Sunday, October 2, 2022

More on Haynie Controversy

The Boca Raton City Council has a long agenda on Monday. We’ll get to that. Obviously, though, the focal point will be a discussion of The Palm Beach Post story about Mayor Susan Haynie and James and Marta Batmasian, Boca Raton’s largest private landowners.

BocaWatch wants the council to conduct “an investigation” of the allegations in the paper’s reporting. The primary one is that Haynie’s votes on issues involving Jim and Marta Batmasian violated a Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics opinion Haynie sought in 2011.

Haynie and her husband own a property management company called Community Reliance. It receives $14,000 per year to manage the master association of the Tivoli condo complex in Deerfield Beach. The Batmasians own 1,400 of the 1,600 units, and The Post reported that a Batmasian employee runs the association.

Another allegation is that Haynie should have reported income from Community Reliance on her annual financial disclosure forms.

Andrea O’Rourke spent a year as editor of BocaWatch and is BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro’s surrogate on the council. Zucaro and unsuccessful council candidate Frank Chapman first raised the Batmasian issue during Zucaro’s unsuccessful challenge of Haynie this year.

I assume that O’Rourke at least will ask for an investigation and might ask that Haynie resign. I would have asked O’Rourke for her thoughts, but she said in a recent email that she would no longer respond to questions from me because of what she called unfair treatment.

Councilman Jeremy Rodgers told me Tuesday that he is not inclined to seek an investigation. “What would we be investigating?” As I wrote Tuesday, anyone who believes that an elected official has cast a vote that went outside an opinion can file a complaint with the ethics commission, which will investigate. Rodgers said he would be fine with leaving any such review to the commission.

Councilman Robert Weinroth told me Wednesday, “I’m happy to have this discussion, but it’s not clear that we need an outside investigation. Having said that, I think we need to air this publicly.”

Councilman Scott Singer, who considered challenging Haynie for reelection and has announced his candidacy for mayor 2017, did not return an email seeking comment.

Some of what happens to Haynie, who is running for county commission next year, will depend on her. Even before O’Rourke asked for council discussion of the Post article, Haynie had said she intended to make a statement at Monday’s meeting. On Tuesday, she told The Post that she would “welcome” a “reexamination” of the opinion.

Assuming no additional reporting on the Batmasian connection, Haynie will need to explain persuasively why she believes that the votes aligned with the opinion. She also will need to address the financial disclosure issue. The perception is that she omitted the income so people didn’t know about the contract and the link to the Batmasians.

Aside from the council, the main player Monday will be City Attorney Diana Frieser. Council members will want to know about the exchanges with the ethics commission that led to the opinion and why the opinion referred to neither Haynie nor Batmasian. It will be interesting to see how Haynie responds to Frieser’s comments.

But some of what happens to Haynie will be out of her control. A Zucaro ally has asked the state attorney’s office to investigate. A complaint to the ethics commission could result in a ruling that she violated the opinion. She might need to file amended disclosure forms.

Before the article, Haynie was a near-lock to succeed Steven Abrams on the county commission. Now there already are rumors of a challenger in the Republican primary. Democrats may believe that they have a chance in a district that Republicans have represented since it was drawn nearly 30 years ago.

What happens Monday afternoon will set the tone for how this controversy plays out. It will be high drama. At the center will be a woman whose political future and personal reputation are at stake.

And for what?

Since The Post article appeared, I have heard from many Haynie supporters, who basically ask the same question: All this for a tiny contract?

Haynie started Community Reliance and managed two properties from 2006 to 2008, when she had been term-limited off the council. She said the company had been dormant until Neil Haynie began looking for new business. Another property management company went under, and he checked the client list. There was Tivoli.

When I first researched this last March, Haynie said she would have told her husband to give up the contract if the ethics commission had found a voting conflict. One wonders why she didn’t tell her husband just to end the contract and avoid any controversy.

Midtown update

As I reported last week, the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board will consider proposed changes at its meeting tonight for the Midtown neighborhood. The Midtown political maneuvering then will be on the city council’s Monday workshop meeting agenda.

Councilwoman O’Rourke wants the council to require a master plan for Midtown, not just the two ordinances and rezoning that are before the planning and zoning board. Her proposal is another distraction designed to hobble or block the changes that would allow 2,500 residential units.

