By Jane Smith
Delray Beach City Commission candidate Ryan Boylston sat on the board of the Downtown Development Agency when it paid thousands of taxpayer dollars to advertise in a newspaper that he co-owned.
The payments could be a breach of state ethics laws, according to a local attorney with a specialty in media and communications law.
Boylston was appointed in July 2011 to the DDA, which is charged with promoting downtown Delray Beach and taxes property owners in its 236-acre district.
“It appears to be a clear violation of Florida’s ethics law,” said Martin Reeder, a West Palm Beach trial and appellate lawyer with more than 37 years of experience. “The law applies because he was appointed to the DDA board before he co-founded the newspaper.”
Had the newspaper existed before his appointment and the DDA continued to advertise in it after Boylston joined the DDA board, that would be fine, Reeder said, because of an exception in the state ethics law.
Boylston, whose term ended in June 2017, insists he did not violate state ethics laws because he did not directly approve spending in his newspaper as a board member.
“I voted annually to approve the DDA budget,” he said. “But where the DDA spent the advertising money was up to staff. It should be in local publications.”
He likened his vote to approving the DDA budget with a line item for office supplies and not knowing the names of the suppliers.
Reeder said that was no excuse.
“The DDA is doing business with his newspaper,” Reeder said. “Not voting on the individual spending does not absolve him of the conflict.”
From January 2014 through June 2017, the DDA spent $22,710 in advertising in the newspaper Boylston co-owned.
For comparison, during the same time period the DDA spent $1,900 for ads in The Coastal Star.
Both local newspapers publish monthly.
Boylston’s opponent, incumbent Mitch Katz, was quick to criticize.
“He has a track record of not following the rules,” Katz said. “It’s not good for the city and its voters.”
As an example, Katz said Boylston had a mural painted in December 2016 on a rear dumpster enclosure behind his offices at 135 E. Atlantic Ave. He did so without city approval, according to code enforcement reports, and was cited. He was not fined.
Planning Director Tim Stillings said Boylston then went before boards of three city agencies soliciting support for the mural. Four months later, the city’s Site Plan Review and Appearance Board approved the mural because it determined it was not advertising for a business.
Over the years, another Boylston company, Woo Creative, has forged business relationships with several city agencies and boards that receive tax dollars from their own taxing districts or from the city of Delray Beach, including the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative and the Old School Square board.
Woo has been paid thousands for branding, marketing and upgrading their websites in recent years, but that work may have to cease if Boylston is elected.
In 2016-2017, the Marketing Cooperative paid Woo Creative $26,368.50.
“We use Woo Creative to develop our ads and marketing collateral,” said Executive Director Stephanie Immelman. “We would have to change this if Ryan was elected to City Commission.”
Boylston boasts on his campaign website that his company helped craft the Old School Square brand.
How much was Woo paid?
“OSS does not publicly distribute vendor transaction history,” said Kim Jones, chief financial officer of the nonprofit organization. “With respect to the candidates currently running for office, if a candidate is successful, he/she will be subject to the ethics provisions of Palm Beach County and the state of Florida, which generally would preclude them from conducting business with OSS.”
Attorney Reeder agreed. “If Boylston gets elected to the City Commission, his marketing firm should not do business with the city or its agencies,” he said.
Boylston earlier applauded the agencies for using local firms.
“It’s great that the organizations are using local talent from small businesses,” he said, “unlike when [Delray Beach] went with an out-of-state firm to redesign its website.”
Boylston announced in October he would step down as publisher of Delray Newspaper to run for the City Commission. As of January, he said he had sold his shares to his newspaper partners.
Boylston was the only City Commission candidate found by The Coastal Star to have a business relationship with the city or its agencies.
Researcher Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.
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