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Local voters to get yet another voting system
week of March 23, 2017

When Vero Beach residents vote in this fall’s municipal election, it will be on paper ballots using a fill-in-the-bubble system instead of connecting the dots by a line. The Indian River Board of County Commissioners Tuesday voted 4-to-0 to approve a contract to purchase a new, state-law compliant optical-scanner voting and tabulation system with funds that have been set aside over the past three years. “I hope to have them in May,” Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said, allowing her time to fully test out the equipment, to order the most practical writing implements to fill out the ballots, and finally to conduct public outreach to familiarize the voters with the system before the November municipal elections. The system will be used by all county voters in the 2018 primaries and general election. READ FULL STORY

Time to get serious about parking problems
week of March 23, 2017

What happened across four hours at the Vero Beach Planning & Zoning Board meeting last week was an embarrassment to our community, and city leaders should be ashamed of themselves for putting us in such an unseemly predicament. The often-hostile, sometimes-condescending tone, feelings of mistrust and sense of desperation that filled the room was unbecoming of a place that prides itself on its small-town charm, old-school manners and neighborly demeanor. We’re supposed to be better than that, especially in how we treat each other. The proposed construction of a new restaurant on Ocean Drive, where in-season parking is already scarce, seems to have brought out the worst in some of us, though. And the bulk of the blame lies with our elected officials, who've done nothing to address the parking problem. How many more incarnations of our City Council are going to continue to punt this problem – a parking shortage in the Central Beach business district, particularly along Ocean Drive, especially during our busy season – to the next bunch, hoping we'll not notice or at least grin and bear it? READ FULL STORY

School employees have data disclosed in security breach
week of March 23, 2017

The Indian River County School District is blaming PlanSource, a third-part vendor, for a security breach that revealed Social Security numbers of some school employees to other employees in the course of mailing out tax forms for the district’s self-insured health insurance plan. PlanSource was hired to generate Internal Revenue Service 1095-C forms, a required document that verifies employee health insurance and reports if other family members are covered on the plan. A School District email to employees sent March 10 states, “On March 3, 2017, the School District of Indian River County was notified that the Vendor that was contracted to produce the Form 1095-C for District employees made some errors (about 3.5 percent of the forms) regarding the information contained on those forms. “This included the release of some Social Security numbers. ... It appears that the error was caused by a misapplication of information that was provided to the Vendor by Florida Blue. This does represent a security breach on their part. READ FULL STORY

He’s baaack! Bobby returns to his restaurant on St. Patrick’s
week of March 23, 2017

St. Patrick’s Day is a festive occasion at Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge, where the bar area again this year was decorated with shamrocks, leprechaun hats, and green, white and orange balloons. Last week’s celebration, though, was particularly memorable. “This was my target date,” said Bobby McCarthy, who opened his popular, beachside eatery 36 years ago. “It’s been tough going the past three months, but I got through it. I’m about 90-percent back. “My balance is still out of whack, but I’m working out three days a week and I’m getting there,” he added. “It was important to me to be here today.” It also was important to dozens of his green-clad customers, many of whom hadn’t seen McCarthy since he suffered a seizure and collapsed at the restaurant on Dec. 13. When McCarthy, wearing a Kelly-green golf shirt and khaki shorts, walked into the bar shortly after noon last Thursday, a standing-room-only gathering filled the room with applause and welcomed him back with handshakes, hugs and kisses. READ FULL STORY

New shelter set to open its doors for homeless single women April 1
week of March 23, 2017

Sixteen single women facing homelessness will be housed and helped until they can get back on their feet, thanks to fast, effective work by volunteers and non-profit organization workers and the generosity of local donors. The new facility will begin operation April 1. The women will live at a quadplex purchased by churches, a Jewish temple, private donors and the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council. “It came together in 90 days,” Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council Executive Director Louise Hubbard said. “There was no contention about who would be served. The faith-based community saw a need, recognized what needed to be done and made it happen in three months,” Hubbard said. “It was amazing.” Other shelters in the area, such as Hope for Families Center and the Samaritan Center, take homeless families, but not single women. The coordinator of the effort was the Sand & Land Real Estate Team at the barrier island brokerage Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, comprised of Beth Livers, Maria Caldarone and Ashley Harris. READ FULL STORY

