Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Developer SLAPP-Sued Him For Libel, Voters Just Elected Him. (Flagler Live)

Congratulations to former St. Johns County Commissioner Joseph Kenneth Bryan (2008-2012), who was on March 17, 2020 elected to Flagler Beach City Commission, after a pointless Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation filed by a developer.

Ken Bryan and Deborah Phillips Win in Flagler Beach, Shupe Is Out; John Rogers and Tonya Gordon Win in Bunnell

Ken Bryan, center, at a meeting on The Gardens development last year, flanked by Elizabeth Hathaway, left, and former County Commissioner Barbara Revels. (© FlaglerLive)
Ken Bryan, center, at a meeting on The Gardens development last year, flanked by Elizabeth Hathaway, left, and former County Commissioner Barbara Revels. (© FlaglerLive)

Marshall Shupe, who had first been elected in 2011 and had won re-election twice since, lost his Flagler Beach commission seat, pulling in the fewest number of votes out of four candidates. Paul Harrington came in third. 
The Flagler Beach commission will have two new members, as Commissioner Kim Carney opted not to defend her seat but run for a county commission seat instead. 

Bunnell Commissioners John Rogers and Jan Reeger. (© FlaglerLive)
Bunnell Commissioners John Rogers and Jan Reeger. (© FlaglerLive)
“I think the two people who won, I’ll be able to work with both of them well,” Flagler Beach Commissioner Jane Mealy, the longest-serving on the panel, said this evening. “Unless I didn’t get to know them the way I thought I did. But given what I heard at the two candidates nights, and just in talking with them, I think we’ll be fine.” She said she would miss Shupe. “He didn’t have personal agenda, he was a good asset and I will miss working with him.” 
In Bunnell, John Rogers won re-election for the third time to his fourth city commission term but not with the largest number of votes. That honor goes to Tonya Gordon, who won a third of all votes. Gordon is the office assistant at the Bunnell insurance agency of Elbert Tucker, who had served for a decade on the commission before opting not to run a year ago. 
Tonya Gordon.
Tonya Gordon.
“I’m happy, I’m shocked in a way, I’m excited and excited to get in there and start learning stuff, and see where we can go from there,” Gordon said this evening. “Any time I’ve had questions about some stuff I’ll ask him, but a lot of people think me and Elbert talk about politics, and actually we do not. There is some things Elbert and I don;t agree on, and we agree to disagree on them, especially at work.” But Gordon said she will ask him about legal questions such as issues relating to statutes and other technical issues he’s familiar with. “I’m excited to see if I can make a difference.” 
Incumbent Jan Reeger, who had won a special election a year ago to fill the seat vacated by John Sowell but was required to run again for the full three-year term, failed to defend the seat, drawing just over 20 percent of the vote, with Tina-Marie Schultz coming in fourth. 
Rogers could hardly speak–not because he was overcome by the victory (it would take more than that for him to be overcome) but because he was called to the job: “I had a million-dollar boat fall off a trailer,” he said, at I-95 and County Road 206. Rogers owns John’s Towing, one of Bunnell’s three towing companies. He had been at the old Bunnell City Hall watching the returns before he was called out. 
Deborah Phillips. (© FlaglerLive)
Deborah Phillips. (© FlaglerLive)
To Bryan, it was a matter of experience and clear messaging, he said this evening as he was celebrating with his wife, two cats and a good glass of wine. “Always straight, upfront, and tell people exactly what I plan to do and always be honest about it,” Bryan said, citing his ideas as well–his strategic plan and how to improve communications between the city and its residents. “That seemed to resonate with a lot of people when I was going door to door,” he said. 
Unquestionably, his prominent role in the leadership of a group called Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek, established specifically to counter the planned Gardens development along John Anderson Highway, was a propelling force. But, Bryan said this evening, as he has in forums, “I’m not against development at all, I am for responsible development. I would hope that we can continue to work with the developer of The Gardens to come up with something that’s mutually agreeable” to the citizens, he said. “If we can work with them and come up with something that’s beneficial to everyone, then I think we’ll be fine. I think it’s going to come,” he said of the development, “there’s no doubt about that, it’s juts a matter of how it’s going to come.” 
Bryan pulled 31 percent of the vote, with Phillips at 25 percent. Phillips–whose email handle was “promoteflaglerbeach”–could not be reached this evening. 
Three minor charter amendments also passed in Flagler Beach
The two cities’ elections were held in tandem with the presidential primary, which was anti-climactic: in the Democratic primary, Joe Biden took Flagler with nearly 70 percent of the vote, to Bernie Sanders’s 16 percent. Sanders got exactly half the 32 percent of the vote he’d won in the 2016 Democratic primary in Flagler, when Hillary Clinton won with 65 percent of the vote–an indication of the lack of enthusiasm for Clinton then, and the more pronounced enthusiasm for Biden now. Biden also won Florida handily today. President Trump had some nominal opposition from former Gov. Bill Weld, who pulled in 2 percent of the vote, to Trump’s 96 percent.
Turnout was 33 percent, according to the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections.