Midtown has no residential because the area east of Town Center Mall and south of Glades Road was part of the county until the city annexed it in 2003. The county did not allow residential.

In 2010, the city designated Midtown for planned mobility development, focusing on mass transit and other means to cut traffic. Tri-Rail envisions a station in Midtown. The proposals would set out rules for development and redevelopment and essentially would function as a Midtown master plan.

In August, O’Rourke raised similar distracting questions about the Tri-Rail station. BocaWatch has criticized the plans for Midtown. As noted earlier, O’Rourke is the BocaWatch presence on the council.

Six years after the deadline to set them, however, Boca Raton needs to conduct an objective review of the Midtown proposals. Critics have told landowners to produce specific drawings, but that can’t happen until the landowners know what the rules are. The planning and zoning board finally can start the discussion.

And apartments at the Park at Broken Sound

Coincidentally, another item on the planning and zoning board agenda bears on Midtown.

A developer wants to replace two office buildings near Congress Avenue and Yamato Road with a 284-unit apartment complex called 5201 Residential. The project would connect with the nearby 900 Broken Sound project.

The city council designated the northwest section of Boca Raton—based around the Park at Broken Sound—for Planned Mobility Development, like Midtown. The council allowed 2,500 units in the northwest, which is about the same size as Midtown.

According to the staff report, which recommends approval, this would be the seventh residential project in the PMD. It would bring to 1,926 the number of residential units that have been built. Those results suggest that similar rules in Midtown would produce a quick rush of development. In addition, because it would replace offices, which generate the most traffic, the project would result in roughly one-tenth the current traffic.

City planners note that there are differences between the northwest and Midtown. In the northwest, the PMD designation was designed to connect existing parts of a neighborhood. In Midtown, the PMD designation is part of designing a neighborhood. Still, Boca Raton moved much more quickly on the northwest than the city has on Midtown, and chaos didn’t result.

Canals upgrade and more business

Midtown is at the end of a packed workshop agenda. Before Midtown come a report by the Lake Worth Drainage District on improvements to the agency’s canals, an update from the city’s waterfront consultant and the long-delayed presentation on a rental registration program. It won’t be a surprise if the council doesn’t get to all of those issues.

Ocean Breeze breakdown

Boca Raton and the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District are communicating as they always have— badly.

The current breakdown is over Ocean Breeze. The city council agreed to underwrite bonds for the district to buy and renovate the former golf course at Boca Teeca. The purchase price is $24 million, but the district must spend millions more to create a new course.

What will be the total expense? How much will the city have to underwrite? How much of it will be for tax-exempt bonds and how much won’t qualify for that exemption? When does the district need the money?

According to a spokeswoman, the city was expecting the financials from the district by Nov. 1. So last week, I checked. The spokeswoman said Art Koski, the district’s executive director, hadn’t sent the information.

Then I asked Koski. In an email, he said I was being “misinformed. The city has all requested information.”

Koski added that he had met with city officials—Deputy City Manager George Brown, Assistant City Manager Mike Woika, Financial Services Director Linda Davidson and Parks and Recreation Director Mickey Gomez—on Oct. 12 “concerning the method and amount of financing.” They are to meet again, Koski said, next Wednesday. That meeting, he said, will include financial advisers to the district and the city.

Koski said and the purchase price and a preliminary estimate of construction costs had gone to the city before the council and district board met on Sept. 26.

This week, I checked back with the city spokeswoman, who checked with all the administrators in that meeting. From the city’s standpoint, she said, the information hasn’t arrived.

I will update after that meeting.

Libeskind returns as keynote

The Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County announced this week that architect Daniel Libeskind will keynote the federation’s Sandler Family Major Gifts Event on Dec. 7 at The Polo Club. You may remember Libeskind as the architect of the four-tower, futuristic condo complex west of the Boca Raton Resort & Club that Elad Properties proposed in 2014 for what this year the city council approved as Mizner 200.

CSX repairs at West Camino Real

The long-awaited work to smooth the CSX grade crossing at West Camino Real will start Friday and continue through Tuesday. Drivers have complained for years about the bumpy crossing. The crossing will be closed during the repairs.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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