Suddenly, Sylvia Poitier Is Deerfield's Most Ethics-Conscious Commissioner

Deerfield Beach is in the midst of a forensic audit and the state prosecutor is reviewing a report that found suspicion of fraud in the way the city's Community Development Division doles out funds from state and federal housing programs. Could that be the reason that Deerfield Beach Commissioner Sylvia Poitier has been reluctant to cast votes that have to do with targets of the audit?

At last night's meeting, Poitier refused to cast a vote to authorize the city's spending $25,000 on the Mango Festival, an event she's voted for in the past. City Attorney Andy Maurodis told Poitier she didn't have a conflict, but that legal opinion wasn't good enough for her. She abstained.

It's a repeat of what happened at a meeting in March, when Poitier refused to vote on a motion that involved the Westside Deerfield Businessmen Association, of which her daughter is the president.

But tax filings show that Poitier's daughter isn't paid by the WDBA and so long as Sylvia Poitier herself doesn't have a financial interest in the nonprofit corporation, then she should have voted. The same could be said of the Mango Festival.

Just to be sure, I put the question to Poitier this afternoon: Do you have a financial interest or conflict with WDBA or the Mango Festival?

"Oh, Lord no!" said Poitier. "I told you that since I became a Deerfield Beach commissioner I haven't received a penny from WDBA."

As for the Mango Festival? "I've never been involved with the Mango Festival until now."

I asked her to describe that involvement. Poitier seemed a bit cagey on this point. "I won't be fundraising," she said, before correcting herself: "I don't know if I'll be fundraising." Asked what she'll do specifically, Poitier said, "I'll be putting together logistics and making sure we meet the requirements, the city rules and policies."

Broadly speaking, Poitier says that her reluctance to vote is not due to an actual conflict of interest. "It's the appearance of a conflict and how one would construe it," she said, before adding, "This Chaz Stevens is driving me crazy with his blogging."

During a political career that has spanned four decades, Poitier says she's taking the long view: "In my last few years of public service, I don't want to mar my legacy."

But judging by what we've learned from the forensic audit, these concerns of legacy and "appearance of conflict" are recent phenomena. For instance, Poitier allowed a nonprofit organization, the Haitian American Consortium, to list her dry-cleaning business as its location in corporate filings. Now that consortium has become a focal point for the forensic auditor, creating the very appearance of conflict that Poitier is trying to avoid.

"When they had to have an address (to file for incorporation) I've allowed them to use my address," says Poitier, speaking of the Haitian American Consortium. "And that's because the city of Deerfield Beach would not give them an occupational license." That is, unless the nonprofit corporation had a physical address.

Poitier denies having any role in the consortium's activities. But it still leaves questions about why a city commissioner would volunteer her private business in helping an organization that will take public dollars -- however pure her intentions may have been. Yet another "appearance" of conflict.

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