North Miami / NMB

North Miami

North Miami candidates’ debate called ‘civil’

The three candidates hoping to replace suspended North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau presented their case to voters Thursday at City Hall.

Voters heard the candidates — Smith Joseph, former mayor Kevin Burns, and former councilman Jean Marcellus — discuss the Biscayne Landing property, the city’s finances and community redevelopment agency and the steps they would take to change the city’s image.

When asked about the suspended mayor, Burns offered no comment while Marcellus and Joseph said her case had nothing to do with her tenure as mayor.

“What happened to her has nothing to do with leading the city, and I think her performance was great,” Marcellus said.

The conversation was mainly civil, focusing on developments in the city, namely the Biscayne Landing property. Burns said plans for the site have never been fully defined, while Joseph suggested that the city has to reach out to residents for their ideas.

“These are growing pains,” Joseph said. “Whenever you’re going through growing pains, it will hurt. If we have to go back to the drawing board, that’s what we will do.”

The candidates agreed that money from a potential sale of 50 acres to the developers, Oleta Partners, should be placed into a reserve fund. Burns stressed that it should be used for one-time projects.

Along with that project, the three men were asked to discuss the city’s CRA and Joseph and Marcellus agreed that the agency should be extended. Burns said he didn’t know if should be extended or not, or even stay at its current size. The CRA area makes up 3,600 acres or about 60 percent of the city.

“Doing away with it would not be a wise idea,” Joseph said. “That would leave a lot of programs vanished and that would not be to the betterment of the city.”

The three candidates also spoke in support of a more in-depth audit of the city’s finances. At a City Council meeting last month, Burns and Joseph supported plans for a forensic audit.

The audit should extend to the CRA as well, Burns said.

“The residents have been asking for this for more than two years,” Burns said. “If there were mistakes we need to correct them moving forward.”

Marcellus originally indicated the city’s regular annual audit was sufficient, but had changed his mind Thursday.

“Since the taxpayers think that we need an audit, then I agree with it,” Marcellus said.

Residents said they were glad the discussion remained civil and former councilman Jacques Despinosse thought the three candidates were fairly evenly matched.

“It was more civilized than the past, and everyone stayed focused on the issues,” Despinosse said. “I believe there will be a runoff and from that runoff, that’s when people will really make up their mind.”

The special election to replace Tondreau — suspended by Gov. Rick Scott after her arrest on conspiracy and wire fraud charges in May — will take place Aug. 26.

Absentee ballots will be sent out Aug. 11 and a runoff election, if necessary, would take place Nov. 4.

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