Must have slipped her mind.
For some reason, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie forgot to mention $335,000 in income. She didn’t remember it when she was filling out annual financial disclosure forms required by law. She didn’t mention it to ethics investigators.
And when The Palm Beach Post questioned her last year about her financial ties to her city’s largest commercial landowners, James and Marta Batmasian, she said, “I have hidden nothing. This is not some big, deep secret.”
But a detective for the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office found the undisclosed income by subpoenaing bank accounts. And on Tuesday, prosecutors charged her with four felonies and three misdemeanors alleging corruption. If convicted of everything, she could get 23 years in prison.
The question now is, why is Haynie still in office? On Friday, three days after her arrest, Gov. Rick Scott finally suspended Haynie and the city has scheduled a special electoon for August. But having broken the public’s trust this grievously, the twice-elected mayor still needs to resign without delay. At least three of her fellow city council members, though set to carry on the city’s business, have called for her to step down.
Haynie, 62, had already been fined $500 by the county Commission on Ethics, which reprimanded her on April 16 for having voted on projects that gave the Batmasians “a special financial benefit.” After her arrest on Tuesday, she dropped her run for the county commission in November, once seen as an easy win.
“Last week, it was a $500 fine and a reprimand letter. Now it’s $335,000 worth of poor, reckless decisions for years,” Councilwoman Monica Mayotte aptly said on Wednesday. “I think Boca deserves better.”
The State Attorney’s Office began its investigation in March 2017 into complaints that Haynie voted on issues that could financially benefit the Batmasians while failing to disclose income she had received from them and their companies through a business Haynie owned with her husband.
In November, the Post revealed that the Haynies’ business, a property management firm, had earned $12,000 a year (later raised to $14,000) since 2010 from the operators of a Deerfield Beach apartment complex under the control of the Batmasians. Despite those ties, Haynie voted at least a dozen times on proposals involving the Batmasians’ properties, the Post reported.
Now we learn that those sums were vastly understated. According to the probable-cause affidavit, Haynie repeatedly omitted large chunks of income on the disclosure forms required of public officials under Florida law: $73,000 in 2014; $128,000 in 2015; $86,000 in 2016; and $48,000 in 2017. A third of that money came from the Batmasians or their businesses.
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During that time, Haynie voted four times on matters that favored Batmasian holdings, the affidavit states. Three of those votes were unanimous. One went 3-2, with Haynie voting yes, and the issue was minor: whether to let Batmasian change the colors of a sign in front of a commercial plaza.
Her votes, in other words, were of little or no use to the Batmasians. Which speaks to a baffling mystery underlying this entire matter: How did this otherwise intelligent woman — a former chair of the county’s powerful Metropolitan Planning Organization (now Transportation Planning Agency), a former president of the Florida League of Cities — manage to make so much trouble for herself? And why?
All she had to do was to fully and truthfully fill out the financial disclosure forms, and to recuse herself from voting on anything connected to Batmasian. Instead, she chose to hide behind a questionable interpretation of a county ethics ruling by City Attorney Diana Frieser. What did Haynie have to gain?
Haynie, speaking through her attorney, vehemently denies the criminal charges and deserves her day in court. But an official does not have to be found guilty of a crime to have lost the trust of the citizens whom he or she was elected to serve.
Those citizens will get an opportunity to weigh in and ask questions about Haynie’s status at a public discussion on Monday.
But surely Haynie must realize that she has already lost too much of their trust. It’s time for her to show some humility instead of hubris. For the good of her city, she should resign — now.
An official doesn’t have to be found guilty of a crime to have lost the trust of the citizens.