this property for the purpose stated in the referendum. Even acting City Attorney Wayne Coment, citing case law, advised the City Council in its June 21 meeting that the prudent approach would be to present to voters a negotiated lease. Coment said the courts have protected, “the voters’ need to be informed.”
Section 5.05 of the city charter provides that the present site of the power plant “…may not be sold, leased, traded, or given away by the city unless such sale, lease, trade, or gift is approved by a vote of the electors of the City of Vero Beach.” (Emphasis added.)
This provision in the charter is the reason why the current referendum will likely be challenged in court.
This referendum is premature.
Despite the fact that details of a lease have yet to be negotiated, some argue that the Council is acting responsibly in bringing this question to the voters in the Nov. 8 election. They point to the fact that the city is saving the $25,000 it would cost to hold a special election after a lease is negotiated with FP&L, presumably by early 2012.
Given the multi-million dollar price tag for the consultants and attorneys involved in this transaction, $25,000 seems a relatively small price to pay to ensure compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the city charter.
Asking the voters to make a decision without giving them an opportunity to consider all the facts that would be available once negotiations are concluded, simply to save $25,000, is penny-wise and pound-foolish, and is almost surely an invitation to a legal challenge.
The fact that this referendum is being rushed to a vote now has nothing to do with saving $25,000. Rather, it is a shrewd attempt to exclude the voting public from participating in the final decision on the lease of the power plant land and on the sale of the city’s electric utility.
Process matters as much as results.
A long and perhaps painful period of adjustment for the city will surely follow the divestment of its utilities. City leaders will necessarily have to make difficult decisions about appropriate levels of service, staffing and taxation.
These hard choices are unavoidable if the city is to cure itself of its addiction to the use of utility transfers as a way of subsidizing the general fund. As the city is right-sizing, it will be helpful if the majority of city voters can remind each other that they agreed to make these changes.
Council members Brian Heady and Tracy Carroll may well have been elected on their promise to get the city out of the power business. While we support that agenda, we would at the same time suggest that Heady and Carroll do not have a mandate to violate either the “letter” or the “spirit and intent” of the city charter.
Vice Mayor Pilar Turner seem equally inclined to let this referendum be the last word voters will have on the lease of the power plant property and the sale of the electric system. None of the current council majority seems inclined to trust “the average voter.”
And so, our concern is as much with the process as the outcome. By leading voters to believe that a “yes” vote is necessary in order for negotiations to continue, and by disingenuously claiming that that this referendum is non-binding, some are doing the public a disservice.
While it is almost surely a good idea to sell the electric utility, it is simply not sufficient to suggest that the end justifies the means. There has to be some higher value, and we would suggest that value is respect for the letter and the spirit and intent of the city charter.
It seems perfectly reasonable to vote for the Nov. 8 referendum, so long as one understands the City Council will then be empowered to negotiate the exact terms of a lease on the power plant property. Voters should be clear, though, that if the referendum passes there almost surely will be no second referendum. However you vote on Nov. 8, just be clear about the choice you are making.