Broward County

August 5, 2014

North Miami mayoral candidates have all faced criticism

One candidate emerged from bankruptcy in 2003, while the other two have had their city residency questioned.

As North Miami residents decide on a candidate to replace suspended Mayor Lucie Tondreau, one of the three mayoral candidates has faced bankruptcy and multiple debts while the other two candidates have faced questions over their residency.

Kevin Burns, who served two terms as mayor from 2005 to 2009, filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and resolved it in 2003, a few years before he was elected. Burns has faced several court judgments based on liens, and other debts. Some of the most notable cases include a suit filed against him in 2010 by resident Annie Montgomery that led to a judgment of nearly $119,000.

Burns did not say why he borrowed money from Montgomery.

“It’s a private matter between her and I, and I speak with and see her everyday,” Burns said.

While Burns was running a Christmas tree business he was sued by Johnson Brothers Nursery in North Carolina after they claimed some of the checks he sent bounced. He was ordered to pay about $17,500 to the business.

Burns, who works as a real estate broker for Turnberry International Realty, said that the various debts and money he owes are issues that “have been addressed and re-addressed,” in his multiple bids for public office.

“I have a few outstanding bills, but everything else is good,” Burns said. “Anything else on there has either been drastically reduced or completely eliminated.”

Another issue raised by some residents is the plan for the Bel House Apartments, at Northeast 139th Street and Northeast Sixth Avenue. The city’s community redevelopment agency voted to approve a resolution to purchase and lease Miami Way Theatre and the Bel House property in May 2007. In August the city agreed to a 5-year agreement with an option to buy the property by 2012. The city would be responsible for fixing the property’s roof and make other improvements with a plan to use the apartments as low-income housing.

The Bel House property owners were represented by former North Miami city attorney John Dellagloria, who spoke on their behalf at CRA board meetings.

In July 2007, while the agreement was under negotiation, Burns was sued for foreclosure on his home, and in August, Dellagloria filed a motion to dismiss the case. Burns denies that there was any conflict and said that Dellagloria filed the motion and then had no more involvement in the case. Dellagloria formally withdrew as counsel in the case in April 2008.

Dellagloria said he got involved in the mortgage case to protect the interest of a longtime client, Larry Sazant, who had also had loaned money to Burns and taken out a second mortgage on the house as collateral. If the bank had foreclosed on the house, Sazant could have lost his investment. So Dellagloria filed a motion to dismiss the foreclosure on behalf of both Sazant and Burns.

Burns agreed.

“There was absolutely no conflict, John Dellagloria had lots of clients,” Burns said. “All he did was file a paper that had to be filed within a certain period of time.”

Burns also denied that the situation influenced his voting on the Bel House property and he doesn’t think he should have recused himself from voting on the item.

The City Council “voted to do a deal with them, not just Kevin Burns, it was approved by the county and it was approved by everybody involved,” Burns said.

Bob Jarvis, a lawyer and law professor at Nova Southeastern University said the situation appeared to be a “small-town coincidence.” The CRA board later voted to terminate the contract for the property in November 2009.

The other candidates, Jean Marcellus and Smith Joseph, have faced past allegations that they did not actually reside in North Miami when they qualified to run. Marcellus was sued by council candidate Michelle Garcia in 2009 after he was elected to the City Council. The suit alleged that Marcellus lived in Miramar and lost an election for a Miramar City Commission seat, only a month before he claimed to move to North Miami in 2008 to qualify for the North Miami council election.

A judge eventually ruled that Marcellus was eligible to keep his council seat. Joseph never faced a formal challenge to his residency and said the accusations are false.

“Whoever makes those accusations has the burden to prove whatever they are accusing me of,” Joseph said.

Early voting for North Miami’s special election begins Aug. 11. Election day is Aug. 26 and a runoff election would take place Nov. 4.

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