Cutler Bay residents will elect a new mayor and a new council member on Nov. 6. The candidates for those seats include both newcomers and familiar faces. In addition, a political newcomer will automatically be elected after no one filed to run against him.
After working for the town since it was incorporated in 2006, Peggy Bell, Cutler Bay longtime mayor and councilwoman will term out this November as three candidates vie to fill her seat.
One of them is Tim Meerbott, a former Cutler Bay councilman who served on the dais from 2006 to 2010. A senior manager at Allstate Corp. for more than three decades, Meerbott, 54, has a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Florida International University.
Also running for the mayor’s seat is Javier Giraud, a local real estate attorney and substitute teacher at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Giraud, 48, works as the director of his homeowners association and previously worked as a public school teacher and special counsel to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Javier Souto.
Giraud earned an associate degree from Miami Dade College, a Bachelor of Science in Criminology from Florida State University and a law degree from Creighton University.
The third mayoral candidate is a political newcomer — William Scott, a U.S. Army and National Guard veteran. After retiring from military service, Scott, 45, worked for the U.S. Department of Health assisting with healthcare fraud cases. He later worked as a security management consultant under the Department of Defense.
In line to run for council seat 3 are three candidates: incumbent Roger Coriat, 43; Maggie Soriano, 39; and Yunior Santana, 42.
Coriat, a history teacher at John A. Ferguson High School, has served on the council since 2014. