Commission on Ethics will not take another look at Boca mayor's 'no conflict of interest' ruling

Boca City Council had asked for review

BOCA RATON, Fla. - At Tuesday's night City Council meeting, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said she will not be seeking a new ethics opinion from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, regarding whether she should vote on proposals involving James and Marta Batmasian in the future. 

In a letter given to the City Manager shortly before the meeting, the County Commission on Ethics had said they would not be overturning, or even re-affirming, their old ruling that said Mayor Susan Haynie had no conflict of interest, when voting on proposals that benefit the Boca family, largest commercial property owners in the city. 

The City Council asked for an investigation after a Palm Beach Post report found a company Mayor Haynie and her husband founded, has been collecting thousands from a company controlled by the Batmasians, for years.  

The Commission on Ethics may not be re-looking at the 2013 opinion Haynie has relied upon, but in a letter dated Tuesday, they did stress that in their original ruling, they were clear to say Haynie could not vote "if the investor in question was an applicant or the developer."  

In their investigation, the Palm Beach Post found in all 12 votes Haynie made, the Batmasians were the applicant or the developer.

Haynie addressed that line from the letter during Tuesday's council meeting, saying, "In this letter, when Mr. Bannon picks that one quote, you know he was cherry picking and it ignores the totality of the underlying facts that cited the reason for the opinion, which have guided my actions. What he's leaving out is, is that whole statement that if the project tis unrelated to the COA, which is the condominium association and does not result in financial benefit to the COA, which is the customer or client of the management company. That was the genesis and the basis for the opinion."

The Condominium Association she's referring to is Tivoli Park in Deerfield Beach. The Batmasians own 1400 of the 1600 units. Community Reliance, a company Haynie and her husband founded in 2010, manages the property. Community Reliance has made $12,000 a year on the association since then.

Haynie said she would seek out further clarification from the Commission on Ethics regarding that line, but did not say she would ask for a brand new ruling, which the letter states she still could, when it comes future votes. 

Since the story broke two weeks ago, Mayor Susan Haynie has stood behind this 2013 opinion, that said she had no conflict of interest voting on issues related to the Batmasians.

That wasn't enough for the council, who was worried about the fact it looked like the city attorney was working hard to get that favorable ruling. 

The City Attorney went back and forth with ethics investigators for five months in 2013, changing the wording of her request several times. 

To make sure Haynie has been following the opinion correctly, City Council wanted the commission to look at the opinion again, and either "affirm or re-address the ruling."

In a letter responding to council though, the commission said, in part, they can't do anything because an advisory opinion applies only to "future acts" and the commission cannot go back and review Haynie's previous votes.  

Council members also introduced Tuesday night, new ethics rules they intend to adopt at the next council meeting.

Those rules say that from now on, when an official seeks out an Ethics opinion, all council members will get a copy of the request, and it will be put online.

Same goes for any follow-up responses, which happened in 2013. The opinions also can no longer be anonymous. In 2013, when the City Attorney sought out the opinion on behalf of the mayor, she did not include the mayor's name or the Batmasian name. 

A public hearing on those proposed new rules will takes place at the City Council Workshop on Dec. 11. 

As for the Commission on Ethics, while they may not be re-visiting their 2013 ruling, we do know they are investigating the link between Haynie and Batmasian. They have asked the city of Boca Raton to hand over emails that establish a link.

Ethics investigators are asking for emails sent between Mayor Susan Haynie, the City Attorney Diana Frieser and Boca Attorney Joshua Koehler, between January 2013 and December 2013 that contain key words like "Batmasian," "Ethics," "Investor," "Developer," "Property Management Company," among others. They are also looking at site approval plans that involved "Batmasian," "Tottenham Investments," "Mummaw," and more from 2013 to 2017.

It is against committee rules to confirm an investigation, but we do know the city is working on the request. 

Al Zucaro, a political opponent of Mayor Haynie, has filed new complaints against the mayor with the state and county ethics commissions.

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