The Boca Raton Airport Authority (BRAA) recently approved terms for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection general aviation facility.  Funded through Florida Department of Transportation’s grants in 2015 and 2016 totaling $1.5 million dollars and with the authority approving the balance of the $3 million dollar expenditure from Authority reserves….a brilliant outcome on so many levels…

Congratulations Madam Mayor for identifying this opportunity and moving it through both FDOT and USCBP.

So why jeopardize it with petty politics and conflicts of interest…..

In its response to a public records request, the BRAA provided findings by the Florida Commission on Ethics (FCOE) of conflict of interest under three separate provisions of Florida Statutes for a recently appointed member of the Authority, to wit: Jack Fox. 

The informal opinion by the Ethics Commission is based in part on Section 112.313(7)(a) Florida Statutes.  Under this section, Mr. Fox is prohibited from holding a contractual relationship with any business entity which is subject to the regulation of or doing business with the Authority.  Mr. Fox is the joint owner of a condo unit in the Runway 5-23 Hangar Condominium and the sole owner of an aircraft he stores in the unit. 

In its opinion, FCOE determines that this joint ownership of the condo would constitute a contractual relationship subject to the regulation of the Authority, a prohibited situation.  In addition, Section 112.313(7)(a)  prohibits a member from serving on the Authority if circumstances are such that he would be tempted to place his private interests ahead of the performance of his public duties. 

FCOE goes on to site past decisions under similar circumstances holding that such contractual relationships preclude service on the Authority that regulate participants to such relationships. 

Finally, FCOE opines that merely abstaining from voting pursuant to voting conflict laws (Section 112.3143(3), Florida Statutes) would not remedy the conflict of interest created by his ownership interests in the condo unit.

In March, BRAA’s attorney informed Mr. Fox of these findings and opined that his further participation in the Authority’s deliberations is at his own risk. The Authority’s attorney states that Mr. Fox’s interests and those of the Authority have diverged.  Moreover, this divergence prevents any further legal assistance to Mr. Fox by the Authority’s legal counsel and recommends Mr. Fox seek independent counsel in this matter.

In an email dated March 12, Mr. Fox notified the City Council of his concerns in light of the FCOE opinion letter.  In this email, he opines on the conflict question and raises concerns about other members with, in his opinion, similar contractual relationships.  

Apparently, since then, Madam Mayor has requested that Mr. Fox not resign and that the City Attorney initiate a formal opinion process on the matter….

Why???? 

Mr. Fox, in an abundance of caution, did not attend the last BRAA meeting.  With the cloud of conflict now pending, his vote on any issue becomes questionable and his continuing participation may create even greater jeopardy to the Authority’s decisions and to him personally on so many different levels….

In light of all this, there appears to be a need to evaluate how appointments to the Authority (and for that matter all boards and committees) are conducted in the future….

In fact, it is very suspect why Mr. Fox was appointed in the first place….Mr. Fox replaced Mr. Paul Carmen, a dedicated volunteer of many years on the Airport Authority who had no conflict, served for years with distinction and has deep institutional knowledge…..yet he was not reappointed.  Again, why???? Could it have been political????

That said, the Customs presence at BRAA presents great economic development opportunities.  Cheryl Budd, Chairwoman, stated that the facility “will reduce the total number of take-offs and landings…” this is true but the greater possibility is that there are economic expansion opportunities as yet unrecognized by the City Council….

Last week, I attended the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s International Days in Tallahassee, an event not attended by any of the economic agencies of the County or the City. 

Florida’s greatest economic driver bar none is international trade.  The presence of a Customs facility opens up great possibilities to expand into Free Trade Zone applications for much of the commercially designated lands in and around Boca Raton.   I encourage the City Council and the BRAA to take this up in the visioning sessions scheduled for May.

In sum, do not jeopardize this major economic driver by leaving in place a questionable appointee in a position to cause concern with current and future votes of the Authority….It simply is not smart nor is it good politics……