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No election needed: Shores to usher in 3 new council members

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of September 10, 2020)

Indian River Shores residents will not vote for new town council members this fall since only three candidates filed for the three open seats.

Christian Hendricks, John McCord and Mary Alice Smith were automatically elected to four-year terms and will step up to the dais in November as Mayor Tom Slater, Vice Mayor Bob Auwaerter and Councilwoman Debbi Peniston pass the torch to the new members.

Peniston said of her choice not to seek re-election, “It’s been a privilege and an honor to work on the town council for four years, but four years is a long time.”

She expressed her admiration of and gratitude for the staff who keep the town running, especially Town Manager Joe Griffin, Town Clerk Laura Aldrich and Town Treasurer Heather Christmas, and said she’s “very supportive” of the new council members. “I’m sure they’ll do a fine job.”

Peniston is joining the board of the Learning Alliance and wanted to free up time to devote to that cause.

Auwaerter, who lost the Republican primary for the District 5 Indian River Board of County Commissioners seat, signed a “Resign to Run” agreement when he entered the commission race. The form is mute on what happens if a candidate loses a primary in one race and then has time to run for re-election to another office without any overlap in service, but Auwaerter said it doesn’t matter because it’s a good time for him to exit.

He listed the closing of the Vero electric sale, building the Shores cell tower, selling the town’s oceanside 5-acre parcel, reconstructing the community center and bolstering employee pension funds as successes during his term.

“We accomplished a lot. I’m leaving the town in very good shape,” Auwaerter said.

Slater echoed Auwaerter’s assessment that the current council has worked hard and achieved much. Slater decided not to run for re-election because he’s been spending too much time out of state lately to give council service his full time and energy.

“I have some health problems that could keep me from doing my job on council and ... I’d want to be able to be fully committed or it wouldn’t be fair to the town,” Slater said last week.

“I have great faith in all three people,” Slater said of Smith, McCord and Hendricks.

Smith is retired from a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry and is heavily involved in charitable projects and in the John’s Island community. McCord, an attorney by training, has worked for decades as a high-level energy consultant and has served on many key local boards. Hendricks retired from more than three decades of government service as deputy inspector general of the U.S. House of Representatives. He works as a real estate agent on the barrier island and has chaired the town’s Planning Zoning and Variance Board.

The new council members will be seated in the midst of a dispute with the City of Vero Beach over what the Shores claims is a breach of the town’s water-sewer utility franchise agreement with the city.

The Shores’ beef with Vero is twofold – partially about reuse irrigation water rates the city is charging after a rate hike in 2019, and partially about a perceived failure by the city to adequately invest in maintaining and replacing critical water and sewer infrastructure in the older parts of the town.

Last month the town council authorized the filing of a lawsuit, which would trigger a state-mandated mediation process designed to save taxpayer money on legal fees when the litigation involves two municipalities. The town council was set to meet at 4:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss the case, with a public hearing of the town’s 2020-21 operating budget to follow.