Acupuncturist who questioned billing practices gets hate mail
week of March 23, 2017

Three weeks after a local acupuncturist questioned a competitor's billing practices during the December County Commission meeting at which the county put a cap on future insurance payments for such treatment by its employees, she received an ugly letter allegedly sent by several dozen employees. Angela King, who owns Indian River Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine, said the typed, one-page piece of hate mail – unsigned, but bearing 40 hand-written initials – was mailed to both her office and her barrier island home in envelopes bearing a "fake" return address. Alarmed by its contents, King forwarded the letter to County Administrator Jason Brown, who turned it over to the Sheriff's Office. "It's something I take very seriously," Brown said. "If this was done by county employees, that is highly inappropriate conduct and something we won't tolerate. "We tried to track it down by checking to see if it was created on one of our computers, but we couldn't find it," he added. "So we then sent it to the Sheriff's Office, but, as far as I know, they still haven't been able to tie it to anyone in particular." READ FULL STORY

O’Malley: Dodgertown golf course would make ‘terrific’ park
week of March 23, 2017

The man whose father designed and built the now-defunct, long-abandoned Dodgertown Golf Club more than 50 years ago would like to see the property become a city park. He didn't come right out and say it, of course – at least not initially. He publicly shared his opinion only after some prodding. Despite his lifelong connection to the community, Peter O'Malley wouldn't dare to presume he knows more about what's best for Vero Beach than the people who live here. "The city owns the land, and it's more important to listen to what the community wants to do with it," the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner said last week from his Southern California office. "As I understand it, a large number of people cared enough to take time to attend the City Council meeting and share their thoughts and feelings. "And they were heard." In fact, the council unanimously rejected a $2.7 million offer from a Palm Beach Gardens-based developer who wanted to build a 280-home community on the 35-acre parcel adjacent to Historic Dodgertown. READ FULL STORY

Rail safety bill a nightmare for All Aboard Florida
week of March 23, 2017

Vero’s legislators are hoping to get the state to impose safety regulations on the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail project to protect local communities in the train’s path, and shelter taxpayers from funding needed safety upgrades. Florida Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Florida House Rep. Erin Grall are pushing bills in their respective chambers that would assign more of the burden of rail crossing safety equipment, fencing, disaster preparedness and reporting accountability to All Aboard Florida operators. The bill would expand the Florida Department of Transportation’s authority over companies that run trains over the same freight tracks that carry hazardous cargo such as natural gas and chemicals. Currently, Vero Beach and Indian River County face tough decisions about whether or not to create “quiet zones,” plus address numerous unanswered questions about rail crossing plans, potential costs and impacts on public safety and the environment from a train that would thunder past an archaeological site, delicate historic structures, wildlife habitat and through a business and entertainment district. READ FULL STORY

Consultant tells IRMC it must change to survive
week of March 16, 2017

The accelerated time frame of Indian River Medical Center’s examination of its own future made for some painful moments last week as the collaborative committee charged with that study endured two rigorous public critiques in a 48-hour time span. The admonitions ranged from hyperlocal, as when Hospital District trustee Michael Weiss told a taxpayer group’s luncheon on Wednesday that the emergency room on his last two visits was “dirty”; to the assessment of nationally-known healthcare consultant Jamie Orlikoff, who flew in from Seattle to speak to IRMC leaders on Friday. Orlikoff said IRMC was in no-man’s-land now, under taxpayer ownership through the Hospital District but leased to a private not-for-profit corporation, and warned that this public-private hybrid is utterly unworkable and must be dismantled immediately for the hospital to survive. Through both meetings, the collaborative committee held its collective head up high, soldiering on through what could well become an even harsher, more polarizing assessment. READ FULL STORY

