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Shores welcomes two newcomers to Town Council


It wasn’t exactly a close election – or even an election at all –  but the Shores will have some new personalities on the dais next week to tackle the old business.

With just three candidates qualifying for three seats, Shores voters did not have to vote for town officials Tuesday.  By default, Mayor Brian Barefoot will return for a second two-year term, joined by newcomers Debbi Peniston and Bob Auwaerter.

This is the first November Shores Town Council changing of the guard since the term endings were changed from March to November. Vice Mayor Jerry Weick was term-limited after serving nearly eight years, and Councilman Tom Slater opted not to run for re-election, leaving two open seats for Auwaerter and Peniston.

Returning to serve out two more years are Councilman Michael Ochsner, who is eligible to run again in 2018, and Councilman Dick Haverland, who will be term limited next time around.

Of the two newcomers, Peniston is the lesser known in the local political realm, though she’s made her mark through leadership on several nonprofit boards and projects.

Peniston and husband Eric, grandson of the founder of the Riomar Country Club, began coming to Vero Beach in the late 1980s, dividing their time between homes in Florida, Connecticut and New York City, where Debbi Peniston worked for 29 years as a Division Director for Citibank retail banking and supervised hundreds of employees.

Peniston retired from Citibank in 1997, bought property in Indian River Shores in 2002 and became a fulltime John’s Island resident in 2012.

Her most widely known success in Vero was establishing the Distinguished Lecturer Series at Riverside Theatre with co-chair and former Shores Councilwoman Frannie Atchison. She also serves on Riverside Theatre’s Board of Trustees and on the Strategic Planning and Finance committees for Riomar Country Club.

Peniston said the Vero electric issue, efforts to block the All Aboard Florida rail project, and the continuing negotiations to make the town’s cell tower wishes come true were three main motivators for her to seek a seat on the council. “I believe in making sure our funds are prudently managed, and I’m very supportive of making sure we spend our money wisely.”

Overall, Peniston said she’s happy with the way the Town has been run. “I’ve been impressed with Mayor Barefoot, I think he has done a fine job, and I’m also impressed with the Town Hall personnel,” she said.

An Ocean Colony resident, Auwaerter joins Ochsner in representing the southernpart of the town. Barefoot, Haverland and Peniston all live in John’s Island, thus continuing the typical geographic makeup of the council.

Auwaerter has been both visible and outspoken as vice chairman of the Vero Beach Utilities Committee, representing the Shores electric, water and sewer customers on that board. He was uniquely qualified for that post, and for chairing the Town’s Finance Committee, and over the past year has brought a great deal of finance industry knowledge and critical thinking to both boards.

A retired principal and head of the Vanguard Fixed Income Group, Auwaerter specialized in analyzing utility companies for inclusion in Vanguard’s mutual fund investments.

“I look forward to serving with both Bob and Debbi,” Barefoot said on Monday. “They both, I think, will be quite valuable,” he said.

“What Bob has done with the electric issue and the role that he has played . . . has been as important or more important than many on the council on this issue,” Barefoot said. 

“Debbi is very well-connected and had a big job in banking. She brings a different perspective and, as a woman, makes us more representative of the whole community,” Barefoot said .

Auwaerter, Peniston and Barefoot will be sworn in at 9 a.m. Nov. 17, with a regular Town Council meeting to follow at 9:30 a.m.