Time For Action Indiantown


Authored by Ms. Barbara Clowdus Indiantown Currents


What Happened to Indiantown’s Grand Vision?

INTRODUCTION

Martin County Administrator Taryn Kryzda is in the cross-hairs of Indiantown Mayor Janet Hernandez. She blames Kryzda for backing council members into a corner, forcing them into a decision that will take them “to a point of no return,” according to a letter she sent to Kryzda on March 3.

Hernandez is referring to the village council’s decision Feb. 27 to create Indiantown’s own fire-EMS department after only three years as an incorporated village.

At the same time, the village council also is deep into their plans to build a village hall/community center at an estimated $8 million to $10 million cost, depending on whether or not they’ll include a community swimming pool, on land for which they paid nearly $500,000 above appraised value.

They have yet to figure out how to fund the estimated $9 million to $12 million in repairs for the 60-year-old water utility they purchased at $500,000 above the asking price six months ago.

As the village council seems to be on the verge of swallowing huge chunks of debt, Village Manager Howard Brown Jr. is making a video, with the help of Martin County high school students, to highlight Indiantown’s “achievements” in the two years he’s been administrator.

It’s a matter of perspective.

One thing is certain, however. Indiantown is, indeed, at a point of no return. Their next strategic planning session to chart their direction over the next year to five years is Saturday, April 10. The path they choose that day likely will cement this rural village’s future for a generation.

The founders’ idealistic concept of funding quality-of-life projects for residents, for reducing their tax burden while fixing their infrastructure, which depended on keeping government small, has been replaced with an entirely different set of ideals – build a government structure first, then take care of everything else later, except mow the grass, paint playground equipment, and smooth asphalt on some roads to show tangible results of the nearly $15 million they’ve spent thus far.

The federal government’s recent commitment to repair the country’s infrastructure may save Indiantown from a disastrous sewage spill and fund its critical multi-million-dollar road replacement and drainage projects, yet, the abrupt change in governing philosophy still has residents who voted for incorporation scratching their heads.

To see how the county administrator became a target, what the village council now sets as priorities, and how new Village Manager Howard Brown Jr. persuaded five council members from diverse backgrounds to abandon the philosophy that shaped their village’s incorporation to align with his own big-government ideas, be sure to read the upcoming 6-part series, “What Happened to Indiantown’s Grand Vision?”

PART 1 – What Happened to Indiantown’s Grand Vision?

 A community that historically treasured its diversity, Indiantown today is starting to show signs of division that just a few years ago were unimaginable. In part, that’s because two iconic visionaries who helped launch Indiantown’s incorporation movement, E. Thelma Waters and Art Matson, have died.

It is also because of the actions of its current village manager, Howard W. Brown Jr.

Matson and Waters helped steer Indiantown toward the objectives previously set by the Indiantown Neighborhood Advisory Committee for Indiantown’s Community Redevelopment Area and toward incorporation to meet those objectives, create new jobs, and positively impact all Indiantown lives.

In fact, when Indiantown native and businessman Brian Powers spoke to a gathering of residents in early 2017 about the possibilities of incorporation, he pointed to the framed CRA plan on the wall of the Indiantown civic center.

“We can do this,” he said. “We know how to do this. We’ve done it before.”

What Powers didn’t know then is that those two influential voices would be gone, that the highly regarded Powers family would be shoved aside, that the Indiantown Chamber of Commerce members and incorporation activists would become outcasts, and that Martin County and anyone connected to the county would be considered an adversary engaged in an ongoing attack on Indiantown.

He also did not know – and likely could not have imagined – that racial lines would be drawn where racial diversity had so long been celebrated. Almost overnight, the grand vision shattered.

INCORPORATION DREAMS

Indiantown citizens had been told that this village of some 6,700 could qualify for state revenue-sharing funds, hold onto more of the cash from its substantial industrial tax base, and those sources combined would mean they annually could budget around $5 million – more than double what most other Florida cities the size of Indiantown have as a base for their budget.

They could operate a government with sufficient surplus to enable huge changes to their quality of life:

  • Create a major youth sports program and expand recreation and education opportunities for a town with the youngest population in the county.
  • Improve the drinking water, build pathways for pedestrians and golf carts, hire their own dedicated code enforcement officer, and beautify and expand parks.
  • Even make the five-laned Warfield Boulevard safer for pedestrians and more attractive, recruit at least an urgent care facility, if not a hospital, and bring meaningful jobs to Indiantown.

The incorporation leaders said it could be done without adding a penny in new taxes. They did not anticipate a Howard Brown landing in Indiantown with a different agenda.

Incorporation passed. The council was elected in March 2018. The mission and vision statements were crafted with widespread public input, facilitated by Dr. Kim Delaney of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, at no cost to Indiantown.

Work began immediately on the new rules that would fit rural Indiantown and its needs – instead of the suburban coast that wanted to tightly control its growth – to bring those new jobs and new housing options to the village.

Just as important, the council decided that a bevy of citizen committees should be formed – from budget oversight to development regulations to beautification to parks to education – committees to advise the council prior to making their decisions.

Their first citizen committee, comprising local builders, was to select an engineering firm for council approval to assume the duties of its first building department and code enforcement. This would be a true citizen-centric government.

YET ANOTHER ECONOMIC STRATEGY

The village also received state funding for a new economic strategy study, which confirmed the village was on the right path. Kimley-Horn & Associates, an engineering firm that conducted the study, found Indiantown’s location “enviable.”

The vision statement written by residents that guided the study ended with “… Indiantown has opportunities for tourism, trade, and industrial expansion like no other community in Martin County,” exactly what incorporation organizers had told state legislators who doubted that Indiantown could sustain itself as a separate municipality.

Kimley-Horn called the Florida Commerce Park “the gem” of Indiantown with shovel-ready, permitted industrial sites along the CXS railway, and called the historic Seminole Inn “the diamond” of Indiantown. Both should be promoted by the village, they wrote.

The engineers encouraged the village to make a major investment in its airport, promote ITS Fiber, develop a hotel and/or resort at Indiantown Marina, and support its working waterfront at Indiantown Marine Services.

They provided the village a step-by-step outline and steps the council could take immediately, even with a small staff, for the creation of a sustainable economy with the ability to weather even a regional economic downturn.

The first step, said Kimley-Horn, was to seek developers to identify the challenges they had faced previously in trying to build in Indiantown as the village began work on its Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.

The village council had already done that months earlier by selecting one village resident apiece, plus two Indiantown business owners, to sit on the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee: Veverly Gary-Hamilton, chair, Scott Watson, vice-chair, Kevin Powers, Roger Bulmer, Maria Rosado, Mike Garrett, and Milton Williams.

The committee was charged with drafting the village’s Comp Plan with the assistance of the village’s planning consultant, Bonnie Landry, director of planning.

