Sunday, March 19, 2023

What’s Next With the City Council and the Case Against Haynie

Nothing like this has happened in Boca Raton, so no one in Boca Raton knows what happens next.

While the city council met Tuesday evening, Mayor Susan Haynie turned herself in at the Palm Beach County Jail on seven charges of public corruption. Four charges are felonies. The charges include failure to disclose a voting conflict, official misconduct, perjury, misuse of office and corrupt misuse of office.

Haynie’s attorney said she is innocent, and as of Wednesday afternoon Haynie had not indicated that she would resign. If she doesn’t, events are uncertain.

Gov. Rick Scott could remove Haynie. More likely, he will suspend her. The charges are allegations, not convictions, and Scott and Haynie have a good relationship. The governor has made many photo-op stops in Boca Raton to promote economic issues.

With Haynie suspended, Deputy Mayor Scott Singer would become interim mayor. Until Tuesday, the city had envisioned this scenario playing out in November. Haynie would resign after running for county commission, win or lose. Singer would become mayor, and the city would hold a special election next March to fill the final year of Haynie’s term. Singer already is running in that race.

Now, however, Haynie technically is mayor until March 2020, having withdrawn from the county commission race. So does the council declare the mayor’s job vacant and call a special election for Aug. 28, the date of the statewide primary? Does the council appoint someone to Singer’s council seat until that special election? That election would include a vote to fill out Singer’s council term, which also expires in March 2020.

The alternative would be to continue with a four-member council until Haynie’s case is resolved. One obvious problem is the potential of 2-2 ties on big votes. Another is that there is no timetable for Haynie’s case. No court date even has been set.

Moving ahead, though, also could be problematic. In 2013, Scott suspended Michael Pizzi, the mayor of Miami Lakes after his arrest on corruption charges. The city filled the seat, but Pizzi was acquitted and demanded that he be reinstated as mayor. The Florida Supreme Court ruled only that the suspension had to end, and after a long court fight Pizzi got his job back. He lost for reelection in 2016.

Haynie’s relationship with Boca Raton dates to 1974, when she began work as a traffic analyst. This is the worst possible of last acts, but resigning would give the city clarity and allow civic life to go on. The council’s goal-setting sessions take place Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The case against Haynie

Now let’s talk about the case against Haynie.

The announcement of the charges surprised even Haynie’s critics. Just last week, Haynie had cut a deal with the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics related to her and her husband’s property management contract with a Deerfield Beach condo. James and Marta Batmasian, downtown Boca Raton’s largest private landowners, own most of the units in the condo.

Under that deal, Haynie acknowledged only failing to disclose a voting conflict, not misuse of office. It seemed that Haynie had settled her legal issues within the county while a state ethics probe continued.

Yet then came the criminal charges, among them misuse of office. It thus became clear that the state attorney’s office and the ethics commission have been working closely. A state attorney spokesman told me Wednesday that there had been “complete coordination” between the agencies. Prosecutors, for example, relied on the ethics commission interview of Haynie.

Another revelation is that the state attorney’s office began investigating Haynie in March 2014, when she won her first term as mayor. That’s long before the Batmasian allegations arose during the 2017 mayoral campaign and The Palm Beach Post article last fall. The state attorney spokesman would not say who or what prompted the investigation, though it could come out during discovery.

Still another revelation in the probable cause affidavit is the amount of income in question. Prosecutors allege that Haynie hid $335,000 between 2014 and 2017, using not only Community Reliance— which did the work at the condo—but also other companies she and/or her husband owned. The charges also deal with money Haynie received from renting her Key Largo condo. The spokesman would not say how that money relates to the charges.

The perjury charge apparently stems from Haynie’s answers to the ethics investigator. Asked if she received any money from Community Reliance between 2012 and 2016, Haynie said no. But she wrote two checks to herself from the company’s account.

Similarly, Haynie said she had no secondary income of any kind. But the documents contend that she received $72,600 from a company her husband owned. The ethics investigation also showed that Community Reliance did work directly for the Batmasians, not just the condo.

As for helping the Batmasians through her office, the documents list four votes. All but one was unanimous, and that was for a sign. The financial nexus between Haynie and Batmasians, though, becomes the legal problem.

The Susan Haynie who never lost an election in Boca Raton is the one the public saw at almost every city event and the one who stayed at the emergency operations center for three days during and after Hurricane Irma. The Susan Haynie in the charging documents is quite another person.

And the city attorney

For all the attention on Haynie, some also may fall on City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser, who has held the job since 1999.

Haynie defended her votes on Batmasian-related issues by citing the advisory ethics opinion Frieser obtained for Haynie in 2013. The ethics commission’s executive director said Frieser’s reasoning was wrong. Discussion of Frieser’s role in the Haynie controversy likely isn’t over.

And now who’s on first

With Haynie out of the race to succeed term-limited County Commissioner Steven Abrams, Republicans have no frontline candidate to challenge Robert Weinroth. He dropped out of his city council reelection campaign and has been raising $20,000 per month, showing solid support.

Since Republicans hold only two of the seven commission seats, the GOP surely will want someone more than Boca Del Mar resident William Vale. He has never sought public office and has raised no money.

Singer seems set on running for mayor. The GOP might turn to State Rep. Bill Hager. He’s term-limited in November. District 4 includes Boca Raton and most of Delray Beach.

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Randy Schultz
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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