News Item 1: Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie has received a reprimand and a $500 fine—the maximum—from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics. The punishment relates to votes she cast involving James Batmasian, the city’s largest private landowner.
News Item 2: Haynie remains in the race for Seat 4 on the Palm Beach County Commission.
Resolution of this issue, which began more than a year ago, came quickly after the five commissioners, Haynie and her attorney met last Thursday. Haynie has defended her votes by citing the commission’s 2013 advisory opinion that she requested and the city’s legal staff handled.
Haynie and her husband, Neil Haynie, own a property management company that had a contract with the master association of a Deerfield Beach condo in which Batmasian and his wife owned 87 percent of the units. The opinion defined the master association as the company’s client, not the Batmasians. Therefore, as Haynie saw it, unless the association came before the council, she had no conflict.
That 2013 opinion, however, was narrow. Most of the ethics commission has turned over since then. Haynie said it became clear Thursday that the current commission disagreed with that earlier opinion and with City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser’s legal reasoning.
So Haynie negotiated a settlement, which went to the commission for review the next day. On Monday, the commission dismissed all complaints in exchange for Haynie accepting a letter of reprimand. The letter states, in part, that Haynie twice “voted on and participated in matters that resulted in a special financial benefit for James Batmasian, At the time of the votes, Mr. Batmasian was a customer or client of your outside business through his company, Investments Limited, which he and his wife wholly own.”
For all the focus on Haynie’s votes and the condo association, however, the outcome might have been much milder if not for something an ethics investigator discovered several months ago.
That something was installation of security cameras that Neil Haynie—through Community Reliance— performed at three Batmasian-owned properties. Neil Haynie then posted online testimonials about the work.
Susan Haynie told me she knew that Community Reliance had installed cameras at the Deerfield Beach condo but said she didn’t know about the installations at the other three properties. When she did learn of it, Haynie said, she asked Neil Haynie to remove the testimonials.
Mark Bannon is the commission’s executive director. He said most cases settle when the panel finds legal sufficiency to proceed, rather than go to a full hearing. Haynie has the fine and letter on her record, but there was no finding that she misused her office. Four other Batmasian-related votes were considered “inadvertent and unintentional.” Haynie said she “isn’t blaming” Frieser, though Bannon said he “wouldn’t dispute” the conclusion that Frieser’s advice was “incorrect.”
Haynie thus said she won’t leave the county commission race, in which she faces former Boca Raton City Councilman Robert Weinroth. Haynie still faces a state ethics complaint that she failed to disclose income from Community Reliance on her financial disclosure forms. The county and state complaints were filed by BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro, whom Haynie defeated last year.
None of the Batmasian votes was controversial. All but one was unanimous. Though The Palm Beach Post, which reported extensively last October on the votes, said Haynie had been pushing to redevelop an area with one of the Batmasian properties on which she voted, that 20th Street Corridor plan is a city council priority.
Still, by accepting the settlement Haynie acknowledges the core of the Post’s story: some voters fell outside the 2013 opinion. Now we will see if the controversy causes Haynie to lose a county commission race that nine months ago she seemed certain to win.
Price/Fazio wins the Ocean Breeze job
Members of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District Board left no doubt about their choice to redesign the former Ocean Breeze golf course.
When board members cut the list of applicants to five, the Price/Fazio team was first. After presentations Monday night, Price-Fazio remained No. 1. The company touted its many local contractors and the fact that the architect would be on site almost every day.
Now the district must negotiate the contract. Board Chairman Bob Rollins said the designer must get estimates from all those subcontractors. Would he like to have a contract done by June 1? “Don’t hold me to that date,” Rollins said, “but that would be great.”
Rollins said Price/Fazio talked about a very aggressive schedule once work starts. The district and city would like an easy transition from sale of the municipal course west of the Florida Turnpike and the opening of the new Ocean Breeze. Sale of the existing course to GL Homes is expected to close late next year.
Batmasian and the post office
Speaking of Jim Batmasian, he’s the landlord for Boca Raton’s downtown post office. Batmasian told me this week that he’s “bending over backward” with postal officials on a lease to keep the office at its current location south of Mizner Park.
Batmasian said he’s “fixing up” the inside and outside of the property and adding landscaping. In February, the Postal Service advised the city that it might move because of issues with the lease. “If they want a four-year lease, 10-year lease whatever, we’ll work with them.”
Public comment on the proposed move ends April 29. The lease expires July 13.
The Delray Beach City Commission holds its annual goal-setting meetings Friday and Saturday. The first day, the commission will decide on its priorities. The next day, commissioners will decide how to implement them.
City Manager Mark Lauzier hired a facilitator who met with the five commissioners and grouped topics into high, medium and low priorities. Not surprisingly, infrastructure and redevelopment of The Set and Congress Avenue were among the high priorities.
Commissioner Ryan Boylston’s main goal, now a medium priority, is improving Delray Beach’s schools and helping the city’s youth. “I hope to bring my fellow commissioners on board,” he said Wednesday. “We need to increase involvement in education everywhere, not just by the commission.”
The commission also will discuss how to operate as the CRA board. Bill Bathurst and Adam Frankel seem less inclined to take a long-term role. Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Shirley Johnson want to be more assertive. That could leave Boylston as the swing vote. Though he voted against the takeover, Boylston said, “Now that we’ve done it, we might as well do it ourselves.”
Friday’s session runs from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Saturday’s starts at 8:30 and ends at noon. Both are at the Hyatt Place Hotel in Pineapple Grove.