NEW: Boca mayor ends business relationship with developer amid controversy

Dec 12, 2017
Boca Mayor Susan Haynie at a public meeting Monday, November 13, 2017. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — Mayor Susan Haynie announced Tuesday that her husband has ended a controversial business relationship with major developer James Batmasian that was detailed in a Palm Beach Post investigation last month. 

“I truly believe I’ve always held myself in the highest standards of ethical behavior ... Hopefully that will put this matter to rest,” Haynie said during a city council meeting.

While Haynie did not explain the decision, it appears to be aimed at putting to rest a potential conflict of interest that threatened to hound her nascent campaign for a Palm Beach County Commission seat. 

Haynie has voted on projects proposed by Batmasian, even while she and her husband owned and managed a property management firm contracted by a company controlled by Batmasian and his wife, Marta, since 2010. Two years ago, Haynie removed her name from her firm's corporate records, but her husband's continued involvement with Batmasian is no different from her own involvement under county ethics rules.

Her husband, she said, has now given up that contract, which paid the firm, Community Reliance, about $14,000 a year.

She made the announcement the same night the county ethics commission director, Mark Bannon, spoke to the Boca council, walking council members through best ethics practices without commenting on Haynie’s situation. 

Haynie has defended her dozen votes on Batmasian proposals by pointing to a 2013 ethics opinion that the city attorney sought on Haynie’s behalf. The opinion gives Haynie permission to vote under limited circumstances, including in scenarios in which Batmasian, the largest commercial landowner in the city, is neither the applicant nor the developer going before the city council. 

In the dozen votes Haynie took, Batmasian or one of his business entities was the applicant, developer or both. 

“I relied on the advisory opinion of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics and on the city attorney’s understanding of the scope of that opinion in good faith as a voting member of this council,” Haynie said. 

The matter apparently is being investigated by both the county and state ethics commissions, although those bodies are barred from confirming whether they have launched investigations. 

Haynie’s decision to end the business relationship comes on the heels of Bannon suggesting in a letter to the city that Haynie seek a new opinion before she votes on future projects involving Batmasian.