Although it was Landry’s first time writing a growth management plan, many of the members of the committee were experienced in interpreting and applying Martin County’s growth plan rules to real-world projects. It seemed to be a prudent decision by the council to have them work together; however, in less than a month after Brown’s arrival, the citizen committee was dissolved by the council that had appointed it.

Kimley-Horn also urged the village to collaborate with the Indiantown Chamber of Commerce, the Business Development Board of Martin County, the cities of Okeechobee and Stuart, and Martin County in order to tap into their expertise, assets and tools currently unavailable to Indiantown, to develop a local business retention and expansion program, to identify underutilized properties, create teams to meet their goals and seek grants from a host of state agencies for added expertise, not limiting themselves to grants for infrastructure needs.

Kimley-Horn’s two-year-old “Invest in Indiantown” plan, along with two previous comprehensive economic studies funded by Martin County and FPL, remains filed away, untouched since its release in May 2019.

Indiantown’s focus had changed by then. The village council already had written a brand new vision statement and its own strategic plan, which included building a village hall. The village’s path seemed now to be directed by a carnival-barker-style con man.

Howard W. Brown Jr., arrived Jan. 14, 2019.

PART 2: A New Beginning or the Beginning of the End

Within three months of Howard Brown’s appointment as the new Village of Indiantown’s manager, the mission and vision statements had been rewritten, goals rearranged (he said there were too many, so previous goals got listed as “strategies”) and operating the government went from $1 million, then to $2 million, and now, after two years with Brown at the helm, the budget portion just for operating Indiantown’s government is projected at $4 million for 2021.

Building Indiantown’s government and building Brown’s self-described “turn-around city manager” reputation took precedence over initial citizen aspirations.

Taxes have been raised only once. That likely cannot remain the case for much longer with government growth at this pace – but now, more than higher village taxes are at stake.

The village council’s most recent decision could mean the difference between life or death to some village residents and could negatively impact the tax base for Martin County, as well as Indiantown.

COUNCIL TO END FIRE-EMS CONTRACT

Brown and a fire services consultant – hand-picked by Brown – convinced council members at a special meeting Feb. 27 that the village should end its expensive $5.3 million or so annual contract with Martin County for fire and EMS services and opt for a hybrid trained/volunteer fire department plus an outside private ambulance firm instead.

The council-appointed citizen committee tasked with reviewing fire department proposals – which included incorporation leader Scott Watson, owner of the Indiantown Marina, and two residents of the 55+ golf community of Indianwood, Myrtle Green and Craig Bauzenberger – was disbanded a few weeks prior to the special meeting.

(Councilman Anthony Dowling, who chaired the committee, said the committee was no longer needed, since the village did not receive proposals from its March 3, 2019, posted request sent to fire service vendors. It was the second village committee to which Watson, an advocate of the government-light philosophy, had been appointed by the council prior to Brown’s arrival in Indiantown to be disbanded by the council after Brown arrived.)

Citizens did not see the cost projection for the hybrid fire/EMS combination in advance of the council’s vote; however, they were revealed to the public during the council’s Feb. 27 special meeting.

The consultant’s numbers show the hybrid fire-EMS combo will cost the village either the same amount of money villagers are currently paying for Martin County’s fire/EMS service, or more – with less service.

The consultant predicted that the annual cost of the hybrid arrangement will be $4.8 million. He did not include the cost of dispatch, of back-up services in emergencies, or other essentials such as certifications.

He also under-reported the additional cost of the TPP grant to FPL by $289,000 annually that Indiantown must pay, as well as underestimating other start-up costs to the village, including new building construction.

The consultant’s numbers simply do not support his claim that the village will save $1 million annually with the hybrid service.

FAILURE TO NEGOTIATE DEBUNKED

In addition, Brown and the consultant both failed to report to the council that more than a year ago – almost to the day – the county offered to roll back its ambulance fees of $300,000, plus another $200,000 in cost savings, totaling a probable $500,000 in savings for Indiantown, with commission approval.

Brown agreed to postpone Indiantown’s pursuit of fire service vendors in preference to the county’s concession, according to County Administrator Taryn Kryzda. Two days later, Brown sent the fire services RFP (Request for Proposal) to the City of Stuart and others anyway, as directed by the village council, Brown said.

“He lied to us,” Kryzda said. “He lied to all of us.”

The county’s concession to Indiantown would have brought this year’s cost for Martin County fire/EMS service to $4.8 million, but, unlike the hybrid option at the identical cost, the county’s service includes emergency back-up, dispatch services, certifications, plus other essentials, as well as payment of the TPP grant to FPL to reduce its taxes on equipment stored at Indiantown.

Brown and his consultant, Mike Iacona of CPSM (City/County Public Safety Management),  never revealed any of that information to the council.

In fact, they both reported to the council multiple times over the previous year that the county refused to negotiate, backing Indiantown into a corner, although both attended the same nearly two-hour meeting Feb. 28, 2020, with then-Fire Chief Bill Schobel, fire/EMS Administrator Matt Resch, and Kryzda when the negotiated concession was settled among them.

MAYOR DEMANDS RESPONSE

Kryzda was unaware that Brown and Iacona also had lied to the village council until she received a letter dated March 3 from Village Mayor Janet Hernandez admonishing the county administrator for refusing to negotiate with their village manager over the past year.

Hernandez wrote that the county administrator’s refusal had forced Indiantown to end their fire-EMS services contract with Martin County in order to reduce the tax burden on Indiantown taxpayers, which would allow the council to redirect those savings into increased services to residents and businesses.

Hernandez called her letter “one last attempt to reach out to negotiate a more equitable pricing arrangement,” and although the village’s decision will take some time to implement, she added, expecting to launch by Oct. 1, 2022 or 2023, the village “must make major capital investments in the near future, crossing the point of no return.”

The Indiantown mayor demanded an answer from the county by April 14.

“I’m not sure how to respond to this,” said Kryzda in a recent phone interview. “It’s going to have to be the commission’s decision on how to move forward.”

The next county commission meeting is Tuesday, April 13, which likely will include an item on their agenda to discuss the county’s fire-EMS services contract with Indiantown.

IMPACT TO RESIDENTS

Surveys of Indiantown residents show they are overwhelmingly pleased with Martin County’s fire-EMS service, and appreciate not being vulnerable if illness or an accident strikes home while emergency services are tending a wreck.

Iacona himself told the council that Indiantown already has “the best” in fire-EMS services, but it’s expensive. The hybrid service they’re considering will not reach that same of level of service, Iacona warned, but villagers will likely find they’re “comfortable” with a lower level of service over time.

If they’re not comfortable, however, the village cannot go back.

The village also must consider whether or not FPL would be comfortable with less service. The utility, with its specialized requirements, could decide to move its warehouse full of expensive, taxable equipment to Collier County, as it threatened a few years ago when Martin County increased its taxes by more than a $1 million annually.

According to the Martin County Taxpayers Association, of the total $5.3 million fire MSTU (Municipal Services Taxing Unit for fire-EMS services), which was levied in the village last year, Indiantown residents themselves paid $231,665 – less than 5% of the total MSTU.

