Six months after it was narrowly approved by the Palmetto Bay Village Council, a development of 485 condos and a business complex on the old Burger King property has emerged as the main issue in a runoff election for vice mayor of the village.
The candidates on Tuesday’s ballot are John DuBois, 54, the incumbent vice mayor and CEO of a cloud-based security surveillance company; and Erica Watts, 47, a former legal aid and PTA president.
On Election Day, neither candidate got the majority vote, forcing them into a runoff on Nov. 22. DuBois got about 41 percent of the vote, and Watts got about 36 percent. A third candidate, David Zisman, was eliminated.
DuBois has made the Palmetto Bay Village Center the main issue, and in fact he and the project’s other opponents will have at least one more shot at it. Although the council approved the project in May with DuBois and Councilwoman Karyn Cunningham dissenting, the developer must still present detailed site plans for approval along with an in-depth traffic study.
DuBois’ website says: “The Mayor, developers, and lobbyists have recruited Erica Watts run against me [sic] because I voted to stop a new development of 485 homes on Old Cutler Road. I will not be intimidated by these tactics nor should you. Help me prevent developers from destroying our quality of life.”
Watts said she had no involvement in the council’s decision to approve the project in May and was insulted by DuBois’ efforts to tie her to it.
“He has taken photos of me in my work as a PTA president and as a community volunteer and put it in campaign fliers and made up a lie about me that I’m somehow colluding with the mayor,” Watts said.
Although DuBois pointed to Watts’ most recent campaign financial reports — which include some donations of $500 to $1000 from architectural and engineering companies — as evidence of her connection to developers, there’s no direct indication those companies are connected to the Village Center project.
Watts said her concerns are with increased traffic in the village. She said she would oppose any development that adds to that. “I wasn’t in office therefore I wasn’t privy to all the info [about Palmetto Bay Village Center] that the sitting council was privy to,” Watts said. “I believe we have to consider the village as a whole in our effort to fight traffic.”
DuBois and a volunteer for Watts also had a confrontation on Election Day. The volunteer, Beth Kibler, told police DuBois followed her around outside the library polling place and attempted to intimidate her, and took away a piece of campaign literature she had handed to a voter.
Watts earned a law degree from St. Thomas University after working in Gainesville as a legal aid in the 8th Judicial Circuit, then did other legal work but did not take the Bar exam and says she never practiced law.
Most recently she served a two-year term as the president of the Coral Reef Elementary PTA. She sits on the village’s Educational Advisory Committee and the Autism Spectrum Disorder Board for Coral Reef Elementary.
DuBois was elected Palmetto Bay’s vice mayor in 2012 and is now seeking another four-year term.
DuBois’ main campaign issue is his opposition to the Palmetto Bay Village Center, which sits on Biscayne Bay next to DuBois’ estate. For a time, the vice mayor recused himself from voting on the project because he owned adjoining property, but when it came before the council in May, he voted against it.
DuBois’ decision to participate in the vote launched an ethics investigation that is ongoing. In June, Joseph Centorino, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics, told DuBois’ attorney, Jeffrey Leary, in an email that the vice mayor ignored advice from ethics investigators that he should not participate in the vote.
DuBois later denied the commission had advised him not to vote and produced a legal opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics that said he did not have a conflict of interest in voting because “you are not likely to gain or lose more than other persons affected by the vote.”