Lagoon loses its devoted champion in Paul Dritenbas
week of March 16, 2017

The death of Paul Dritenbas last week, at age 65, has left the Indian River Lagoon without one of its most devoted and outspoken champions. The architect, fishing guide and former FIND commissioner died at his home in Vero Beach, with his family by his side, following an extended illness. “Paul had a big heart for the Indian River Lagoon and he will be missed,” County Commissioner Tim Zorc wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963. Dritenbas was a true environmentalist, who walked the talk when it came to issues he believed in. This was the thread that ran though virtually every aspect of his life: a passion for the local environment coupled with a broad knowledge of the lagoon and its fragile ecosystem, and a deep concern that the loss of seagrass in the lagoon, if not stopped, would lead to the ecological collapse of the waterway that is the economic and aesthetic lifeblood of the Treasure Coast. READ FULL STORY

Reckless driving seen in Shores car fatality
week of March 16, 2017

Before a classic Corvette struck a cement light pole Thursday morning on A1A, killing the driver who was the lone occupant of the car, witnesses told police they noticed the victim driving recklessly through Indian River Shores. The crash has been turned over to the Florida Highway Patrol for investigation, and forensic evidence typically takes many weeks to process. But initially, Shores Public Safety officers are chalking this one up to the driver losing control of his car on the highway. The deceased 51-year-old white male, John Pierce Keller Jr., lived in the Bethel Isle community just west of the Village Beach Market. The incident report released by the Shores Public Safety Department in response to a public records request said the first person to spot the black 1972 Corvette slammed into the base of the electric pole was David Albury, a security guard from Sea Colony who called in the crash at 7:40 a.m. Albury attempted to get the car door open but could not. Richard Dent, an off-duty paramedic with Indian River County Fire Rescue, was the first medical responder to arrive and conclude the subject had been killed on impact. READ FULL STORY

Bill would strip power from Vero and county
week of March 16, 2017

A bill filed that would prevent local governments from passing any new business regulations after July 1, and that would wipe clean all but state-approved regulations in 2020, has sailed through its first legislative committee hearing in Tallahassee. The City of Vero Beach, City of Sebastian and Members of the Board of County Commissioners have all taken issue with the bill, saying it would threaten their ability to shape regulation to the types of commerce and industry local communities want – or more importantly, don’t want. The Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties have put this threat to home rule, and its originator Rep. Randy Fine from Brevard County, squarely in their crosshairs, taking to social media and encouraging constituents to flood Tallahassee with pleas to stop the bill from advancing. House Bill 17 proposes two things. The first is a deadline of July 1 for local governments and agencies to pass or strengthen ordinances regulating businesses operating within their jurisdictions – unless a state law already grants those specific powers to the local government. After July 1, the state preempts all power to regulate businesses, unless expressly granted via state law. READ FULL STORY

Shores Town Council flip-flops on density, affirms beach access
week of March 16, 2017

In what has become a heated saga over selling off a 5.3-acre vacant parcel of ocean-view land acquired by Indian River Shores from the county in 1993, the Town Council last week decided at a special meeting that, instead of limiting density to three units per acre, it would stick with the original six-units-per-acre zoning. This reversed a council decision taken just two weeks ago that cut density to the three-per-acre limit. Also at that meeting, the council, before an occasionally raucous, packed house of nearly 65 residents arguing for and against higher density, voted once again to dedicate a 5-foot strip of right of way owned by the Town to a public beach access. That vote was handled in a confusing way, as a motion to reverse the previous vote to allow the beach access. That motion failed 3-2, leaving some advocates of the beach access grumbling as they exited the meeting, thinking they’d lost, when they actually won the battle. A post-meeting memo sent out by Town Clerk Laura Aldrich provided some clarity on the decision. READ FULL STORY

New restaurant building proposed for Ocean Drive would compound parking woes
week of March 16, 2017