Roughly $4.7 million of that total was paid by FPL – nearly 87%.

Should the village’s largest taxpayer become uncomfortable with a change in fire service capabilities and relocate their warehouse, the impact on tax revenues will not be limited to just Indiantown.

The impact will be felt in Martin County, as well.

INDIANTOWN IS NOT AVERAGE

According to Martin County Fire Chief Chad Cianciulli, Indiantown’s rural fire station cannot be compared equitably to the average $3.6 million cost of an urban substation, all of which lie in close proximity to other county fire stations,

In addition, Indiantown must stand ready and be trained for any type of industrial accident, not just at FPL, but at other current industrial sites and additional ones coming soon to the rural village.

Iacona contends that hybrid services work, and points to Jupiter Island’s hybrid service that cross-trains its police officers as EMT-firefighters. It’s true that Jupiter Island’s arrangement is successful, but there are major differences between Indiantown and Jupiter Island.

The Town of Jupiter Island’s population is less than the Indianwood development alone; it has no industrial sites; its homes are largely fitted with fire suppression sprinklers; and the town gets immediate back-up from two fire stations less than four miles away in Hobe Sound.

Cianciulli also met with Brown twice in March to explain the costs associated with the Indiantown fire station, and to discuss further the $500,000 savings for Indiantown offered by the county administrator.

At the second meeting, the fire chief intended to answer questions as to why a reduction to Indiantown’s MSTU is illegal, which Brown insists is the only viable solution, but to no avail.

“I appreciated that Mr. Brown was willing to meet with me, but he just wasn’t interested in what I had to say,” Cianciulli said. “He acted like (the village’s decision to start its own fire service) was already a done deal.”

The only advantages of the proposed hybrid volunteer fire-EMS combination seems to go to Brown, not the village, who needs to build a list of real-world government experiences to attract prospective clients for his private government consulting business, and to Iacona, who has positioned himself as the logical choice for a $200,000 or so extension of his contract to coordinate the new hybrid arrangement.

What happens to Indiantown in the aftermath of the council’s decision holds no apparent concern to either Brown or Iacona.

PART 3: Cracks Show in Brown’s Indiantown Pedestal

Almost everyone walks away from his or her first meeting with Indiantown Village Manager Howard Brown Jr. with a positive impression. He’s articulate, charming, and underscores his marketability by speaking Spanish, important to a community where Hispanic ethnicity, including Guatemalan Maya, eclipses white, Black, and a smattering of others, including Seminole descendants of those who first settled Indiantown.

As a result of his personal qualities, Brown stood out among the other seven candidates who were interviewed by village council members Nov. 25, 2019. His resume was just as impressive. Only rhinestones could have sparkled more than the words that described his seemingly meteoric rise in public administration.

He ended 2013 as a department head, a community development director at Opa-Locka, and two years later, he was pulling down a $192,000 annual salary, plus benefits, as the city manager for Bell, Calif.

Still, Brown was not ranked one of the top-five candidates selected by Dan Kleman, of the Florida City/County Managers Association, who conducted the search for Indiantown.

Neither was he an alternate candidate; nonetheless, Brown skated through the selection process as an “also available” prospect with no more than an apparent cursory search of his credentials, which verified that he did, indeed, hold a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in public administration and was a certified planner.

Everything else seems to fall into the category of either wishful thinking, extreme exaggeration, or  deliberate misrepresentation.

BROWN MARKETS HIMSELF TO INDIANTOWN

Most of Indiantown’s five village council members, seated in March 2018, had not ever attended either a city or county commission meeting before being asked to run a government. They evaluated nine resumes for the village’s top post within months of taking office, after they found that a part-time administrator who worked in the office only two days a week seemed insufficient.

“It was a matter of responsiveness and accountability,” explained then-Mayor Susan Gibbs-Thomas, who spearheaded the move to hire a full-time administrator six months after the council took office.

They chose seven of the nine candidates for personal interviews and a day-long public meeting, before making their selection.

 All the candidates’ resumes followed a standard format, except Brown’s, who titled his, “VISIONARY LEADER – TURNAROUND EXPERT | City Manager | City Administrator | Chief Administrative Officer | Chief Executive Officer” and an ICMA credentialed manager.

Council members did not know, because no one checked, that Brown’s ICMA (International City/County Management Association) credentials had been expired for three years first awarded in 2015 after only one year as a manager at Muskogee, Okla., instead of the required seven years.

ICMA officials said they base the certification also on the number of ICMA courses Brown had taken, fees he had paid, and recommendations and references from supervisors, which likely came from Opa-Locka, where he’d been employed for the previous five years.

(The value of ICMA credentials, which are expensive to obtain without years as a city manager, seems to be most important to those who do not have much experience, because the credentials verify at least some training and a commitment to the profession, according to an uncredentialed, yet highly experienced city manager from the Treasure Coast.)

Brown’s resume goes on to say, “In my current position as City Manager of the City of Bell, California, my peers, staff, and superiors have described me as ethical, intelligent, resourceful, loyal, and a passionate team builder.”

Except, he was no longer employed at Bell. Was it unethical not to update his resume, or was it just an oversight?

Three months earlier, Bell commissioners told Brown they did not intend to renew his contract, a separation agreement was signed in September 2018, and Brown would receive a carefully crafted letter of recommendation from the commission chairman listing his completed projects.

Brown applied for the city manager’s job at Tallahassee and at Miami Lakes, moved back to Florida in 2018, launched his private government consulting firm in October 2018 in West Palm Beach from a FedEx shipping facility, before landing the village manager’s job in Indiantown in December 2018 – with four and a half years’ experience, spotty performance evaluations at Muskogee, rejected by the city of Bell, and with expired ICMA credentials.

Brown’s description of his wide-ranging role at the City of Opa-Locka, however, likely was the zinger for village council members to tap Brown as their manager.

He said as Acting Assistant City Manager for the City of Opa-Locka – a position the Opa-Locka Human Resources Department said Brown never held – he writes that he “directly supervised and managed Police, Human Resources, IT, Finance, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Planning and Community Development, Code Enforcement, and Building and Licenses Departments.”

In a public records check, Brown’s name was not listed as a staff member attending any of the city’s council meetings for the previous six months prior to his resignation in December 2013. (Opa-Locka’s policy for meeting minutes lists every staff member present in council chambers at each meeting.)

Brown resigned as director of planning and community development at Opa-Locka in December 2013 with an FBI investigation already underway regarding suspected fraud, corruption (by the mayor and city council) and the city’s questionable financial practices.

Opa-Locka’s then-City Manager Kelvin Baker and Finance Director Susan Gooding-Liburd (currently Indiantown’s financial consultant) resigned in 2015 after allegations of mismanagement of city funds emerged, including moving $1 million in cash from residential water deposits to the general fund to balance the budget.

