Commission candidate Ken Bryan to face a jury in a defamation lawsuit

Historic City News learned this week that former one-term St Johns County Commissioner, Ken Bryan, has been summoned to appear in Flagler County court to answer defamation charges brought by lawyers for Sunbelt Holdings Florida I LLC, of Nevada; and its parent company, Sunbelt Land Management LLC, of Delaware.

According to published reports, on November 7, 2019, at the Flagler Beach United Methodist Church, Bryan attended and spoke at a public meeting hosted by not for profit Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek Inc; a group that has been at the forefront of community opposition to the development of an 825-acre site off John Anderson Highway.  Elizabeth Hathaway is president of Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek, Inc and Joseph “Ken” Bryan is vice-president.

During the meeting at issue, plaintiffs allege that Bryan, who is currently campaigning for election to a seat on the Flagler Beach city commission, made false accusations against them.

  • Bryan said he had dealings with Sunbelt Holdings when they proposed to develop the Gun House Road property in St. Johns County.
  • Bryan said the company had “clear cut the entire property after all the county employees had left”.
  • Bryan said “Sunbelt Holdings was fined. But, to them, that’s just the cost of doing business.”
  • Bryan went on to lead the crowd to believe that Sunbelt Holdings had “thwarted government scrutiny,” and “purposefully engaging in illegal activity.”

The lawsuit, filed by Chiumento, Dwyer, Hertel, and Grant, says that Bryan’s statements against Sunbelt Holdings Florida I LLC, of Nevada; and its parent company, Sunbelt Land Management LLC, are false, misleading, and defamatory.

  • the St Johns County land was not clear-cut, according to the lawsuit
  • Palm Coast Intracoastal LLC is proposing The Gardens, not Sunbelt
  • the statements were made “in bad faith” and were slanderous
  • plaintiffs are due $30,000 in damages
  • plaintiffs demand a jury trial

After the meeting, Bryan spoke with a Daytona News-Journal reporter and was quoted the following day saying that the group is not opposed to development in the area, but wants “development that makes sense” and he said the group will stay on top of the issue.  “We’ve been actually meeting weekly since July,” he said. “The idea is to attend meetings both at the city level and the county level and to stay engaged to find out what we need to do to keep our area preserved.  We’re going to be very active.  We have to keep our eyes on the prize.”

Bryan now lives at 406 Palm Drive, making him eligible to seek office as a commissioner in the Town of Flagler Beach.  Bryan sought re-election at the end of his term in St Johns County but was defeated by Rachael Bennett who took office in 2012.  Bryan sold his house in Pelican Reef on Anastasia Island and moved to Flagler County.