Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot recently announced that he will step down from the Town Council effective April 25th. Barefoot cited personal reasons for departing more than two years before his term is to expire. The Council will fill the position by appointment, and is now seeking applications.
Town building official, Jose Gaunch, submitted his resignation March 28. Gounch is to take a position with the Indian River County Building Department.
Barefoot is named in a public records complaint filed March 20 with the State Attorney’s Office. The complaint, brought by an Indian River Shores resident, requests an investigation into whether Barefoot improperly deleted from his personal computer correspondence that should instead have been forwarded to the Town Clerk’s Office as public record.
The complaint also questions whether Gaunch was forthcoming about official communication he had regarding Project Crescent, a proposed redevelopment of the building located at 400 Beach Road in Indian River Shores.
Shores Attorney Chester Clem contends that because no officials request was ever made of the Town regarding Project Crescent, any emails in Barefoot’s possession related to the project were the Mayor’s personal records to dispose of as he chose.
In April 2015, Barefoot, along with then Town Councilman Richard Haverland, pleaded no-contest to charges that he and Haverland improperly communicated privately about official Town business.
Below are excerpts from the complaint filed March 20 against Barefoot with the State Attorney’s Office.
Roughly a year ago, a private equity investor from London named Frank van den Bosch announced to owners in that building that he would be proposing to buy all of the condos in the building (he already owned eleven) and redevelop the Island House into a high end luxury condominium. The owners of the units successfully fought off his approach, as he intended to offer incredibly low buyout prices and was quite dismissive of concerns raised by owners.
Mr. van den Bosch did make quite clear, though, that the John’s Island Club and the town of Indian River Shores were supportive of the redevelopment (“Project Crescent”). In order to learn more about the town’s involvement in the project my wife and I initiated a series of Public Records Requests asking for all public records relating to Project Crescent going back several years. From the beginning, the town has not been particularly responsive. For example, in an e-mail to my wife dated April 27, 2017, Building Official Jose Guanch claims that he had not “…met with or spoken with anyone involved with that project” since 2015. The Public Records Request, however, turned up an e-mail correspondence between Mr. Guanch and Joe Tice of the John’s Island Property Owners Association regarding Project Crescent just ten days prior to that e-mail having been sent.
After several Public Records Requests filed with Laura Aldrich, the town clerk, Ms. Aldrich forwarded to me on March 5, 2018 an e-mail to her from Mayor Brian Barefoot from November 14th, 2017, stating that any correspondence he had regarding Project Crescent was personal and therefore not discoverable in a Public Records Request. Furthermore, he claimed that “Whatever correspondence existed was trashed several weeks ago”. This behavior is highly troubling for many reasons, and I believe it represents an intentional effort to evade a Public Records Request.
As the attached correspondence demonstrates, the town building official was already involved with Project Crescent. He has acknowledged attending a meeting along with the town manager and town counsel to learn about Project Crescent in 2015. He was also in dialogue with John’s Island Property Owners Association about technical matters regarding the design of the building. Additionally, Chester Clem, the town attorney, was sufficiently aware of the project in June 2016 to ask the town manager and town clerk about the status of Project Crescent as he was representing a potential buyer of a condo in the Island House. The project would certainly need to be approved by the town zoning board before any construction could begin. In fact, Mr. van den Bosch states on page 3 of his initial letter to Island House owners that “there were some zoning issues to overcome that have now been resolved”, clearly implying that the town was assisting with Project Crescent.
Mr. Barefoot used his position as mayor to further assist in the redevelopment of the Island House. In January 2017, Mr. van den Bosch met with the president of the 400 Beach Road Condominium Association, Oliver Henkel, Jr., to inform him for the first time about Project Crescent. In order to demonstrate the community approval of the project, Mr. van den Bosch invited Mr. Henkel to contact Mr. Barefoot for a meeting. The two did subsequently meet at a restaurant at John’s Island Club. While Mr. Henkel did not keep contemporaneous notes of the meeting, he has said there was no doubt that Mr. Barefoot was acting in his capacity as the Mayor of Indian River Shores in stressing his support for the project at that meeting.
After learning that Mr. Barefoot deleted the relevant e-mails, I sent an e-mail to the town counsel, Chester Clem, asking again for the e-mails as well as for evidence as to whether Mr. Barefoot deleted the e-mails after I first filed a Public Records Request on August 30th, as Mr. Barefoot’s e-mail would imply. While Mr. Clem appears unaware of the content of the deleted e-mails, he made clear he will not make any effort to restore those records.
I am hoping that you have the ability and willingness to compel Mayor Barefoot to restore any relevant public records that he has deleted and fully comply with my Public Records Request. His behavior also raises the possibility that he has knowingly worked to evade discovery of public records, which is unacceptable for anyone accountable to the public.