To avert Opa-Locka’s potential bankruptcy in 2016, Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state to take control of Opa-Locka’s finances. (In an almost eerie similarity to Indiantown, Opa-Locka purchased an historic building for nearly $8 million in 2015 to renovate as their city hall. Within two years, its 60-year-old water utilities plant was spilling raw sewage into city streets, according to 2018 Miami Herald and 2019 Miami NewTimes reports.)

In 2019, the Florida Auditor General’s Office reported 91 findings in a 231-page report of mismanagement and sloppy accounting practices for Opa-Locka, which dated from 2013, the time period that the FBI’s investigation also began.

The AG’s report shows also no vacancy existed in the assistant city manager’s office in 2013, which might have necessitated Brown’s appointment as the “acting assistant manager.” A vacancy did not arise in that position until 2015, according to the report.

Brown resigned from Opa-Locka in December 2013, after five years. He likely should not be claiming a direct-oversight role at that Miami-Dade County city, considering the AG’s findings.

Brown’s first official day on the job at Indiantown was Jan. 14, 2019; and he sat in on the Jan. 10 village council meeting. By then, Brown had reapplied for city manager credentials from ICMA.

His Indiantown contract provides that the village pays all expenses to maintain those credentials, including a trip to Toronto this fall.

Council members were dazzled at first by Brown, and many are still dazzled, although they now know that Brown “fudged” the facts on his resume. They still tout Brown as “the most-qualified city manager in the county” to guide their decisions, apparently because he gives them what each desires most: mounds of accolades, all-expense paid trips to attend conferences in Orlando or Tallahassee (and perhaps other unknown conferences unrelated to Indiantown) – and job benefits.

THE COST OF OPERATING BROWN’S GOVERNMENT

The cost of Indiantown’s legislative arm – the five council members alone – soared from $55,000 total projected for 2019-20 fiscal year for all five at $10,000 each to a projected budget this year of $121,915 – more than $24,000 apiece – due to those benefits initiated by Brown.

The council is just as generous to Brown, authorizing a mid-year budget presentation less than three months after Brown arrived in Indiantown to increase his 2019 annual retirement benefit from $12,000 to $20,000.

The move immediately added $8,000 more to Brown’s retirement in less than 90 days on the job, with most days spent in Palm Beach County, since his contract does not require his presence in Indiantown.

When considering retirement plans for village employees, Brown provided no cost comparisons to other retirement plans, or the long-term impact to Indiantown’s finances for the retirement plan he “sold” to council members – the Florida Retirement System plan – for all employees of the village, including himself, the clerk, future employees, including all part-time employees, and the five council members.

The first six months required a budget increase approved by the council of $75,000 for council members alone, and an additional $305,000 for Brown and the village clerk.

The following year, the budget for retirement pensions alone was nearly $1 million, and it doubled the following year. Few, if any cities, the size of Indiantown offer FRS to employees, outside of unionized police and fire service employees.

“It’s just too expensive,” said former Dade City Clerk Leslie Porter in a 2019 interview. Dade City, about the size of Indiantown, is in the Tampa Bay region of Pasco County. “We are pulling out of FRS, except for our unionized police officers,” she said, “and replacing it with a 401K retirement plan.”

And none of Dade City’s council members receive retirement.

BROWN GETS MAJOR SALARY BOOST

In addition to increasing his retirement benefit, the council also increased Brown’s salary after the first year by $26,000, from $115,000 to $141,000.

Their decision was based on their own near-perfect evaluations of Brown’s performance, plus a survey of city manager experience levels and salaries that Brown compiled himself – despite the obvious conflict of interest – and of just Martin County municipalities, none of which have demographics similar to Indiantown’s.

Rife with misinformation, including that the Ocean Breeze city manager’s contracted salary is $192,000 annually, instead of the average of $20,000, Councilman Anthony Dowling held the faulty salary survey aloft to argue for an even greater salary increase for Brown.

“He’s the most-qualified, the most-experienced city manager in the county,” Dowling said, “maybe even in the state.”

The other council members initially rejected the $145,000 or so that Dowling wanted for Brown; however, Brown got that and more eight months later after his next evaluation in January this year.

Kleman, himself a retired city manager with 20 years in that position at Tallahassee, recommended a salary range of $90,000 to $115,000 for a city with Indiantown’s population and other demographics. Nearby City of Okeechobee with a similar size as Indiantown pays its city manager a salary of $90,818.

The City of Sebring, slightly larger at 11,000 residents but with similar demographics, pays its city manager $99,000, and Pahokee, a city of 6,000, pays its city manager $118,000.

The wider question is the village’s choice in how they’re spending their revenues.

The only comment on this year’s village manager evaluations came from Councilwoman Susan Gibbs-Thomas who questioned Brown’s habit of taking council members to lunch. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” she wrote.

The same could be said of Indiantown’s spending habits: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

 PART 4: A Village Manager’s Lessons in Loyalty

Indiantown Village Manager Howard Brown Jr. avoided the divided loyalties most new managers face by ensuring every member of his staff – which extended also to certain critical consultants – would be loyal to him. Perhaps, only to him.

Easy to do, since Brown was the first and only employee when he arrived in Indiantown.

Over the next two years, Brown carefully hand-picked only employees with no connections to the Indiantown Independence movement, including the Indiantown Chamber of Commerce, and in one case, to the South Florida Water Management District where Kevin Powers, an Indiantown native and incorporation leader, had served eight years on the governing board.

That particular applicant was so well qualified that in order to discourage her, Brown offered $8,000 less than the advertised salary, giving her grounds to file a gender discrimination complaint, had she so desired.

In fact, Brown hired no Indiantown residents, likely because he wanted no “misplaced loyalties” committed to Indiantown’s original vision, opposite of his own grand plan.

The only exception to his no-Indiantown-connection practice was the village clerk, Susan Owens, Brown’s first hire, who had worked at ITS Fiber in Indiantown briefly in the two years following her previous clerk’s job.

After Owens reached out to Brown in early 2019, he told her she had the job, but Brown could not provide a start date until after he had posted the position, according to their personal email exchange.

Owens told Brown then that her credentials as a municipal clerk were expired; subsequently, part of her employment agreement is that the village will cover the expenses associated with her municipal clerk association credentials.

Susan Owens likely is loyal to Brown for life, cemented by renewed credentials and by a $10,350 raise in less than two years.

Perhaps the village’s reputation as a close-knit community despite its diversity fueled Brown’s reluctance to hire from the local pool of talent, rather than the implication that the village did not have suitable talent at all; however, it seems the council members should have seen that hiring only “the best of the best,” as Brown told them repeatedly, could also have been a smoke screen for other motives.

The council, although questioning Brown at times about the practice, never considered requiring a certain percentage of staff positions be filled by village residents, or even be given priority, which would have benefited residents directly.

It also would have recirculated tax dollars in Indiantown’s local economy to help their struggling, small-business community.

LOYALTY BEGETS LOYALTY

Brown stepped into a position, therefore, without fear of encountering mixed loyalties and found, at the same time, he could repay previous loyalties shown to him.

