Uncertain months ahead as deposed mayor faces corruption charges
By Mary Hladky
Over a dizzying two weeks in April, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie was reprimanded and fined for ethics violations, arrested on state corruption charges, withdrew from the District 4 Palm Beach County Commission race and was suspended from office by Gov. Rick Scott.
The sudden downfall of Haynie, a mainstay of city politics for 18 years who was aiming for higher office, threw the city into political turmoil and will have major repercussions.
The city moved swiftly to fill the mayoral void, elevating Deputy Mayor Scott Singer to the top job for now. City Council members expect to pass a resolution at their May 8 meeting to set Aug. 28 as the date of a special election to choose a mayor who will serve until the end of Haynie’s term of office in March 2020.
Singer has announced he will run for mayor, and he will have to resign from office at the time of the special election to do so. If he loses, Singer will be off the City Council.
Other mayoral candidates are lining up, including former Planning and Zoning Board member Glenn Gromann.
With Singer now mayor, his City Council seat is vacant. Other council members anticipate they will temporarily appoint someone to the council by late May or early June, with voters deciding a permanent replacement on Aug. 28.
Singer and council members Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte have called on Haynie to resign, but as of the end of April she had not. Even so, her April 27 suspension created a temporary vacancy.
City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser said the city charter and state statute set out the steps the city is taking to fill it.
City carries on amid uproar
City officials have taken pains to assure residents that the political tumult is having no impact on city operations.
“The city is bigger than one person” and will continue to provide “world-class services,” Singer said after he assumed his new role.
Haynie was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail on April 24 and released about 90 minutes later on $12,000 bail. She will be arraigned on May 24 and faces more than 20 years in prison. As of May 1 she had not spoken publicly since her arrest.
“Ms. Haynie wholeheartedly and completely denies the allegations, which we plan to fight in court to the fullest extent,” her attorney, Leonard Feuer, said in an email to The Coastal Star on the night of her arrest.
Stunned council members were in the midst of a regular meeting when word spread that Haynie was absent because she was at the jail.
“I find news of this as I sit up here as beyond upsetting,” O’Rourke said.
“We are all surprised, flabbergasted … ” Singer said.
Haynie was charged with four felonies and three misdemeanors by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office public corruption unit, including official misconduct, perjury in an official proceeding, misuse of public office, corrupt misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflict.
The investigation began in March 2017 when the State Attorney’s Office received complaints that Haynie used her position on the City Council to vote on matters that financially benefited James Batmasian, the city’s largest downtown commercial landowner, and failed to disclose income she received from him, the arrest affidavit states.
The investigation found that Haynie failed to report $335,000 in income on disclosure forms required by the state, including $84,000 from Batmasian or from his company Investments Limited, from 2014 through 2017.
Of that total, $45,000 came from rent paid to Haynie for a property she and her husband, Neil, own in Key Largo.
The Haynies formed Community Reliance, a property management company, in 2007. The company managed Tivoli Park, a 1,600-unit apartment complex in Deerfield Beach. Batmasian and his wife, Marta, own 80 percent of the Tivoli Park units, and five of six Tivoli board members work for Investments Limited, The Palm Beach Post has reported.
Community Reliance earned between $10,057 and $16,490 a year between 2014 and 2017 from Tivoli’s master association, according to the arrest affidavit.
“This amount is well below the expected income for managing a property of this size, which would normally command an income of nearly $150,000 to $200,000 a year,” the affidavit states.
Haynie denied company work
Haynie told investigators that she had no involvement in running Community Reliance and another company she and her husband started, Computer Golf Software of Nevada Inc., and derived no income from them.
But subpoenaed bank records revealed she wrote two checks to herself from the Community Reliance account totaling $5,300 and received $72,600 from Computer Golf Software.
During 2016 and 2017, Haynie cast four votes that benefited Batmasian, the affidavit states, although none of them were on significant matters.
Haynie left Community Reliance in 2016 and announced in December that her husband had ended his business relationship with the Tivoli Park master association.
Haynie was in the crosshairs of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics months before the State Attorney’s Office investigation came to light.
The ethics commission launched its investigation of Haynie on Nov. 2, one day before The Post reported that the Tivoli Park master association had paid Community Reliance.
That probe corroborated The Post’s key findings but also unearthed an additional, and more direct, financial link between the Haynies and Batmasian.
Community Reliance was paid at least $64,000 in 2016 and 2017 for installing security cameras at several properties owned by Batmasian, including Royal Palm Place in downtown Boca Raton, according to the commission’s investigative file. Investments Limited made the payments to Community Reliance.
Haynie did not disclose that before voting on matters involving the landowner.
Haynie has denied that she acted improperly and said she requested in 2013 an Ethics Commission opinion on whether she should recuse herself from voting. The opinion said she could vote.
But the opinion was narrowly written and was based on a specific instance in which Batmasian was neither the applicant nor the developer of a project coming to the City Council for approval. In other instances, he was the applicant or developer.
Mark Bannon, the ethics commission’s executive director, said Haynie should have understood the opinion to mean that she should not vote in such circumstances.
“The advisory opinion said [Batmasian] was not the developer or applicant, which tells you when he is the developer or applicant, you can’t do that [vote],” Bannon said.
In a settlement agreement reached on April 16, Haynie admitted to violating the county’s ethics code and agreed to pay a $500 fine — the stiffest fine the commission could levy — for failing to disclose a conflict of interest. The commission dismissed its second allegation that Haynie misused her public office.
The settlement states that Haynie “believes it to be in her best interest to resolve the issues contained in the complaint and avoid the expense and time of litigation in this matter. Accordingly, (Haynie) admits to participating in and voting on matters that gave a special financial benefit to a customer or client of her outside business and she accepts a letter of reprimand.”
The criminal charges against Haynie caught many unawares.
“It was shocking,” O’Rourke said. “No one had any idea this was coming down.”
But BocaWatch publisher Al Zucaro, a Haynie adversary whom she defeated in last year’s mayoral race and who has called on her to resign, knew an investigation was underway last spring.
He said the state attorney’s public corruption unit investigators interviewed him not long after he filed a complaint about Haynie with the county’s Ethics Commission. He also filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics, and that case may be ongoing.
Speculation about why Haynie has not resigned is rampant in the city, and Zucaro posited that her thinking is that she can enter into an agreement with prosecutors to plead no contest to the charges with a judge withholding adjudication. By avoiding a conviction, she could then return to office.
But Frieser seemed to squelch that possibility at an April 30 meeting held to discuss procedures to hold a special election.
A no contest plea with a withholding of adjudication or suspension of a sentence is deemed a conviction, she said, and if Haynie is convicted, Scott must remove her from office. If she is acquitted, Scott must reinstate her.
2016 anti-corruption law
The state’s case against Susan Haynie on official misconduct charges could be bolstered by an anti-corruption law passed by the Florida legislature in 2016.
The law removes the requirement that state prosecutors prove the accused acted “corruptly” or with “corrupt intent.” Instead, prosecutors only have to prove the suspects acted “knowingly and intentionally,” a lesser burden of proof.
Elected state attorneys across Florida endorsed the bill, saying they needed the change to better prosecute public corruption. It was unanimously approved by both the Florida House and Senate.
The bill was based on recommendations contained in a 2010 Statewide Grand Jury report titled “A Study of Public Corruption in Florida and Recommended Solutions.”
Haynie is charged with three counts of official misconduct, perjury, misuse of public office, corrupt misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflict.
Haynie, 62, has long been a fixture in Boca Raton politics.
A 45-year city resident, she is a graduate of Lynn University and holds certifications in traffic engineering studies from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Northwestern University.
She began her career as an engineering analyst for the city and entered politics in 2000, when she was first elected to the Boca Raton City Council. She was forced out by term limits in 2006 and returned in 2008. Haynie became mayor in 2014 and was re-elected in 2017, when she defeated BocaWatch publisher Al Zucaro.
Setting her sights on higher office, Haynie announced her candidacy for the Palm Beach County Commission last year to fill the seat held by former Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams, who is term-limited. She withdrew from that race on April 24.
Haynie is a past president of the Florida League of Cities and Palm Beach County League of Cities.
Haynie has chaired the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency (formerly known as the Metropolitan Planning Organization), the Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council, the Southeast Florida Transportation Council and was appointed to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.
Before her election to the City Council, she served on the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and Planning and Zoning Board. Haynie has been a member of numerous civic and charity organizations.
Haynie is a licensed general contractor and community association manager.
She has two children of her own and three stepchildren with her husband, Neal Haynie, whom she married in 1995.