Connecting the Dots in Indiantown’s 2020 Election

Part 3: Going Back to 2020 Election — Putting the Pieces Together

The first dot in the dotted line connecting developer Brian West, charged with allegedly bribing elected officials in Brevard County, to Indiantown’s 2020 election happened August 9, 2019.

That was the first day West visited then-Village Manager Howard Brown Jr. in an unrecorded meeting at Brown’s Indiantown office, according to public records unavailable until more than three years later.

The dots next connected political operative Robert Burns to Indiantown’s political candidates on August 5, 2020, after Burns accepted West’s $7,000 payment to be then-Mayor Guyton Stone’s campaign manager.

Although the connections between West and Indiantown were clear, the purpose behind West’s investment into Indiantown’s election remained murky after law enforcement investigators concluded that West had not bribed Indiantown’s elected officials.

The picture did not clear up until 2023 when all the pieces were assembled. The picture that emerged is not pretty.

Near the end of the 2020 election season, then-Village Mayor Guyton Stone’s opponent, Guy Parker, was rapidly gaining in popularity and support. It appeared that Stone, a two-year incumbent on the village council, might lose his seat.

After West paid him, Burns elbowed his way into Indiantown’s election conversation just two weeks prior to election day, August 18, 2020.

Fake accounts appeared on the Indiantown Community Facebook Group of more than 5,000 members. Derogatory comments about Stone’s opponent blanketed the social media site, along with false claims and fake ads.

The character of Stone’s opponent was smeared, portraying Parker as a racist in a community long known for its racial diversity and harmony.

Burns said in sworn testimony that West was insistent that Stone MUST win, thus apparently justifying Burns’ by-any-means-necessary tactics.

He was not alone in creating questionable election tactics.

Then-Councilman Anthony Dowling reversed his long-standing, public animus toward Stone by publicly endorsing Stone and Councilwoman Janet Hernandez for re-election.

“They used to hate each other,” said Indiantown resident Roe Pacheco after one council meeting. “Makes you wonder … what happened?”

Stone, Dowling, and Hernandez had created a voting bloc that, when combined with then-Councilwoman Jackie Clarke’s vote, formed a nearly impenetrable super majority.

Brown always got what he wanted.

In addition to nearly perfect scores on his annual evaluations, council members placed no reins on his spending or on creating an outsized bureaucracy for a town of 6,500.

Brown coaxed individual council members to fall in line behind him during private meetings behind closed doors, which Councilwoman Susan Gibbs Thomas once called “brain-washing sessions.” She called for an end to them, but was outnumbered.

It’s unclear whether the new Stone-Dowling-Hermandez alliance was part of Burn’s campaign strategy, or the result of Brown’s advice to the trio as he drove council members in the village’s 15-passenger van to Florida League of Cities conferences in Orlando.

That’s where they first met Palm Bay Deputy Mayor Kenny Johnson, who had tapped his cousin, Robert Burns, as Johnson’s campaign manager. Yet, none of Indiantown’s council members had heard of Burns, they told investigators, and they were mere acquaintances of Johnson.

Dissolving the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan’s citizen oversight committee, coupled with Brown’s singular influence on the council majority, seemed to ensure West would have an easy time securing the land-use changes he wanted for his Citrus Landing development…eventually.

Although West’s attorney was unsuccessful in August 2019 in getting West’s desired changes incorporated into the Comp Plan at its inception, West was undeterred, regardless of public outcry.

One year later, after an election that returned both Stone and Hernandez to the village council, the majority control that West had needed — and Brown likely said was necessary — remained intact. The stage was set.

Indeed, West exhibited such confidence in pitching his 65-acre development during the village’s first Land Development Regulations workshop Sept. 17, 2020, that some who attended described him as “almost giddy.”

After all, “his” candidate in which West had privately invested $7,000, Guyton Stone, had won re-election.

Dowling crouched next to his seat behind the dais to take a photo of West during the workshop, as if West was a celebrity inside the Indiantown Civic Center. The next photo taken of West was his mug shot at the Brevard County jail.

The conversations between Brown and West are, of course, unknown, and their personal emails, if any, likely have disappeared along with dozens of other Indiantown public records.

Only FDLE has the authority to conduct a forensic search of their personal computers to gain access to heretofore hidden information.

One fact that does not need a forensic investigation, however, is Brown’s awareness of his need to maintain majority control of Indiantown’s Village Council.

Brown admitted as much when he applied this year for the city manager position for a small suburb of Orlando.

The video of his March 22, 2023, job interview by the Belle Isle City Council was posted online by government watchdog Eric Miller on the website entitled, “Howard Brown Back in the News.” (Brown’s interview starts at the 5:21 mark.)

When asked why Brown left Indiantown, he admitted to the Belle Isle council that had the outcome of the 2022 election been different, “I would still be there.”

But Indiantown voters overruled him.

–Barbara Clowdus

Part 4: Tomorrow, watch for “Going Back to 2020 Election — Election Aftermath”