Laudatory recommendations by the former Opa-Locka city manager, Kelvin Baker, and former finance director, Susan Gooding-Liburd, likely contributed significantly to Brown’s appointment in 2014 as city manager for the City of Muskogee, particularly since he’d never previously been a city manager, yet he was already claiming status as a “turn-around city manager.”

Perhaps in recognition of her loyalty to him, Brown hired Gooding-Liburd within three months of arriving at Indiantown as the village’s “interim” finance director. She had resigned from Opa-Locka in 2015 after the FBI investigation of Opa-Locka corruption began and the year before Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state to assume control of the city’s finances, according to 2017 reports in both The Miami Herald and the Miami NewTimes.

No criminal charges ever were filed against Gooding-Liburd, and she had not benefited personally from her alleged bookkeeping errors.

The consulting fee to G&L Accounting, owned by Gooding-Liburd with her husband, Adrian, was $80,000 per year, identical to the fee the village had been paying the Carr, Riggs, & Ingram accounting firm in Stuart.

CRI had agreed to assist the village with its accounting needs as a favor to Indiantown’s interim village attorney, Paul Nicoletti, until the new village conducted a search for their own municipal accountant  – no urgency, CRI officials said, just don’t consider them Indiantown’s long-term accounting solution.

Brown did not conduct a search.

Instead, he immediately hired Gooding-Liburd on an “interim” basis, without informing council members of the still-ongoing FBI investigation. Three months after Gooding-Liburd began her consulting work for Indiantown, Brown boosted her salary by $30,000 to $110,000 with council approval.

In December 2020, Brown boosted Gooding-Liburd’s fee again by more than $57,000, to compensate her for keeping track of the village’s 1,380 water and sewer customers. Her total compensation now is $167,000.

The $57,000 boost in pay comes from the utility’s revenues, rather than the village’s general fund; however, ratepayers are also Indiantown taxpayers, because the utility does not serve customers outside of village boundaries.

Gooding-Liburd is Brown’s only oversight as to how he spends money. She controls also how funds are accounted for.

Some vendors have not gotten paid on time, according to Brown’s emails, and the public does not receive copies of the village’s line-item budget prior to the council’s approval of the village manager’s annual Power-Point budget presentation – less conducive to close examination and comparisons by the council or the public.

The state requires an annual audit, which was conducted last year for both the first year and second year of incorporation. The auditors, chosen by Brown instead of a council-appointed committee, as required by state Statute 281.391(2), reported no findings in the first year and “repairable” findings in the second year.

In December, Brown hired a new finance director from New York as a full-time employee at $80,000, after a two-year national search, according to Brown, which yielded nine resumes. He continues to pay Gooding-Liburd; thus, the total that Indiantown now pays annually for financial services is $247,000 – $22,000 more than what is budgeted this year for road and drainage repairs (excluding a $2 million allocation from the state).

Brown also says he intends to hire an accounting manager, according to a March memo to council members, but the job is yet to be posted on the village’s website. He may already have someone in mind.

ENSURING LOYALTY FROM EMPLOYEES

The village’s lowest paid employee is $17 an hour, and even part-time employees receive retirement benefits and 13 paid holidays. On top of Indiantown’s exceptional pay scale in a place where the typical wage is around $11 an hour, the village increased its employee benefits after the village purchased the privately owned Indiantown Company water utility in September 2020.

Most of the utility company employees became village employees, keeping their current salaries as agreed in the village’s purchase agreement; however, they had expected the same in benefits, too. The village’s benefits were more restrictive and less generous.

To solve the discrepancy between village and utility company employee benefits, Brown determined the best solution was to increase village employee benefits to match Indiantown Company’s.

The new boost for employees – and most costly to the village – is lifting the requirement that an employee must remain employed for five years to be eligible for payouts of unused vacation and sick leave. That’s no longer the case. After their probation period, they’re eligible for unused leave payouts. In addition:

  • Vacation leave was increased from 40 paid hours to 80 hours for any employee during their first five years of employment. They also earn 80 hours paid sick leave annually, instead of 40.
  • Sick leave and vacation leave may be rolled over into subsequent years with a cap for payouts at 250 hours for vacation and 200 hours for sick pay.
  • Two personal leave days, 16 paid hours, now are allotted to each employee annually, but cannot be rolled over and is not eligible for pay outs.

The review of benefits prompted Brown also to hire a consultant, the H.R. Doctor, to review the village’s salary structure and create a formal Pay Plan to authorize salary amounts and titles for approved village positions.

The consultant proposed also that some senior management positions are equivalent to department head positions, Brown said in his memo to council members, thus qualifying them for monthly gas allowances, apparently to help compensate for their long drives to work since none live in Indiantown.

Some salaries were adjusted upward, but not all. The salary of the village clerk, who was hired at $60,000 annually, is now set at $70,350, in part because she has assumed the duties of human resources and emergency management, as well as acting assistant village manager, according to Brown, an interesting title since there is no assistant manager position..

No survey of other municipalities the size of Indiantown were included in determining the village’s Pay Plan, omitting comparisons to Okeechobee, Pahokee, and Dade City, for instance, which pay their clerks a range between $53,000 and $64,000, according to Florida League of Cities data.

Brown contracted the HR Doctor, Phil Rosenberg, to be the village’s human resources consultant on an ongoing basis, paying him $1,000 a month for his services. He is currently the human resources director at the City of Miramar, where the Interim Finance Director Susan Gooding-Liburd also is employed.

EXCUSING CONTRACTORS FROM COMPETING

After receiving criticism for not conducting standard searches or vetting village consultants, Brown instituted a procurement policy in the spring of 2020 that required RFPs and sealed bids, and included the process for ranking candidates and proposals.

The village council amended that policy in November 2020 to give Brown full authority – eliminating the requirement for RFPs or ranking of candidates – to select any firm of his choosing to meet the administrative needs of the village.

Since the revision, he’s selected firms for the village pay plan, impact fee studies, mobility fees, and retail analysis with no cost comparisons to other firms’ services or evaluating previous performances.

The state requires only competitive bids for construction and architectural contracts.

Brown announced at the March 11 meeting that he also intends to conduct a staffing survey to determine the number of employees required to staff suitably the village’s government functions, which he hopes to have done by Indiantown’s April 10 strategic planning session.

During the village’s 2019 budget hearing, Brown told the council that they should expect to hire 93 employees in the near future for a city the size of Indiantown. The City of Weston, on which the government-light premise for Indiantown’s incorporation was based, has 10 employees for a city of 60,000, because its public services are contracted to public and/or private vendors.

ENSURING LOYALTY FROM CONSULTANTS

No one is privy to the actual conversations that took place between Brown and his finance director, Susan Gooding-Liburd; however, the connection between the two former Opa-Locka officials is obvious, as is the advantage to Brown to have a former colleague in her position.

The same holds true with consultants who work for Brown. No one knows exactly what is said or agreed upon privately; however, patterns develop over time.

