Boca to ask for probe of mayor’s voting controversy. But has one begun?


At the tail end of a six-hour meeting, a combative city council decided Tuesday to formally ask whether Mayor Susan Haynie has misinterpreted an ethics opinion for years, voting on projects proposed by controversial developer James Batmasian despite her financial ties to him.

The council decided, with Haynie’s support, to go back to the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, which issued an opinion in 2013 that Haynie says clears her to votes on Batmasian’s projects.

The ethics commission, however, already may be investigating. One of its investigators was in the audience Monday when the council spent two hours discussing a Palm Beach Post story that showed how Haynie relied on a narrowly crafted 2013 opinion to cast a dozen votes on Batmasian proposals.

Investigator Abigail Irizarry said Tuesday she “found it very interesting” but, following ethics commission rules, she could not confirm an investigation.

The stakes could be far-reaching. Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, Haynie’s chief rival on the council, questioned whether problems with the ethics opinion raised in a Nov. 5 Post story should force Haynie to abstain in the future from votes involving Batmasian.

That would include Batmasian’s multimillion-dollar plan to transform his signature downtown property, Royal Palm Place. The plan, submitted in June, calls for knocking down part of the structure and erecting two apartment towers.

Toward the end of a lengthy meeting, as midnight neared, tempers flared over the Haynie issue.

Councilman Robert Weinroth and O’Rourke had a heated exchange after he brought up an ethics opinion she received in 2017 over her husband’s financial relationship with Batmasian. George O’Rourke, an investment banker, stopped managing a Batmasian account when his wife was elected to office.

“First of all, my husband and I have no relationship with the Batmasians and haven’t since my first month on council. Period. End of story,” O’Rourke said.

When he spoke a moment later, she interjected, “Excuse me, I’m speaking.”

Also, City Attorney Diana Frieser took offense when O’Rourke criticized her over her role in seeking the 2013 ethics opinion.

O’Rourke said Frieser pushed too hard in 2013 to get Haynie an opinion that would enable her to vote on Batmasian projects. Frieser said Tuesday that O’Rourke privately accused her of acting improperly.

“I wouldn’t call that an accusation,” O’Rourke said. “I just question whether that was the right thing to do. It looked like you were trying to get a specific opinion.”

The ethics commission drafted opinions twice in 2013 that suggested Haynie recuse herself from voting on Batmasian proposals. Frieser pressed on, however. She changed the wording and submitted a third request that eventually received a hesitant nod from the ethics commission.

On Tuesday, Frieser said she would have no part in a new request to the ethics commission, saying she would be uncomfortable in that role.

In the end, the council asked City Manager Leif Ahnell to write a letter to the ethics commission seeking a review. Haynie’s actions also are the subject of a complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

The narrowly worded county ethics opinion allowed Haynie to vote on Batmasian projects even though a property management firm she founded with her husband has been collecting paychecks for years from a company controlled by Batmasian and his wife, Marta.

The opinion permits Haynie’s votes in limited circumstances in which Batmasian is neither the developer nor the applicant in a project, but has an underlying financial benefit, The Post reported. Frieser pointed out on Monday that the opinion allows Haynie to vote because the Deerfield Beach company controlled by Batmasian is not involved in any of his Boca projects.

In at least a dozen of Haynie’s votes, The Post found, Batmasian or one of his business entities was the developer, applicant or both.

Frieser didn’t identify Haynie or Batmasian when requesting the ethics opinion in April 2013. Neither Haynie nor Frieser have explained publicly why they didn’t mention Haynie’s name. One day before they submitted the request to the ethics commission, Haynie filed to run for mayor for the first time. She is now running for Palm Beach County Commission.

On Monday, the council said it would ban the practice of submitting anonymously to the ethics commission. However, the ethics commission no longer accepts anonymous requests.

The questions facing Haynie went beyond O’Rourke, who is tightly linked to Haynie’s political foe, Al Zucaro. Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers also wondered if Haynie can rely on the opinion going forward.

He proposed “proactively” sending a letter and The Post’s Nov. 5 story to the ethics commission to ask whether Haynie misinterpreted the opinion.

“I would be aghast if they’re not already thinking about it,” Rodgers said.

WHAT THE POST REPORTEDBoca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie has financial ties to developers James and Marta Batmasian. Relying on a narrowly worded 2013 ethics opinion, she has voted a dozen times on their proposals. However, the ethics opinion did not apply. Read more at MyPalmBeachPost.com



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

5 things every parent should know about immunization
5 things every parent should know about immunization

Within the first few months of your child's life, your pediatrician will likely start talking to you about immunizations. Even if your house is stocked with hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap, it's important to know what options are out there to keep your kid safe from diseases that could have harmful consequences. With all of the talk...
Things to do: Jazz on J Street at Lake Worth Book Cellar
Things to do: Jazz on J Street at Lake Worth Book Cellar

Things to do in Lake Worth: 1. Jazz on J Street: A professional JAM Session hosted by Blanche Williams is Tuesday at The Book Cellar, 801 Lake Avenue. Show runs from 7-10 p.m. with a $5 cash cover. Free public parking available on Lake Avenue, J Street and all around. 2. Divas on Stage: Performances by Lupita Hollywood, Melissa St John, Dayzee Deluxx...
Judge: Edna Hibel museum must leave FAU’s Jupiter campus
Judge: Edna Hibel museum must leave FAU’s Jupiter campus

Works of art by Edna Hibel, and any other personal property from the foundation in the late Singer Island artist’s name, must be removed from Florida Atlantic University’s John D. MacArthur campus by Sept. 24, a judge has ruled. This marks the end of a battle to keep the Hibel Museum of Art at 5353 Parkside Drive in Jupiter through the...
Look for a big block party every month in downtown Lake Worth
Look for a big block party every month in downtown Lake Worth

Evening on the Avenue is gone in Lake Worth . Now, get ready for Block Party on the Avenue, a new monthly event starting Oct. 5 on Lake Avenue from 6 to 10 p.m. “We want to bring something new this year and try to help the merchants who are still open on the Avenue to bring business downtown,” said Vice Mayor...
Wellington game shooting: Too close for one family in more than one way
Wellington game shooting: Too close for one family in more than one way

It all started with a cryptic text from their daughter. “I’m safe,” Hope Lerman had written to her parents, defense attorney Gregg Lerman and his wife, Debra. “I’m with Coach Pagley.” It was Friday night, and the Lermans had expected their daughter home late from one of the most highly anticipated football games...
More Stories