One Side Says Defamation. The Other Says Intimidation. The Gardens Development Spins-Off a Lawsuit.

Ken Bryan, addressing the audience at the November 7 meeting on The Gardens. Bryan is the target of a defamation lawsuit by The Gardens' umbrella company, SunBelt Land Management. (© FlaglerLive)
Ken Bryan, addressing the audience at the November 7 meeting on The Gardens. Bryan is the target of a defamation lawsuit by The Gardens’ umbrella company, SunBelt Land Management. (© FlaglerLive)

A little more than 30 minutes in, after Polletta spoke and just before turning to a Q and A segment, Bryan took the mic again (it’s minute 34 in the recording embedded here.)
He told the audience that while the question cards were being collected there were “a couple of points that I think you should be aware of. This particular company, Sunbelt, last month–I’m from originally from Maryland (sic.), having lived in St. Johns County and St. Augustine for 13 years prior to moving here. About three or four weeks ago I got a call from one of my friends in St. Augustine. This particular company went in to a particular piece of property that they own near the airport on Old Gun House Road I believe it is. They moved [inaudible] they moved their equipment in on a Friday, and they started clearing land right after all the county employees had left. And they continued to clear land until Sunday night, when they were finished. By the time the county found out what happened, they had clear-cut this entire property. So, you say, well, what’s going to happen? Well, they got fined. They got fined [inaudible] a total of $7,000. That’s just the cost of doing business. And I’m just making you aware of this because, pay attention to what’s going on. I mean, I’ve worked here, you know, Elizabeth [Hathaway]’s husband has an incredible drone, so we keep an eye on [laughter drowns out his words].” He asked supporters to “be vigilant” and give members of the group a call if they see anything out of place.
Polletta, Arnoff, Elizabeth Hathaway and Barbara Revels, the former county commissioner, along with Bryan, all fielded questions during the Q&A.
“He made the statements knowingly that they were false, and they caused damages,” Chiumento said of the “clear-cutting” and “cost of doing business” portions. (Though there was land clearing, it was selective, not “clear-cutting,” Chiumento said.)
Tanner, who said he’ll be just one of the attorneys representing Bryan, didn’t see “any substantial basis” for the complaint, which he said doesn’t allege “intentional malice.” Bryan’s statement, just for being inaccurate, “still doesn’t make it an intentional misrepresentation.”
There’s also the matter of damages: “What provable damages if any have you incurred, and how can you prove they directly relate to this one comment by a citizen who simply tried to explain his opposition as a citizen to a development?” Tanner said. “This suit appears to be an attack upon a citizen’s right to oppose this development and more importantly, an attack upon free speech.” (Bryan, a former county commissioner in St. Johns, is a candidate for the Flagler Beach City Commission in the March election.)
Tanner added: “We’re looking forward to getting in court. I hope it won’t be a long litigation, it looks like it will be fairly straightforward and we’ll file a response within 30 days.”

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