Conclusion: How Did Indiantown Get So Far off Track?
WHAT HAPPENED TO INDIANTOWN’S GRAND VISION?
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