Suspended Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie has changed lawyers.
When Haynie turned herself in at the Palm Beach County Jail on April 24, her attorney was Leonard Feuer. Facing seven public corruption charges, Haynie has dropped Feuer in favor of Bruce Zimet, a former federal prosecutor whose office is in Fort Lauderdale.
Zimet drew statewide attention in 2013, when he won a new trial—based on faulty jury instructions—for Marissa Alexander. Three years earlier, the Jacksonville woman had fired a shot near her ex-husband, who she claimed had threatened to kill her over a domestic dispute. Alexander based on her defense on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, but a judge ruled against her. Critics wondered why she had been convicted when George Zimmerman had been acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin. To some, Alexander became a symbol of injustice. Facing 60 years in prison, Alexander agreed to a plea bargain under which she served an additional 65 days in jail. She then was released and got credit for the nearly three years she had been in custody or under supervision.
More relevant to Haynie’s case, Zimet in 2015 successfully defended former Delray Beach City Commission Angeleta Gray on a misdemeanor public corruption charge. Gray’s co-defendant was Alberta McCarthy, also a former commissioner.
Prosecutors charged Gray with failing to disclose her relationship with McCarthy before voting to give McCarthy’s employer a contract. The deal meant a raise for McCarthy, who prosecutors said had paid down a loan on Gray’s business without expecting to be repaid. Prosecutors also said McCarthy had received $500 a month to manage for Gray’s unsuccessful 2014 reelection campaign.
Zimet told me he intends to file a written plea of not guilty in Haynie’s case. Doing so, he said, would obviate the need for Haynie’s scheduled arraignment next week. Zimet guessed that Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley would schedule a hearing in June.
There has been much discussion among Boca Raton’s legal staff about Haynie scenarios. A special election to fill the mayor’s seat will take place on Aug. 28. Depending on the outcome of her case, however, Haynie could return to office if Gov. Rick Scott revokes the suspension.
Mayor Scott Singer, who took over upon Haynie’s suspension, intends to run for mayor. To do so, he must formally resign from his council seat. A second election on Aug. 28 will fill the seat. A city spokeswoman told me Monday that if Singer won the special election and Haynie—who has not resigned—returned as mayor, Singer would not return to the council.
The winner of the special election would stay in Seat A until the term expires in March 2020. That’s also the end of the mayor’s term. If she came back, Haynie could not run in 2020 because of term limits.
City council and school safety
Boca Raton City Council members actually can agree on something.
During Monday’s cleanup of the goal-setting mess from earlier this month, Mayor Scott Singer and council members Monica Mayotte, Andrea O’Rourke and Jeremy Rodgers made school safety their immediate priority. School crowding will continue as a priority over the next year, with many parts to that effort. The safety question, though, could bear on next year’s budget. Staff must have a preliminary budget to the council in August.
Since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14, Boca Raton police officers have been helping Palm Beach County School District officers patrol campuses. The city presence has been at elementary schools. The district doesn’t have enough officers to cover all of the county’s roughly 175 schools.
For the city, the cost in police overtime is about $14,000 per week. After the Stoneman Douglas shooting, the legislature approved a bill that requires an officer at every campus. Legislators also appropriated money for those officers, but it likely won’t be enough.
So there’s no way to tell whether that school security expense will continue for Boca Raton. Council members expressed frustration Monday about the uncertainty, but the district is in the same position. The problem is Tallahassee.
If the expense will continue, administrators must prepare for it in the budget. The school district’s budget year starts July 1, three months before the city’s. Perhaps there will be clarity by then.
Delray’s redesigned Midtown is back
The redesigned Midtown project, formerly known as Swinton Commons, is back before the Delray Beach City Commission tonight.
The previous commission approved Midtown at its final meeting on March 6. As a condition, however, the commission asked developer Hudson Holdings to eliminate the fourth floor of a building that fronts on East Atlantic Avenue. Hudson Holdings agreed, and the staff report confirms that Building 1 now has three stories while Buildings 2 and 3 added third stories to make up for the loss of space.
According to the staff memo, the only remaining issue is color. The Art Deco, western section of Building 1 is green. City planners say that is “not consistent with this architectural expression” and want the commission to require that the section be white.
Only Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Shirley Ervin Johnson were on the commission in March 6. Petrolia, then a commissioner, voted against Midtown with former Commissioner Mitch Katz while Johnson voted yes with former Mayor Cary Glickstein and former Commissioner Chard. Bill Bathurst, Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel are the new members. Bathurst voted against Midtown as a member of the Historic Preservation Board and said he would have rejected it had he been on the commission.
Now, however, Midtown is before the commission with prior approval. If the developer complies with all conditions, a vote against it “would be arbitrary,” said Bonnie Miskel, the attorney for Hudson Holdings.
Boylston, however, told me Monday morning, “I didn’t like the project before, and now it’s worse.” He criticized former Mayor Cary Glickstein and former Commissioner Jim Chard for “negotiating at 2 in the morning with the developer.” Approval came near the end of an eight-hour meeting. Boylston said he had scheduled meetings Monday and Tuesday with city planners and lawyers and representatives of Hudson Holdings.
BRRH narrows suitors
Boca Raton Regional Hospital announced last week that it has narrowed the field of “potential strategic partners” to Baptist Health South Florida and Cleveland Clinic. Boca Regional expects to pick one by summer.
The finalists—narrowed from five applicants—each offer something tempting. With Baptist Health, it’s regional clout. Baptist already struck a deal with Bethesda in Boynton Beach, giving Baptist more reach outside its base in Miami-Dade County. Boca Regional comes to the talks in a much strong position than Bethesda did.
With Cleveland Clinic, the lure is more a national brand, though there also would be regional pop. Cleveland Clinic has a main hospital in Weston, Broward County’s affluent bedroom community in what used to be part of the Everglades. Cleveland Clinic also has facilities in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and Wellington.
No details about the partnership will be available until Boca Regional decides which partner it wants. CEO Jerry Fedele will stay a year past his planned August retirement to help with the transition.
Boca schools still rank high
New rankings from US News and World Report reinforce the argument that public schools in Boca Raton have become crowded not because of overdevelopment but because of popularity.
The magazine, long known for college ratings, also ranks high schools. In its new report, US News ranked Boca Raton High School 54th among the state’s 762 public high schools and 762nd among 20,500 schools nationwide.
Boca High, with roughly 3,500 students on a campus built for about 3,000, has become the focus in the last few months of the city’s school crowding debate. As Palm Beach County School District planners have shown, however, more and more parents see Boca High as a good—and free—alternative to private schools.
Other county schools rank higher. Suncoast in Riviera Beach is sixth in the state and Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach is 11th. Students from Boca Raton attend both schools.
But Suncoast has four magnet programs, including the International Baccalaureate, while Dreyfoos requires auditions and operates on a lottery. Boca High also has special programs, but the school has earned its ranking while operating more as a full-service community high school. Thus its new standing among parents.
US News ranked Spanish River High School 95th statewide and 1111th nationally. Atlantic High was 101st in Florida and 1,162nd nationwide.