Boca mayor won’t seek opinion guiding future votes on developer

10:36 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017 Local
Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie at a city meeting Monday, November 13, 2017. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said Tuesday night that she will not seek a new ethics opinion on whether she should vote on proposals brought before the council by developer James Batmasian, with whom she has financial ties, which were detailed in a Palm Beach Post investigation this month.

That leaves any votes Haynie takes on Batmasian proposals in the future in question. Will she recuse herself or continue to rely on a 2013 opinion that does not apply to scenarios in which Batmasian, the largest commercial landowner in the city, is the applicant or developer coming before the council?

Haynie said she will seek personally “clarification” from the ethics commission before any future votes, but not in the form of a formal request.

It is not clear how that would happen.

Mark Bannon, executive director of the Palm Beach County Commission Ethics, told the city council in a letter that neither the council nor Haynie could ask for clarification on the 2013 opinion. The commission doesn’t look backward.

The ethics commission apparently is investigating Haynie’s ties to Batmasian.

The only way to guide future votes, Bannon said, is to request a new opinion. And the request must be made by Haynie herself or the city attorney, who has bowed out of the matter.

Bannon, however, did go on to say that he could offer some guidance on how the 2013 opinion applies.

He pointed specifically to a line that says the person whom Haynie is doing business with is “neither the applicant nor the developer” seeking a vote from the city council.

This “key fact” limits the scope of the opinion “to votes not involving the applicant or developer of a property,” Bannon wrote.

In a dozen votes Haynie has taken on Batmasian proposals since her business has been linked to him, Batmasian or one of his business entities was either the developer, applicant or both, The Post reported.

Haynie accused Bannon of “cherry-picking” and misrepresenting the fact he referenced from the opinion that she uses to justify votes she has taken on Batmasian proposals since a business she founded with her husband works for a company controlled by Batmasian.

The letter “ignores the totality of the underlying facts,” Haynie said. Haynie’s firm — which dropped her name from corporate records last year leaving only her husband, Neil — is contracted by a condominium association whose board is made up of mostly Batmasian employees. Haynie’s firm has collected thousands in paychecks from the association since 2010, The Post reported.

But the condominium association is “unrelated” to the votes she took, Haynie said in her defense.

Still, Haynie told the council she would talk to Bannon to get clarification about the letter.

In the meantime, Haynie’s political foe, Al Zucaro, has filed new complaints against the mayor with state and county ethics bodies.

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