New Truths Revealed in Old Records

Part 4: Going Back to 2020 Election — New Access to Public Records Reveals Previously Hidden Facts

Indiantown reached a fork in the road after only one year as an incorporated village. The date was Dec. 17, 2018, the day the village council hired Howard W. Brown Jr. as manager.

But villagers didn’t know their council took the wrong fork until four years later.

From his first day, Brown began persuading council members to reject what he called, “the outsiders,” anyone not raised in Indiantown, including those born and raised in Indiantown but now living outside the boundary line; the owners of decades-old Indiantown businesses; any Chamber of Commerce member; and, especially, Martin County commissioners, without whom the village could not have been born.

In contrast, the employees Brown hired in the first three years all came from OUTSIDE of the entire Indiantown community, apparently so they’d have no connections or loyalties to anyone but Brown.

By the time Brown attended his first council meeting as village manager in January 2019, the council, under his sway, voted to disband the diverse citizen committee they had formed of residents and stakeholders just five months earlier to write the village’s first Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.

Brown had taken immediate advantage of the inexperience of brand-new council members to take control of the village — a ripe situation for someone like developer Brian West to believe that Brown could deliver on any promise.

But Brown seldom made promises in public or in writing, although West’s angry response to not getting the changes in land uses he’d first sought in 2019 spoke clearly as to what West had expected.

So much so that West threatened to sue the village.


The following year, an unrelated developer purchased a 58-acre parcel of land west of Warfield Boulevard and submitted a development application. The property came with three, separate land uses already assigned to it — precisely the scenario that West had wanted for his 65-acre parcel, Citrus Landing.

Controversy erupted immediately after River Oak began notifying its neighbors about their intentions for a residential development; however, only one neighbor, Scott Watson, the owner of the adjacent Indiantown Marina, questioned Brown and the village staff as to why the land uses had been changed from rural residential to a combination of urban residential, mixed use and even commercial uses.

The changes increased the number of housing units allowed from 275 under Martin County rules to 660, according to presentations at the Feb. 2, 2023, PZA Board meeting.

Watson could not get answers, so he submitted a request for all public records pertaining to writing the Comp Plan.

“I wanted to know, ‘How did this happen?’ … No one would tell me, but I can tell you this,” Watson told PZAB members, “It would never have happened if the Comp Plan Committee had been allowed to do its work.”

To get answers, Watson had submitted a public records request in 2020 for all records and correspondence on any electronic device, including personal computers and cell phones, pertaining to the writing of the village’s Comp Plan and drawing of its Future Land Use Map.

Watson received an invoice of $1,500 from the village to produce the records, all of which were digital files. At the same time, he also became embroiled in a battle with the village to restore the land uses on his own property that had been partially stripped under the village’s new code.

It took more than two years and a private attorney to restore most of his previous rights. The battle positioned Watson as an adversary.

In 2021, Watson resubmitted his public records request, and he received another invoice from the village. This time, however, the amount for the identical request had increased by $5,000.


It was not until the 2022 election of Councilman Carmine Dipaolo that all previous public records requests by anyone, including Watson, seeking information from the local government were fulfilled at no cost to the requestors.

“In my opinion, these charges were just a barrier to keep from having to produce whatever records were there,” Dipaolo said at the time. “It was to keep our citizens in the dark. The village operated like that for four years, and that has now ended.”

Indeed, many records — including 18 months of the village’s financial records, as well as correspondence with West — had mysteriously disappeared. (In addition, the day after Brown resigned on Dec. 8, 2022, his laptop computer was ordered erased by then-Village Clerk Susan Owens.)

By the time the Planning, Zoning, Appeal Board met Feb. 2, 2023, to review the River Oak development application, Watson, a new member of the PZA Board, had combed through dozens of documents — not everything he had requested, but enough to point him in the right direction.

He went back to the village’s original Future Land Use Map in 2019, and there it was, Watson said.

“All three land uses had already been placed on (the River Oak) property,” he said — PRIOR to the village’s announced procedures for public review of the final Comp Plan and Future Land Use Map.

“It dawned on me, right then and there, as soon as I saw that, that something nefarious had gone on,” Watson told the PZA Board and the village’s planning consultant, Jeff Kitams, who had wondered aloud “how that happened.”

The number of housing units allowed on the River Oak property under Martin County’s rules was 275. Under Indiantown’s new rules, the number of housing units swelled to 660. Fortunately for the neighbors in Fernwood and on Famel, which border River Oak, the application was for 176 units.

A job resume that boasted of unprecedented growth within four years seemed to be the manager’s objective, instead of what was healthy for the village’s growth and development.

“That’s what happens,” Scott added, “when citizens are cut out of the process.”

— Barbara Clowdus

Conclusion: Tomorrow, watch for “Going Back to 2020 Election — Aftermath of 2022, Looking Ahead to 2024”