- By Alexandra Seltzer Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Boynton Beach Mayor Steven Grant planned to close his law practice to become the president of the Greater Boynton Beach Chamber of Commerce and even had the county’s ethics commission look into it to make sure he wasn’t crossing any lines.
The ethics commission gave the OK in January — with some rules. But the chamber’s board members hit the brakes.
Grant said he thinks the board didn’t want the chamber to become political, and said that’s “disheartening.”
The mayor has since adjusted his focus and plans to open his own entrepreneurial chamber of commerce, emphasizing that businesses can join both chambers.
“This is not necessarily me as a mayor doing this,” Grant said. “This is me as a lawyer in Boynton Beach who is trying to find another avenue of income and to promote businesses because A: I have a passion for it and B: I don’t think the current chamber is identifying the new businesses that are going on in the 21st century.”
The ethics commission makes it clear Grant cannot remove his mayor’s hat when he pleases. And Grant’s plans have already caused a disturbance within the business community at a time where Boynton is close to having a thriving downtown with new residents and businesses.
Neither the board chair or the chamber’s president and CEO had heard of Grant’s new chamber plans before The Palm Beach Post brought it to their attention, and they were disappointed when they did.
“I don’t know what his agenda is and what issues he’s trying to create,” said Michael Mohl, the chair of the chamber’s board. “Right now the chamber’s at a very good spot and we’re working hard to make it one of the strongest chambers in south Palm Beach.”
The Greater Boynton chamber has close to 400 members and added 13 businesses in 2018, according to Jonathan Porges, the chamber’s CEO and president. The chamber works in partnership with the city, and hosts ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new businesses, mixers, galas and 5Ks.
“The city, we’ve worked for many years and have partnered with the chamber for the benefit of the community of Boynton Beach,” City Manager Lori LaVerriere said. “At the end of the day the businesses, our residents, our city, our Community Redevelopment Agency, we’re all in the same game in trying to make Boynton Beach a better community.”
The talk with Grant about working for the chamber began when Mohl came in new as chair of the board and was evaluating what could be improved. He pondered having Grant replace Porges, who has worked in a board chair or president capacity since 2012. Grant cleared it with the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, which gave certain limitations and rules including that he couldn’t use his position as mayor to give a special financial benefit to the chamber or any customer or client of the chamber.
Still, Mohl decided to move forward without Grant.
“We doubled the size of (the board) and we have a lot more community involvement with the board than we’ve ever had. We’re very happy with what we’re doing,” Mohl said.
Grant said he filed paperwork last week with the division of corporations. He said he has a couple of people on board with him but declined to name them. He’ll issue a press release once he decides when he’ll host the chamber’s first meeting.
He plans to offer a $120-per-year membership compared to the Greater Boynton’s $330 basic membership.
LaVerriere said the Greater Boynton chamber is attracting new businesses and saw “energetic and emerging” business owners and entrepreneurs at a recent gala and fundraiser.
Said Porges: “In my opinion he should be working with us, not to side step us or undercut us.”