Brown’s pattern shows favoritism to some consultants, whose contract shortcomings and deadlines are ignored, yet they are rewarded with additional contracts with the potential for even greater financial rewards.

The contract that raised the most questions among residents is the engineering firm that wrote Indiantown’s land development regulations, Calvin, Giordano & Associates. A well-established engineering firm in Florida, CGA was no stranger either to Indiantown or to its village manager, who had contracted the firm previously to rewrite Opa-Locka’s growth management plan.

The same planners that Brown engaged in Opa-Locka would also write the development rules for Indiantown. Brown stayed silent in the background, however, as the village council listened to three presentations by engineering firms, then deliberated vigorously before they made their decision.

At least, they thought it was their decision.

Part 5: Brown Perfects his Sleight-of-Hand Shell Game

Indiantown’s vision of what it can be – Indiantown, only better – grew from nearly 20 years of citizen ideas that created a blueprint for the future. Dozens of residents spent hours meeting monthly as the Neighborhood Advisory Committee for Indiantown’s Community Redevelopment Area to write their plan.

Finally, in 2010, the county’s new redevelopment team of Kev Freeman, community development director, and urban planner Edward Erfurt began translating Indiantown’s vision into reality. After just two years, Indiantown saw the Boys and Girls Club, construction of Carter Park’s first of 40 Habitat for Humanity homes, stormwater drainage for 200 acres of Booker Park, McDonald’s, the Dollar General store, Dunkin’ Donuts and the Village Square II shopping plaza become part of daily life.

All the projects fit into the Indiantown CRA’s vision and its own identifiable aesthetic – Indiantown, only better.

Progress ended with Indiantown’s plan unfulfilled when the 2012 county commission majority took power and sought to end all CRA programs. They favored countywide projects instead of funding small projects selected by citizens in the historic areas of the county, like Indiantown, that were in dire need of redevelopment and capital investment.

Public outcry saved the CRAs, but the 2012 commission majority cut the funding, which is based on keeping a percentage of the increased tax revenues as a result of rising property values within the CRAs, not new taxes.

Indiantown’s incorporation meant dissolving its CRA within the county’s structure; however, Indiantown’s new council members sought to reestablish the Indiantown CRA quickly as an initial priority. They directed their planning consultant, Bonnie Landry, to prepare the “findings” (justifying the need for redevelopment) required by the state to establish a new CRA.

When Landry submitted her $4,500 quote to the village, discussion ensued, and some council members questioned the need for a CRA since the previous one had shared the village’s boundaries. “I don’t get it,” said Councilwoman Jackie Clarke. “What’s the point of having both?”

The point is that Indiantown could capture more of the tax revenue going to the county’s general fund to target Indiantown’s CRA redevelopment projects identified by citizens as priorities; CRA projects get the state’s first consideration for funding; special financing opportunities exist for CRA entrepreneurs; more grants are available; plus other advantages simply due to CRA preferences provided in state statutes.

Although the village council already decided they would sit as the CRA board to retain full authority and add two at-large members for citizen input, they scrapped the program altogether after Brown became village manager.

“It’s up to the council; whatever you want to do,” said Village Manager Howard Brown Jr., himself a certified planner, but he offered little more. The facts, which became apparent over time, demonstrate that Brown appeared to want less citizen involvement in charting Indiantown’s course, not more.

That one decision left millions of dollars untapped that could have funded Indiantown’s long-sought CRA plan as never before, and could have easily achieved one of Clarke’s personal objectives – Indiantown beautification.

Although Landry had served as a CRA project manager in the county’s program for seven years, and knew well all of its advantages, she offered little in answer to Clarke’s question, “What’s the point?”

She took Brown’s lead, folded her hands on the table in front of her, sat silent, her eyes blinking. She was now a Brown loyalist.

Later, she would be rewarded.

PATTERNS BEGIN TO EMERGE

Landry had balked at having to write the village’s Comprehensive Growth Management Plan as a committee, and Brown likely commiserated with Landry. The seven members of the Comprehensive Plan Review committee appointed by the council included many Indiantown incorporation leaders, activists and supporters.

They were committed to keeping regular meetings, open to the public and informal to encourage public participation, which likely would add time to the project.

Landry reminded council members of the state’s three-year post-incorporation deadline, which needed to be met, and that the Land Development Regulations, opening Indiantown’s door to investors and new jobs, could not be written until the Comp Plan was largely finished.

Although Landry attempted at their first meeting in January 2019 to convince the council the Comp Plan Review Committee was not needed until she completed writing the entire Comp Plan, the council voted to keep the committee intact, to continue as initially planned, and to adjust Landry’s timeline to provide more time.

That was prior to Brown’s official arrival, although he sat in on the meeting where Landry announced her preference to proceed without the review committee.

The council rejected Landry’s proposal and directed her to bring a revised timetable to the next meeting. One week after Brown arrived, council sentiment swung in the opposite direction. They voted to “sunset” the citizen committee.

Despite compelling arguments by council members Guyton Stone and Susan Gibbs-Thomas imploring the council to keep the committee and encouraging Landry to lean on the expertise of its members at no cost to Indiantown as originally planned (and would later be recommended in the Kimley-Horn economic strategy) the vote went against them.

Immediately, Landry’s writing task was simplified, her $110,000 contract remained intact, and Brown had successfully sidelined the most knowledgeable group of Indiantown residents, business owners and land owners with barely a blink.

Landry produced a Comp Plan nine months later that was initially stricter in many regards than Martin County’s; had topics like sea level rise that were irrelevant in Indiantown; forced developers to have a minimum number of houses on each parcel of land; and combined the zoning and future land use maps into one unworkable map, contrary to Florida statutes, among other issues.

The chamber’s Government Affairs Committee hurriedly dissected the plan chapter by chapter, line by line, with members of the disbanded Comp Plan Review Committee assisting, plus a dozen other chamber members and residents offering comments, suggesting changes, meeting with Landry and Brown, until Landry felt she was finished.

Landry submitted the plan to the state in October 2019, only to discover that she had omitted the village’s mission statement and the Capital Improvement Element that projects the village’s five-year plan for capital improvements. Landry scrambled to add the missing elements.

Indiantown’s Comp Plan was finally approved by the state in December 2019, exactly one year ahead of the state’s deadline.

And this is the point where a pattern begins to emerge.

A PATTERN REVEALS BROWN’S SLEIGHT OF HAND

Brown continued to keep Landry on the village’s payroll even three months after Indiantown’s new, full-time staff planner, Althea Jefferson, community and economic development director, arrived from Broward County in June 2020.

The Comp Plan was nearly done as the members of the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee again volunteered to dissect the draft land development regulations as written by Calvin, Giordano & Associates (CGA), chosen by the council from among three engineering firms in July 2019.

The proposal by CGA, ranked the highest by staff, stood out significantly from the other firms due to its lower cost by $10,000 to $20,000, and its short nine-month completion time, guaranteeing even state approval within that period.

