Tragedy Feels Close to Home, Haynie Update and Steve Abrams Is All Aboard

In the words of poet William Wordsworth, the world has been too much with us since Friday.

First came the arrest in Broward County of Cesar Sayoc, who allegedly sent bombs to 14 Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump. Of course, this big story had to have a South Florida connection. Don’t they all? Sayoc’s background—including work at a Palm Beach County strip club—and behavior make you think again that Carl Hiaasen’s books are closer to reality than satire.

Then came the massacre at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. Though the attack happened 1,000 miles away, it was practically local news. The Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County lists 26 temples and synagogues just in the Boca Raton-Delray Beach area, in addition to Hebrew schools.

At 7 p.m. tonight, the federation and the Anti-Defamation League will hold an interfaith vigil at B’nai Torah Congregation, 6261 SW 18th St. in Boca Raton. It’s open to the public.

“It’s been trying,” understated Lonnie Wilk, senior associate regional director for the ADL’s Florida region.

The organization sent an annual advisory to Jewish organizations recommending that they ask local law enforcement to conduct a security check. On Saturday night, the ADL sent out a new advisory.

“It is prudent for Jewish community organizations,” the document said, “to revisit and reassess their security plans, measures and procedures.”

One of those procedures is how to deal with bomb threats.

The ADL noted the historic increase over the last two years in anti-Semitic incidents. You can draw your own conclusions for the reasons. Temples and synagogues in this area had increased security years ago. Some began those efforts after 9/11. A federation spokeswoman said Department of Homeland Security grants have financed some of those protections.

Witnesses said Robert Bowers shouted, “I just want to kill all Jews!” His attack on Tree of Life, however, amounted to an attack on all Americans. It was the same when Dylan Roof killed nine African-Americans during a prayer service in a Charleston church. What happened in Pittsburgh hit home here in so many ways.

Holocaust Museum connection

EDITOR’S NOTE: Aimee Rubensteen’s last name was incorrectly spelled as “Rubenstein.” We regret the error.

Another sign of the strong Jewish presence in South Florida is the recent announcement by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that for the first time it has hired an acquisitions curator for this area.

According to a news release, Aimee Rubensteen is “tasked with covering the tri-county area in an effort to recover testimonial objects related to the Holocaust before the last generation of Holocaust survivors passes and before delicate documents and artifacts disintegrate.”

The museum notes that some people who have these artifacts don’t know their significance. Officials want “original artifacts from survivors or their heirs—Jewish and non-Jewish—who were displaced, persecuted or discriminated against by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945, as well as from liberators and other eyewitnesses to these events.” Items can be related to displaced persons camps and emigration from Europe.

Those who want to share artifacts or want information can call Rubensteen at 786/496-2788 or email her at arubensteen@ushmm.org.

Haynie update        

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie

I wrote last week that the Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause to charge former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie with eight violations. The supporting documents contain lots of familiar information but also some new stuff.

We read again that the complaints came from Al Zucaro, who lost to Haynie in the 2017 election. We read again about the contract that the company owned by Susan Haynie and her husband—Neil Haynie—had with the master association of the Tivoli Park condo community in Deerfield Beach. James and Marta Batmasian, Boca Raton’s largest property owners, also own 1,400 of Tivoli Park’s 1,600 units. The company, Community Reliance, got the contract in 2010.

That contract led Haynie, then a member of the city council, to recuse herself from a 2011 vote on a Batmasian-owned property. It all might have ended there if Haynie had told her husband—who she said was running the company at the time—to end the contract.

Instead, Haynie asked City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser to consult with the state and county ethics commissions on whether the contract presented a conflict that would keep Haynie from voting. According to the new documents, Frieser obtained an “informal” opinion in 2011 from the state commission that Haynie could vote. Frieser obtained an advisory opinion in 2013 from the county ethics commission, but only after the commission first had ruled that voting would present the appearance of conflict.

In addition to the seven criminal charges Haynie faces in Palm Beach County, she now faces eight state civil charges of failing to list income from Community Reliance and other sources on her financial disclosure forms from 2012 until 2016. That action, the commission says, was designed to conceal Haynie’s financial relationship with the Batmasians as she voted on items related to the couple.

Despite Susan Haynie’s denial of involvement in Community Reliance for those five years, investigators say that she wrote checks to herself from the company’s account. There’s more detail about money flowing directly from the Batmasians—not from the master association—to Community Reliance and to a company owned by Neil Haynie that installed security cameras at Batmasian properties. The Haynies file joint tax returns. They reportedly told investigators that they still haven’t filed their 2014 return.

State prosecutors are interested in rental income to Susan Haynie from the couple’s Key Largo condo. So are state ethics investigators. Haynie didn’t list that income on her state forms. It’s still unclear why that income strikes both agencies as so important.

Interestingly, the state ethics commission found no record of that 2011 informal opinion that Frieser said she obtained. Frieser refused requests from the ethics commission for an interview. I would expect more scrutiny —perhaps from the city council—into Frieser’s role. What if she had told Haynie seven years ago that there was no good way around the Batmasian conflict?

Abrams takes a ride on Tri-Rail

County Commissioner and former Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams is the new executive director of Tri-Rail.

The agency board chose Abrams over three other finalists on Friday by a vote of 9-1. Abrams must give up his commission seat next month because of term limits, so the retirement of Director Jack Stephens was good timing. Abrams will start on Jan. 1 but told me Monday that he would consult often with Stephens between now and then.

Abrams served for many years on Tri-Rail’s board and famously has ridden the commuter train almost every day to his commission offices in Delray Beach and West Palm Beach. He also has lobbied in Tallahassee.

There will be no learning curve in his new job, which is good. He faces immediate issues.

The first is safety. Abrams said the Federal Railway Administration recently ordered trains to go slower until Tri-Rail can make improvements to the twin CSX tracks that parallel Interstate 95. The agency also is running a $7.5 million budget deficit.

And there’s a personnel issue. The board delayed its vote for a month so a law firm could investigate a harassment case against Tri-Rail’s deputy director, who was one of the finalists.

In happier news, Tri-Rail trains soon should be rolling into the new Miami station that also will be the end point for Brightline. Abrams also said Tri-Rail might have a station in Miami’s trendy Wynwood neighborhood. Once home to warehouses, Wynwood has become an arts hub.

L-50 Canal

The Lake Worth Drainage District is done hitting the pause button on a project in Southwest Boca Raton.

At a public meeting last week, the agency said it would begin work next week to clear the banks of the L-50 Canal. It separates the Palm Beach Farms and Boca Square neighborhoods east of Interstate 95 and continues to the Carriage Hill neighborhood.

Residents of Boca Raton and Delray Beach have criticized the district for clear-cutting with no attempt at restoration and for lack of communication. The district delayed work on the L-50 and two parallel canals to the north after city officials intervened. District officials say the clearing will prevent fallen trees from blocking canals during hurricanes.

Red Tide ebbing

Though a red tide advisory still greets beachgoers in Boca Raton, the city is getting no new complaints. Lifeguards have stopped wearing masks.

A spokeswoman said the city would keep posting the advisory until the bacterium that causes red tide is no longer detectable. Delray Beach also continues to fly the caution flag despite improving conditions.

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