The Vero Beach Planning and Zone Board on Thursday approved a site plan submitted by a local construction company on behalf of a Miami-area investment group for an upscale restaurant with outdoor seating on Ocean Drive. Sounds at first blush like a great addition to Ocean Drive, right? But then you learn they are proposing to build this restaurant in what is now the street-front parking lot sandwiched between the Cooper & Company and M Maison boutiques, across from Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge. According to the schematic drawing presented to neighboring merchants by Parent Construction, the 2,685-square-foot restaurant would seat 143 customers, 42 of them on a covered outdoor patio that runs along Ocean Drive. And the restaurant is not going to be an addition to the local dining scene but a new location for long-time island favorite The Tides. Despite the fact that Vero Beach officials still have no answer for Ocean Drive's existing parking challenges, which seem to increase each year, and despite the fact the restaurant would eliminate a dozen and a half parking places, city planners had recommended the board approve the project – and it did on a 4 to 1 vote. READ FULL STORY

Unlivable rentals seen factor in slide into homelessness
week of March 9, 2017

The lack of low- to-moderate-income housing in Indian River County creates a desperate situation for many low-income renters, and some landlords exploit the situation, demanding big up-front deposits and then keeping the money when tenants move out because of unlivable conditions – a process that too often leads to homelessness. Mark Titone of Titone Properties LLC, who lives in Central Beach, appears to be one of those landlords, according to non-profits that assist the homeless and county records. His company owns 44 rental properties in the county and has brought nearly 70 eviction actions against tenants since 2010. Court documents reveal a common thread. Many of the defendants claimed Titone promised to make a rental property livable, but never did. When they complained, he filed an eviction notice. Most of the evictions were successful, the tenants fleeing instead of “answering” the eviction summons. With cash depleted and ‘evicted’ stamped on their record, finding housing becomes more difficult and the slide into homelessness closer. READ FULL STORY

Hospital reports progress in negotiations with insurers
week of March 9, 2017

In Indian River County, where around a thousand babies are born each year, couples may endlessly debate names and pore over paint swatches for the nursery. More than likely, though, they will not have to think about which hospital to go to: only one does labor and delivery, Indian River Medical Center. The only other hospital, Sebastian River Medical Center, stopped performing deliveries years ago. That’s why last month, when IRMC quietly put one of its four largest insurance companies on notice of termination, for some county residents, a trip to the hospital to have a baby started to look a lot longer and a lot more expensive. Termination would have meant the hospital was no longer an in-network provider for those insured by that unnamed company, forcing patients to pay much higher out-of-network costs, or search for another hospital – for labor and delivery, that would mean Fort Pierce or Melbourne. The notice of termination strategy is a common one in negotiations for higher reimbursement rates, the amount insurers reimburse hospitals for their services. IRMC would not say which insurer had balked, or when notice would expire, but odds are excellent it was less than nine months. READ FULL STORY

Surge in private jet traffic leads to new construction at Vero airport
week of March 9, 2017

Corporate Air, one of two flight service companies catering to Vero’s jet set, has bet big on the Vero Beach Regional Airport as an increasingly popular destination for business and leisure travel – probably a good bet since the airport handled more than 200,000 takeoffs and landings last year. While much of that traffic was accounted for by flight school students practicing takeoffs and landings, Corporate Air CEO Rodger Pridgeon said he’s seen an 18 percent increase in jet traffic into and out of the airport over last year – a trend that shows no signs of abating. Nearly all of those disembarking are headed for Vero’s barrier island communities, he added. Pridgeon said traffic has been so heavy he has been turning away pilots radioing to come in for fuel, maintenance or hangar space. As a result, he is building a second private terminal at the airport and has worked a deal with the federal Department of Transportation to expand ramp space adjacent to his hangers. READ FULL STORY

School Board to act as judge in ‘testing irregularities’ case
week of March 9, 2017

