Plans to cut down two trees in Biscayne park’s leafy canopy sparked a fight among village commissioners at their meeting Tuesday night.
According to an arborist’s report, the two Australian pine trees, in a village-owned median at the intersection on Northeast 117th Street and Seventh Avenue, were safety hazards because of decay and insect damage.
But when Commissioner Barbara Watts saw workers removing the trees, she approached them and told them to stop. The workers already had removed everything but a pair of 15-foot stumps, but Watts said the stumps could be put to good use.
“There is tree trunk art, they can be used as bases for tables,” Watts said Tuesday night. “This is a very hot button issue.”
But Commissioner Roxanna Ross said the trees had to be removed before someone got hurt.
“I don’t understand outrage that a hazardous situation has been addressed,” Ross said. She also criticized Watts for giving direct orders to a village contractor, which she said violates the village charter.
The debate ended with Mayor Noah Jacobs, Vice Mayor Anderson, and Ross voting to remove the stumps while Commissioner Bryan Cooper and Watts dissented.
Watts proposed that the village adopt new procedures for tree removal, but that matter did not come to a vote.
Also on Tuesday, commissioners voted 3-2 to accept a donated sculpture for placement somewhere in the village. Cooper and Watts dissented.
“I don’t see a reason to turn down artwork,” said Jacobs.
Watts complained that the abstract sculpture was solely selected by longtime resident Fred Jonas and that there was no selection process; rather the city was subjecting itself to one person’s opinion.
But Jonas told the commission that 20 area residents together donated a total of $5,000 and selected the artwork, which is now at L’Attitude Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts.
“It’s in Boston, so we didn’t have to pay sales tax,” Jonas said. “And, the sculptor frequently makes trips between Boston and South Florida. So, if he brings the piece down on his next trip, we don’t have to pay for that either.”
Also during the meeting, the commission created a Resident Review Committee to assist in the process of hiring a new village manager. The nine-member group includes: David Tunnell, appointed by Watts; Matt Davis, appointed by Ross; Gary Kuhl; appointed by Anderson; Victor Cannon, appointed by Cooper; and Steve Bernard, appointed by Jacobs. The commissioners as a group also appointed four at-large members: Vicki Bilt-Smith, Richard Ederr, Maryann Duva, and Karla Gottlieb.
In addition, the commission named Village Clerk Maria Camara as interim village manager starting Aug. 21.
Finally, the commission tentatively scheduled a workshop to give residents an opportunity to review the annexation process at 10 a.m., Sept. 21. The next commission meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Sept. 10. Both meetings will be held at the Ed Burke Recreation Center, 11400 NE Ninth Ct.