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FACT-CHECK: Boca Mayor on disclosing conflict of interest

Posted at 5:13 PM, Nov 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-27 10:06:20-05

Contact 5 is calling into question, statements made to us by Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie in an exclusive sit down interview.

Our news partners at The Palm Beach Post found Haynie voted at least 12 times on proposals that benefited the largest landowners in the city. 

Those same landowners control a firm paying a company Haynie and her husband founded.

During Contact 5's interview with Mayor Susan Haynie Monday, she repeatedly said from the very beginning, she never hid her potential conflict of interest.

Several times she cited a city council meeting in 2011, where she claims she discussed the issue in a "transparent" manner.

"I welcome this discussion on this item. In 2011, I sought an opinion from the Commission on Ethics, I discussed it openly in a meeting so there was no secrecy, with the city attorney and rest of council present," said Mayor Haynie. 

That's Mayor Susan Haynie Monday afternoon, explaining why she believes she was clear about her potential conflict of interest. 

"There's no secret here. This was discussed on November 22, 2011, on this dais. Video is on our website." 

That's Mayor Susan Haynie again, Monday afternoon, during the Boca Raton CRA meeting, where council members raised the issue. 

"It was clearly disclosed in an open meeting in a very transparent process," said Haynie in our one-on-one interview.

We looked at video from that November 22, 2011, meeting where she recused herself from voting on a proposal from landowners James and Marta Batmasian.  

"Due to a potential voting conflict, I am going to recuse myself from this issue. The city attorney can further elaborate on the discussions that I've had with her," Haynie said to the room. 

Haynie never mentions what the potential voting conflict is, never disclosing her company's ties to the Batmasians. 

The city attorney echoes the mayor, never naming names.

"There is a potential conflict issue that miss Haynie has raised with me that we've researched," said City Attorney Diana Frieser in that 2011 meeting. 

No other council members asked what the conflict was in that 2011 meeting. 

She only mentions that she felt it wasn't a conflict under state law, but advised Haynie recuse herself because she wasn't sure if it violated county ethics laws yet. An opinion received in 2013 from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics eventually said it didn't. But the final wording of that opinion said Haynie had no voting conflict as long as Batmasian was neither the applicant nor the developer before the council. However, the Post found, in the dozen votes Haynie took, James Batmasian was the applicant, developer, or both.

We asked Mayor Haynie about what we found. She said, because she brought up this potential conflict of interest during a Batmasian proposal, that it was clear who she had the conflict with. 

As for not mentioning her or her husband's company, she said that was not required by law to disclose that as part of the discussion. She just had to say there was a potential conflict of interest.

On Monday, we asked the mayor why she didn't disclose any of that money on state financial forms. First, she said that the disclosure form didn't have a place to disclose it, because it only tells you to list business interests in certain categories. "Property management doesn’t fall in any of those categories," said Haynie. Then, she explained that because it was her husband's company, she didn't have to. Contact 5 explained that many would roll their eyes at thinking she didn't profit from her husband's company. Hayne replied, "The perception in some cases can cloud the actual facts and truths."

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