Sunday, November 26, 2017

Boca Raton Mayor's Unethical Ties With Developers (Sun Sentinel Editorial Bd.)

Don't you wish The St. Augustine Record would become a watchdog on ethics issues, like other GateHouse newspaper properties, and other Florida newspapers? Don't you wish St. Johns County had an Ethics Commission? An Ombuds? An independent Inspector General?

Opinion Editorials
Cloud hangs over Boca Mayor Susan Haynie | Editorial
Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie is under fire over financial ties between her husband’s property management company and a prominent developer.
Sun Sentinel Editorial Board

Given local concerns about cozy relationships between politicians and developers, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie should have known better.

She should have known better than to vote on matters that benefited major property owners linked to her husband’s business, a business she launched and affiliated with until last year.

She should have known better than to forego an explanation, as required, the one time she did recuse herself from voting on a project involving those landowners.

And she should have known better than to not fully disclose her household’s finances on her financial disclosure form.

Even if there’s nothing illegal in the revelations of a Palm Beach Post investigation on the financial ties between Haynie and Boca’s largest commercial landowners, James and Marta Batmasian, they unquestionably raise the appearance of impropriety.

At issue is the property management firm, Community Reliance, that Haynie owned with her husband from 2007 to 2015, the Post reported. Haynie says she is no longer involved in the business.

Community Reliance manages Tivoli Park, a 1,600-unit apartment complex in Deerfield Beach where, the Post says, “the Batmasians own 1,400 units and have majority control over the board of directors and its finances. Five of the six Tivoli board members work for the Batmasians’ company, Investments Limited.”

According to the Post, Haynie has voted at least a dozen times on Boca proposals that increased the Batmasians’ property value. And it says she has never disclosed her company’s work for the real estate moguls because she said she didn’t make the money, her husband did.

Haynie, who’s running for a Palm Beach County Commission seat, insists she’s done nothing wrong. She says an advisory opinion from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics says she could vote on projects involving the Batmasians. Indeed, she said that since she didn’t have a conflict, the law required her to vote.

“I followed the process in good faith,” Haynie told us. “I relied on the (ethics) opinion and the city attorney’s interpretation of that opinion …. I was not hiding anything.”

Perhaps not. But if there was nothing to hide, why did the request for an ethics opinion fail to disclose her name and those of the Batmasians?

According to the Post, Boca’s city attorney in April 2013 requested an ethics commission opinion on whether a “city official” could vote on an upcoming project by a “developer,” who owns about 80 percent of a residential community, if the city official’s property management firm works for the association running that community.

Ethics Commission staffers initially recommended against it because of the “appearance of impropriety.” But after five months of back-and-forth with the city attorney’s office, the Ethics Commission ultimately determined there wouldn’t be a voting conflict.

“The final wording said Haynie had no voting conflict as long as Batmasian was neither the applicant nor the developer before the council,” the Post reported. “But in the dozen votes by Haynie, James Batmasian was the applicant, developer or both.”

All this raises questions, including:

Why did City Attorney Diana Grub-Frieser push so hard for the mayor? Asked that question at a city council meeting last week, she responded: “If the council as a whole would like me to be more passive in my legal services and not be diligent in the details, and cross the t’s and dotting i’s, that is up to you and that is certainly something I can do.”

Why did Haynie not insist her name be included in the request? Haynie says she let the city attorney handle it. Grub-Frieser says that was city practice. But we believe names matter in conflict-of-interest questions, especially when the players are the mayor and the city’s two largest landowners. The Post said this was the only request received by the ethics commission that year where the names were kept anonymous. Such an approach hardly shows a commitment to transparency.

Why did Haynie not report the income on her financial disclosure forms? She told the Post that she didn’t make the money, her husband did and they keep separate bank accounts. But the Post found a footnote in the ethics case that says she and her husband “are both managing members and receive compensation for services rendered.”

At a meeting last week to discuss the Post’s investigation, Haynie’s council colleagues called for greater transparency on conflict-of-interest questions. Haynie joined them in requesting an ethics commission review.

Haynie maintains she had no conflict to disclose because the matters before the city that affected Batmasian properties didn’t include the condominium association her husband’s firm represents. She blames questions about her connection to the Batmasians on “misinformation” pushed by political opponents in her run for the county commission. “This is just an assassination of my character.”

Others will decide if any rules or laws were broken in this matter, but in the court of public opinion, it doesn’t look good.

Haynie and other elected officials should err on the side of caution with potential conflicts of interest, publicly disclosing even the hint of a conflict and recusing themselves when necessary. Before each vote, Haynie could have mentioned her husband’s link to the Batmasians, along with the ethics commission opinion she said allowed her to vote. Instead, she kept quiet.

Better yet, politicians and their families should avoid forming financial ties with the town’s biggest real estate investors.

We’ve always found Haynie to be a smart leader, responsive to questions and dedicated to making Boca a great place to live, work and play.

But these revelations, and her responses, have cast a dark cloud on what was once a bright political career.

Boca Raton mayor under fire over ties to developer

Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O'Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid, Deborah Ramirez and Editor-in-Chief Howard Saltz.

1 comment:

Tom Reynolds said...

she is a crook ...... plain and simple..........