By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
SOUTH DAYTONA - "Let the citizens decide."
"Vote no on FPL."
Those phrases have been seen everywhere in the community throughout the last month on campaign signs posted on nearly every street corner, voicing either support or opposition of Amendment 1 to the city charter.
But what should the citizens decide? And what does Florida Power & Light have to do with it?
The debate surrounding Amendment 1 involves a volatile issue that has divided the community - whether the city should be involved in the electric business.
If Amendment 1 is approved, it would change the city charter to require a public vote before city leaders establish a municipal-run electric utility. It would then require a second referendum asking citizens if they support the city's purchase of Florida Power & Light's electrical distribution system, currently valued at $12.1 million.
City council members voted to approve the purchase last year. The decision was not brought to the voting public, City Manager Joseph Yarbrough said, because citizens voted in a 1982 election to delegate the power to renew the city's electric franchise to the city council.
That didn't stop the fight for a right to vote on the fate of the purchase. A political action committee called Take Back Our Power formed last year and successfully petitioned to get Amendment 1 on the ballot, collecting signatures from about 1,100 residents.
Supporters of the amendment believe the citizens deserve a say on the issue because of the high cost of the purchase and are skeptical the city can offer better service than FPL. Opponents believe a big company such as FPL has no place in small town politics and that a city-run electric utility will keep profits in the community.
Yes on 1
For Rosemary Iocco, vice chairwoman of Take Back Our Power and a longtime South Daytona resident and business owner, one thing matters more to her than anything else about supporting Amendment 1 - giving citizens representation in a decision she feels will impact them for years to come.
"We have been asking for the city to allow us to have a vote because they did in the past," she said, referring to franchise renewal referendums that took place in 1949 and 1978. "They kept saying it wasn't in the charter. There came a point where we said enough is enough ... that's why we did this. It would have been so much simpler to have the city say you can have a vote."
The citizens should decide, she said, because the citizens will ultimately be the ones who have to pay for a municipally run utility, if and when it is established.
"When you think about the money the city is borrowing (when it's) already in debt, that's a lot of money per person," she said. "People can't afford it."
She fears a city-run utility would not be reliable because, in her opinion, city employees are not qualified to handle running an electric utility - a fear aided by the fact the city council contracted with an out-of-state company, the California-based ENCO Utility Services, to handle operations and maintenance of the electric system.
"They're outsourcing," she said. "I don't know how that's keeping jobs here."
Asked about what citizens should consider before casting a vote, Ms. Iocco said they should be careful about "misinformation" on the city's side. For example, her opponents say FPL's separation and transfer agreement includes a penalty clause that would bill taxpayers $11.5 million in liquidated damages to FPL if the city does not buy the utility.
But she said that's not set in stone, despite what city leaders say, because the penalty clause will not be reviewed until after the vote. Circuit Judge William Parsons put the separation agreement negotiations on hold; city leaders and FPL representatives are expected to resume negotiations before the judge next month.
Opponents call Take Back Our Power an "FPL PAC" because FPL is its primary source of funding; the company contributed almost $80,000 in cash and in-kind services to the committee since the group in December, according to the committee's financial records.
Contrary to what opponents say, Ms. Iocco and her fellow committee members' actions and positions are not influenced by FPL - they simply went to FPL for money to compete with the city's resources.
"It's not like we're fighting just for me and my husband," she said. "We're fighting for the majority of the city. I've had people calling me saying, 'Thank you for doing this.'"
Pam Rauch, FPL's vice president of External Affairs and Development, said in an email statement the referendum is about giving the citizens to vote, not about FPL.
"Voting yes will cause no fee and will raise no taxes," she said. "Voting yes will simply affirm common sense: that city officials should not spend millions of South Daytona taxpayer money to buy a utility without the consent of South Daytona's taxpaying citizens."
No on 1
But Pat Mozden, a local insurance consultant who serves as chairwoman of Empowering South Daytona's Future - a political action committee formed in opposition to FPL's politicking in the community - strongly believes FPL is looking out for its own interests, not the community's, in its support of Amendment 1.
She also criticized Take Back Our Power for using paid, out-of-area consultants to further its political efforts, such as a Miami-based marketing firm assisted in collecting signatures. More recently, her committee reported in a press release that police detained and questioned a Tallahassee lobbyist tied to the Yes on 1 campaign who was accused of stealing about 100 "Vote no" signs.
"I just object to having a large, out-of-area organization intervene in city business," she said. "They were successful in gathering the signatures they needed by hiring out of town signature gatherers."
She also opposes Amendment 1 because it would add another difficulty in accomplishing city business, comparing it to the Hometown Democracy-sponsored Amendment 4 to Florida's constitution that failed in 2010. The amendment would have required decisions on land use and growth issues to go to a public vote in the area of impact.
"Trying to run government by referendum is a recipe for disaster," she said.
What Ms. Mozden believes voters should consider before casting a vote are the business facts, not the emotions that have defined both sides of the issue.
"This shouldn't be (about) if you love or hate anyone at City Hall or if you love or hate FPL," she said. "This should be based on if this is a good business decision for the city of South Dayton. their previous franchise agreement.
Mayor George Locke said in a statement published in the city newsletter that the city's purchase of the utility would benefit the community because it would generate more revenue for the city in a time where most municipalities are struggling economically.
"You will not be paying any more to keep the money home. The utility will provide residents with a lucrative enterprise fund for decades to come," he said.
"... Now it's time to show FPL that we are a city that can accomplish what it sets out to do. Now is the time to move forward. We are a city that cares deeply about our future."