“This is a no-brainer,” said then-Mayor Guyton Stone, thus CGA was tapped, the $110,000 contract and its nine-month timetable was signed in August 2019 – but with no start date, which went unmentioned by Brown during council deliberations.

The council also likely was unaware that the proposals were not sealed, which requires posting a public date for opening all at the same time, thus prohibiting any firm from knowing what others are bidding.

The council also likely did not realize CGA’s previous connection to their village manager.

“Mr. Brown doesn’t want us to mention Opa-Locka,” said CGA planner Alex David, in a feigned whisper to the council. “I don’t know why .. but we rewrote Opa-Locka’s comprehensive plan ….”

Fifteen months later – a delay blamed on COVID-19 – and a few weeks of intense line-by-line scrutiny by the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee, fixes, comments, suggestions, meetings among village staff, consultants, and residents, and two public hearings (not counting the public launch meeting or the three charrettes) Indiantown celebrated completion of its first land development regulations.

The LDRs did not include code for tiny-house developments or an illustrative form-based code in simple language  “…so I don’t have to hire an architect and an engineer to see what I can build in my back yard,” said Linda Schwiesow-Nycum, who spoke at the public launch meeting in November 2019.

The code’s first draft was stricter than Martin County’s, stripped property rights in some cases, changed allowable uses of some landowners’ properties, and did not clearly protect established business owners’ right to expand when zoning was changed by the village.

Eventually, after multiple meetings, Jefferson emailed each member of the chamber’s committee and those who requested it, the “final” version of the LDRs, showing strike-throughs for deleted text and underlines for new text.

The final version also was posted on the village’s website.

The council approved the final version at its public hearing with all the changes included – except, it wasn’t the final version that had been provided to chamber members, landowners or posted on the village’s website.

It did not include all the agreed-upon new language specific to established businesses.

Attached to the agenda was a different version, printed and provided to council members, who had not attended any of the chamber committee meetings, so likely were unfamiliar with landowner issues.

When Jefferson sought final council approval, she did not point out that the version before the council was a different version than the final version posted on the village’s website and that Jefferson had personally provided to the public.

The failure to make the agreed-upon corrections could negatively affect landowners in Indiantown, Scott Watson, president of the Indiantown Independence movement and a vocal critic of the village’s change in direction, is one of them.

An unintentional staff error, or deliberate retribution by a vindictive village manager, no one can say definitively; however, Watson has retained legal representation. Indiantown may soon be facing its first legal challenge, which could prove costly for the new village.

REWARD FOR MEETING BROWN’S EXPECTATIONS?

Despite their less-than-exemplary performances – or because of them – Brown extended and expanded CGA’s contract and reengaged Bonnie Landry & Associates as a planner.

CGA will now conduct development application reviews to ensure they conform to both the Comp Plan and the LDRs, as well as be responsible for code enforcement. The village also terminated their contract with GFA, the village’s first building department, and awarded that contract to CGA.

Landry will conduct development application reviews to assist Jefferson, since the village anticipates a flood of new development applications with the final LDRs in place, Brown told the council.

Suddenly, the village now has an Economic Development Department (Brown calls it a Division). He has already advertised for an economic development specialist to work for Jefferson.

A clue that an economic development department was in the works came during the September strategic planning session, when Councilman Anthony Dowling called for a separate department for economic development at least half a dozen times during the session.

Jefferson’s title all along has been Community and Economic Development Director; therefore, Brown, who will be able to claim all credit for Indiantown’s economic boom, slid the creation of a separate new department into village government simply using a magician’s distraction technique.

While looking here, something else is going on there.

CONCLUSION:  How Did Indiantown Get So Far off Track?

Indiantown is off track only if you believe that citizen oversight and input into local government is not only necessary, but vital; that the millions of dollars being spent by the village on government salaries and benefits should have been spent first on roads and drainage; or that money should not be borrowed to build a village hall before the water utility is no longer in danger of spilling raw sewage into the streets.

An Indiantown that welcomed citizen involvement and partnerships was the vision of incorporation organizera. A village hall taking priority over the water and sewage plant was unimaginable, as is speeding toward a self-feeding growing government bureaucracy.

That’s not what residents who cast the deciding votes intended either.

Yet two council members, Mayor Janet Hernandez and Councilman Anthony Dowling, say that whatever the goals of incorporation were, they no longer apply.

“The past is the past,” is both their mantras.

Hernandez threw her hands in the air during a strategic planning session last September, “I’m sick of hearing ‘government light, government light’…That’s in the past. The past is over; we’re moving forward.”

The village also is off track only if you expect that Indiantown council members will treat all residents with dignity and respect, regardless of race or religion or background, without which the village’s direction is even more unsettling than merely rejecting previous plans.

Dowling points out that the council now holds a black-and-brown majority – the case since Indiantown’s first election, which was celebrated. His remark now, though, interjects race as the deciding factor in determining the village’s direction, making a U-turn from where it was two years ago – from where it’s been for decades.

Thelma Waters and Art Matson, a Black woman and a white man who together moved mountains for Indiantown, are cringing in their graves.

So, here the village stands, divisions seeping into the cracks of what had been stalwart inclusion of peoples, likely caused by a stranger to this place with a self-serving agenda, on the precipice of making decisions from which there will be no return.

BROWN’S FIRST STEP: CHANGE PRIORITIES

In order for Village Manager Howard Brown Jr. to shape a government with the attributes that would give him the most credibility for his small-government consulting business, he would need to steer these inexperienced council members toward his own vision – multiple employees in multiple departments run by a central core of “professionals.”

Immediately, Brown brought one of those professionals to Indiantown on whom he’d relied previously at Opa-Locka and at Muskogee – marketing consultant Jim Anaston-Karas – to shape a council’s direction through Brown’s style of “strategic planning.”

The village’s previous mission and vision statements were rewritten, goals realigned and reordered.

Most important, the council moved the purchase of the water utility from year four – after new development would expand their tax base bringing more stability to the village – to year two, Brown’s first year, because a water utility generates revenue.

In Indiantown’s case, it would be more than $2 million a year – a plum for a government consultant to claim after only one year as village manager, regardless if pipes burst as they awaited grants and borrowed money to fix them.

Karas’ reward for getting done what Brown needed most – and convincing the council that everything they did was their idea in the first place – was more than $84,000 in no-bid marketing contracts.

Karas returns Saturday, April 10, to set the council’s new goals.

INDOCTRINATE THE COUNCIL TO MANAGE DECISIONS

Now that a new direction and new priorities were set, which Brown called “a clarification” of village goals, he moved quickly to get council members out of Indiantown and away from its small-government philosophy into an environment imbued with big-city government thinking.

Brown encouraged all council members to join the boards of every government-centered organization, and attend every multi-day conference or meeting held anywhere in Florida, including Tallahassee, all expenses paid by Indiantown, including overnight stays at posh Hilton/Marriott hotels.

