Boca Raton mayor ends controversial business relationship with developer

BOCA RATON, Fla. - Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie announced Tuesday night that her husband has terminated his business relationship with developers James and Marta Batmasian. It's a controversial relationship uncovered by the Palm Beach Post last month.

 "I truly believe that I have always held myself in the highest standards of ethical behavior and remain steadfast in my belief that I have followed the law ... and hopefully we can put this matter to rest," said Haynie at Tuesday's council meeting. 

At the center of the Mayor's voting controversy is Community Reliance, a company founded by Haynie and her husband. Since 2010, their company has managed a property called Tivoli Park in Deerfield Beach. Tivoli Park is a condo association the Batmasians own a majority control of.

The Palm Beach Post's investigation found Haynie voted on projects proposed by the Batmasians, while Community Reliance received about $12,000 to 14,000 a year for managing the property.

Haynie has repeatedly defended her votes, citing a 2013 opinion she received from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, that said she had no conflict of interest. But the opinion did say she could only vote in limited circumstances, where Batmasian was neither the applicant nor the developer proposing a project before the Council. The Palm Beach Post found in all votes, the Batmasians were the applicant or developer. 

The city attorney sought the decision on her behalf. After the story broke, many council members have since questioned what they say appears to be the attorney's strong efforts to get a positive ruling from the ethics commission. 

As part of their concern, council members invited Mark Bannon executive director of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics to Tuesday's meeting to talk about ethics practices.

Bannon started his presentation with a warning, saying he couldn't "answer any questions about any investigation we may or may not have, including if one exists."

Although Bannon would not talk about any investigation, Contact 5 has learned the commission asked the mayor and city attorney to turn over emails related to the Batmasians. The state ethics commissions is also investigating. 

The mayor's comments regarding her husband's business relationship, came at the end of a discussion related to ethics rules.  Boca City Council adopted new ethics rules Tuesday.

In part, the ordinance says that anytime someone in the Boca Raton city government seeks an opinion from the Ethics Commission, everyone on council will be notified, and the request will be made public. Opinions can also no longer keep the parties involved anonymous, like what happened in this case.

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