The Indian River County School District investigation into cheating on industry certification tests at Vero Beach High School reeled in a few of the small and medium fish, but let the big ones get away, according to recently released documents. Despite evidence of broader culpability, Superintendent Mark Rendell was satisfied to lay the blame on two teachers for “testing irregularities” that went on for years with the department head’s approval and participation. Now, after the teachers refused to be the scapegoats and accept suspensions proposed by Rendell, the School Board has decided to conduct a follow-up investigation and render a judgment on its own instead of referring the cases to the state Division of Administrative Hearings. The School Board’s decision came despite protests from the teachers’ lawyer and one board member who questioned the board’s expertise and impartiality, and wanted the two cases referred to the state court. “I think you intend to do due process,” said Mark Wilensky, who represents both teachers, “but I don’t think you have a good grasp on what it takes to provide it.” Motions on evidence, discovery, disputed facts, document requests and problems with witnesses would be better handled if DOAH took the cases, he said. READ FULL STORY

Shores reverses decision it just made on beach property
week of March 9, 2017

The Indian River Shores Town Council met Thursday morning and voted to reverse its decision made two weeks ago to limit development on a 5.4-acre oceanside parcel to 15 units, and revert back to the original zoning that would allow approximately 30 units in total. Rather than ask the Town staff to make a recommendation beforehand, the council, in front of a packed chambers, last month listened to comments from the public and real estate agents, weighed its options on the fly, and settled on the maximum of 15 units for the prime development property. After the vote, however, the council asked Town Manager Robbie Stabe and building official Jose Guanch to review what had been done to make sure it was in the Town’s best interest and to report back. Guanch “sent me a memo that included a staff recommendation that Council should basically let the Land Development Code do what it is designed to do,” Stabe said Monday. Based upon that memo, Mayor Brian Barefoot called a meeting of the council for 9 a.m. Thursday. A notice was sent by email to residents about the meeting, but with no backup information about what action was being considered, only saying the council intended to “revisit” the density issue. READ FULL STORY

Charters’ bid for more tax money seen nearing verdict
week of March 9, 2017

A lawsuit filed by public charter schools against the Indian River County School Board over the distribution of property taxes has simmered for a year and a half, but a judge’s ruling will soon settle it. District Judge Paul Kanarek gave a final hearing to the parties last week and then instructed their lawyers to prepare draft orders by March 27. He did not state when he plans to write the final order. Both sides agree the case revolves around an interpretation of law. “If the law were clear, we wouldn’t be here,” Kanarek said last week. This is the first case in the state brought by any public charter school over distribution of property taxes. The tax in question is earmarked for operations and the imminent ruling will establish how the money gets divided between the charter and regular public schools in the county. The charters say the law mandates all students get an equal portion of operations taxes, but they’re getting only 5 percent, not the 13 percent that matches their share of students in the district. The School Board’s interpretation of the law is different. It maintains the voter-approved special tax can be distributed at its “discretion,” while other taxes set by the legislature are distributed equally among charter and traditional public schools. READ FULL STORY

Holy Cross Church gets a big surprise: ‘No Parking’signs
week of March 2, 2017

Two Mondays ago, Father Richard Murphy met with Vero Beach code enforcement officials to discuss safety issues Iris Lane residents say are caused by Holy Cross Catholic Church attendees parking on their street. “The city officials sent me away with the impression that we could work out a compromise that would address the problem,” the Holy Cross pastor said, “then they pulled the rug out from under our feet.” Two days after the meeting, city workers installed “No Parking” signs along the south side of Iris Lane, adjacent to the church – a move that sparked outrage from Holy Cross parishioners and left Murphy questioning the integrity of Vero Beach officials. Murphy also was puzzled by the timing: Not only were the signs posted without warning during the height of Vero Beach’s busy season, but the city installed them only days before the start of Lent, a 40-day, pre-Easter period when even many less-devout Catholics attend Mass. “People have been parking there for 30 years, and it has never been an issue,” Murphy said. “Now, all of a sudden, it’s a problem? Two days after we meet, they put up signs? Without a warning? READ FULL STORY