“Mr. Brown calls (conference attendance) our ‘trainings,’” said then-Mayor Guyton Stone during a council meeting last year, “and I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Few, if any, of the organizations they joined have members from Indiantown’s peer cities.

Council members inadvertently reveal how effective Brown’s strategy is, because they’ll admit during village meetings that they conferred with other city officials to verify Brown’s directives. It does not occur to them that perhaps large bureaucracies created over decades by large cities is not the ideal model for Indiantown.

MORE COUNCIL MANIPULATION

Brown seems to ingratiate himself with council members, then, like an abusive spouse, he separates them from other influences – particularly incorporation activists and Martin County officials – by amplifying fears, creating paranoia, and sowing distrust.

He often encouraged Indiantown to sever all ties to Martin County, required if they were to truly become independent, a comment repeated by council members frequently over the past two years.

Hernandez’s outbursts indicate that she’s being told that the neglect of Indiantown by the largely white east coast is due to bias toward Indiantown’s largely non-white population. He fosters contempt toward Indiantown’s representative on the county commission, Harold Jenkins, by telling council members, “He talks to (council members) like you’re third graders.”

Brown’s influence can be seen in council members who are now openly disdainful not only of Martin County, but of Indiantown incorporation organizers and the Indiantown Chamber of Commerce members, whose extended hand repeatedly is rebuffed.

The council rejected Indiantown native and businessman Kevin Powers’ offer in December to formulate a legislative strategy for this year’s state legislative session at no cost, preferring instead to hire a lobbying firm, spending $45,000 to do so.

Kerrie Tyndall, Indiantown’s chamber executive with a stunning background in economic development, offered to assist the village to avoid having to hire an economic development specialist.

Her offer was not even acknowledged or discussed.

Dowling has warned council members publicly that “outside influencers” all seek control of Indiantown, “which is not in the best interest of the people,” he says. “The people elected us …and the past is in the past. We’re moving forward.”

Dowling recently encouraged the council to create a policy that would ban anyone who lived outside of the village’s legal boundaries – even if they owned a business within the boundaries, or lived within the greater Indiantown area, or were native to Indiantown – from serving in any capacity in any advisory role on any committee or represent Indiantown’s interests at any time or in any manner.

A particularly stunning pronouncement considering that the village manager, who exerts the greatest influence, does not himself live within village boundaries, or within the greater Indiantown community, or within even Martin County.

WITHHOLDING INFORMATION, TELLING LIES

The county offered soon after Brown arrived to lease their entire government complex to Indiantown for the village’s offices, part of which they’d been using since incorporation. Brown rejected the offer.

When the council was considering the purchase of land to build a village hall, which Brown was pushing them hard to do, two parcels were being considered, a 3-acre parcel adjacent to the Goodyear Tire & Repair Service building, wrapped by the Indiantown DRI development, or a 5-acre+ parcel at the foot of the Big John Mollahan bridge, both on Warfield Blvd., both with a 60-day due diligence.

 Brown suggested the council cut that to 30 days. They did.

He said the smaller parcel had no utilities, no water or sewer lines, needed landfill, likely had wetlands – all lies.

He also did not tell the council that he’d been contacted about the smaller parcel by the new owners of the 800-acre Indiantown DRI, The Garcia Companies of Virginia, to ask permission for a presentation to show their plans for adding land, providing a road, adding a traffic light at the intersection, and other “exciting ideas” to make the village hall a centerpiece of their development and the village, while also saving the village construction costs.

(Brown has since told council members of another Garcia proposal to buy the smaller parcel, build the city hall and lease it back to the council until they’re ready to assume ownership. Brown pretends their cost projections are too high, according to the manager’s report.)

The council bought the larger 5-acre parcel with no utilities for $1.45 million – $450,000 above appraised value and double the cost of the 3-acre parcel that had all utilities.

To spur the council toward building a village hall, Brown told them that County Administrator Taryn Kryza had kicked them out of the county’s government building. Another lie.

Brown informed Kryzda last spring after she expressed concern about the number of employees now at the village that he already had a plan, a portable building he was moving onto vacant land for offices, an idea not yet presented to the council.

Kryzda followed up with a standard verification that the end of the village’s lease would be Sept. 30, 2020, and offices would need to be vacated by Oct. 1.

Brown sent a copy of Kryzda’s note to every council member as proof they were, indeed, being forced to leave the government complex, then sent a scathing email to Kryzda, admonishing her for “kicking the village out of their offices in the middle of a pandemic.”

He gave a copy to council members to show that he had defended the village against the county’s unreasonable order. When Kryzda received it, her response was, “Howard, what’s this?” before recounting their earlier conversation.

Kryzda’s response to Brown’s concocted letter to confirm a scenario that never existed was not provided to council members, who continue to believe the county kicked the village staff out of their offices.

FLAUNTING FLORIDA’S SUNSHINE LAWS

The clincher for the council’s decision to move ahead with its own fire-EMS department came after a carefully controlled visit to the volunteer fire stations at Sebring on Friday, Feb. 26. Brown, accompanied by village council members, village staff, Iacona and two Indiantown citizens, Doug Caldwell and Tony Zweiner, made the round trip together in the village’s 15-passenger van.

During the trip home, Brown and Iacona openly discussed the advantages of the hybrid model at Sebring with their captive audience of council members – likely violating Florida’s Sunshine Law.

The next day, the village council chose Sebring’s hybrid fire-EMS model as the best option to pursue.

THE WORST DECISION OF ALL

Head-and-shoulders above all the rest of bad decisions – the fire-EMS service, building a village hall before fixing the water-sewage plant, and not creating a Community Redevelopment Agency for Indiantown – is their decision to sideline (and discredit) the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee, the most knowledgeable and ethical group of citizens ever assembled to help guide Indiantown’s growth in the manner that citizens intended.

The committee members themselves insisted that the committee’s work be totally transparent, open to the public, welcoming to citizen inquiries and input, which often included Renita Presler of Fernwood and Marjorie Beary of Indianwood.

As a result of the village’s consultant-written Comp Plan design for growth, with only last-minute input from chamber members, a group of residents from Fernwood is organizing in protest to the proposed River Oak project along Famel Boulevard, which has three different land-use zones on its one 57-acre parcel, and an Indiantown landowner is launching his own legal challenge to the Comp Plan’s alleged lack of protection of existing businesses.

Something went wrong with the way this Comp Plan was written, and it reveals the lack of council commitment to the ideals of transparency and citizen-centric government, as well as a village manager whose interests center elsewhere, not on Indiantown.

Had the committee not been abolished, local citizens would have remained a part of helping to create a Comp Plan that would not draw protests and legal challenges and would truly represent all of Indiantown.

The village council should reconvene that committee with those same people to draft a plan that charts a course for Indiantown out of its current quagmire.

Will they do that? Highly unlikely. The council first would need to see they’re standing in a quagmire.

– Barbara Clowdus

Republished with permission from the author