Indiantown gets back on the right path

CONCLUSION: Going Back to 2020 Election — “Aftermath of 2022, Looking Ahead to 2024″

As the 2022 election approached, few Indiantown voters knew of developer Brian West and his connection to Indiantown, but voters sensed an unwelcome change in direction.

Indiantown was somehow taking a path far different than the one promised to residents prior to incorporation and previously shaped by residents as a Community Redevelopment Area.

The new village also began experiencing racial division not previously seen or felt in Indiantown.

Likely the major issue, though, was another fact: Although the village council purchased the utility plant in 2020, no discernible difference had been made in the quality of the village’s drinking water, yet the council wanted to build an $18 million village hall.

The only council member who voiced opposition to proceeding after the architect’s presentation in March 2022 was Councilwoman Susan Gibbs Thomas, who won re-election August 23, 2022.

She now serves the village as mayor for the second time.

Voters also decided that then-Mayor Jackie Clarke and then-Vice Mayor Anthony Dowling were to be replaced by new council members: community activist Angelina Perez and former police sergeant Carmine Dipaolo, respectively.

The former village manager, Howard W. Brown Jr., had purportedly told Booker Parker residents that Clarke needed to win in order for him to stay. When Clarke lost, many expected that Brown would either be fired or resign. Neither happened

Instead, the new mayor said during the first few weeks post-election, that “…the past is past. We’ve turned the page and we’re moving forward,” a message she repeated often.

The mayor seemed to be sending a message to Brown and his loyal village staff that Thomas wanted unity in purpose with a new resolve to focus on the best interest of the village, rather than on primarily self-interest.

After four months, however, a lack of progress in numerous areas and a bevy of pending staff resignations brought Thomas to the conclusion that a change in direction required more than wishful thinking.

Brown resigned Dec. 8, 2022, with full benefits.

More than a dozen qualified persons applied for interim village manager, following Thomas’ lead to conduct a local search for candidates to serve temporarily in order for the village council to take a longer look at candidates than they had done the first time in 2018.

After the retired Martin County Administrator Taryn Kryzda became eligible Jan. 1, 2023, to apply, the council — many of whom had interviewed four or five other candidates — accepted and approved Kryzda as interim village manager at slightly less salary as Brown’s.

“She’s by far the most qualified candidate and she’s already very familiar with Indiantown,” Thomas said. “I feel that Indiantown is truly fortunate that she’s available and is willing to do this for us.”

Although the original “government-lite” precept, which called for fewer than a dozen direct employees with most services contracted, is now impossible to achieve; however, the new path of fewer contractors and consultants and more direct employees seems now preferable for Indiantown.

“It provides greater accountability and more immediate response times,” explained Thomas, “which gives us a better government for our residents. In addition, when we hire Indiantown residents, our tax money recirculates right here in Indiantown, which gives us a stronger village economically.”

The start of the new year with new leadership was admittedly a bit rocky, but the meetings now are civil affairs. Gone are the theatrics that used to dominate meetings, as well as around $7,000 a month in payments to contractors who performed no work for the village.

The staff also has learned to work more cohesively, according to one village employee, who wished to remain nameless.

“Really, when the change came, we were all scared,” she said. “We’d heard so much; we just didn’t know what to expect or what to believe … but it’s all good now.”

The village’s bills are getting paid on time. Staff turnover is low. Grant money is getting accounted for properly, grants are being written, and progress on both the wastewater and drinking water plants is being made, according to village staff.

The council majority voted to sell the five-acre parcel the previous council bought to build a new village hall, and growth in manufacturing with the promise of good jobs has begun. New housing finally is emerging in Booker Park, followed by River Oak, Terra Lago, and Palm View apartments with eight more live-work units.

FPL, which provides 86 percent of Indiantown’s tax revenue, will remain in Indiantown, although the decommissioning of one of their solar arrays will decrease the village’s tax revenue by around 10 percent next year, according to an FPL memo.
It adds pressure to Kryzda’s job to conserve revenue and to settle the village’s discussions with the county over shared impact fees that will pay for road, sidewalk, and drainage improvements. The next budget hearing for the 2023-2024 year will be Thursday, Sept. 14, at 6 p.m. in village hall. The regular meeting follows at 6:30.

The hope is that Stone’s excuse for his actions in the 2020 campaign — “It’s just politics” — does not again prevail during the council’s election of mayor and vice mayor at the next meeting or during Indiantown’s next council election in August 2024 — because Indiantown is on its way back to being Indiantown, only better.

—Barbara Clowdus