Complications galore as hospital options weighed
week of March 2, 2017

When consultant Jamie Orlikoff speaks to the new collaborative committee studying the future of Indian River Medical Center, his expert advice and analysis will be eagerly awaited. The last time Orlikoff came to Vero two years ago, he kept an audience of 40 hospital leaders riveted for seven long hours. Some of them heard him speak again last month in Seattle, when a group from IRMC visited Virginia Mason Health System; Orlikoff is vice-chair of the board. Orlikoff, national adviser on governance and leadership for the American Hospital Association, was listed among the 100 most powerful people in healthcare in Modern Healthcare magazine. This time, he’ll be tasked with giving local hospital leaders advice of a more existential nature: how to approach the stupefyingly complex issue of whether to remain a stand-alone taxpayer-owned hospital or somehow become part of larger system. It’ll be another long day for Orlikoff and his listeners; the committee expects to schedule him for morning and afternoon sessions. READ FULL STORY

$9.9 million spec home being built on South Beach
week of March 2, 2017

Developer Mariann Casarella went on what she calls an “intergalactic search” to find the perfect spot to build her next luxury spec home – starting in Wilmington, North Carolina, and driving her Mercedes all the way down the coast to South Florida, checking out likely sites. She found what she was looking for when Premier Estate Properties broker/associate Clark French showed her a rolling 2.3-acre lot in the estate section of Vero’s barrier island. “Clark took us to the right place at the right time,” says Casarella. “We had an offer written up within 15 minutes after arriving at the property that the owner accepted.” She closed on the land in October 2015, paying the bargain price of $1,975,000 for the 1,000-foot-deep lot with 100 feet of frontage on the Atlantic Ocean where there is a wide, accreting beach. Nine months later, in August 2016, permits were issued and work began at the site, with massive retaining walls going up to hold in place more than 10,000 cubic yards of fill used to raise the level of the lot 20 feet above sea level. READ FULL STORY

Gifford principal sharply criticized in teacher survey
week of March 2, 2017

After Vero Beach 32963 revealed serious problems with student discipline and teacher turnover at Gifford Middle School, District Superintendent Mark Rendell rushed to the defense of Gifford Principal Roxanne Decker, providing the School Board with copies of a survey he said showed teacher support for her. Rendell said there was a 66-percent response rate to the survey, which was sent out by Decker, with 36 out of 55 teachers participating. But there were noticeable problems with the undated, 6-question survey. While it was supposed to be anonymous, teachers had to enter an identifying code to get online to fill out the document. There were no questions that asked specifically about Decker’s performance. And no space was provided for written comments. Rendell did not supply the School Board with the results of another, more comprehensive survey that paint a devastating picture of conditions at Gifford Middle School, and constitute a serious indictment of Decker. Conducted at the end of the last school year by the Indian River County Education Association, this survey included 16 questions and was specifically designed to elicit feedback from teachers on their principals. Thirty out of 55 teachers at Gifford responded, many of them slamming Decker in harsh terms. READ FULL STORY

Shores approves beach access next to parcel to be auctioned
week of March 2, 2017

After deciding on density and agreeing to provide a five-foot public walkway to the beach, the Indian River Shores Town Council is ready to auction off a five-acre parcel of ocean-view land just north of the Tracking Station Beach Park in early May. The beach access right-of-way, which residents of Pebble Bay, Vera Cruz and other west-of-A1A communities had clamored to protect, passed by a narrow 3-2 margin. Councilman Dick Haverland and Councilwoman Debbi Penniston opposed the idea on the principle that each Shores resident holds a stake in the property and the council is the steward of that asset. Putting the parcel up for sale with a public access walkway attached would reduce the price it fetches in exchange for an amenity only enjoyed by a few, Haverland said. Vice Mayor Michael Ochsner strongly advocated for the beach access and Councilman Bob Auwaerter supported it, making Mayor Brian Barefoot the swing vote. After attending the previous week’s Planning Zoning and Variance Board meeting as an observer and listening to dozens of residents speak passionately about their need for beach access, Barefoot said, “We definitely got the gist. READ FULL STORY

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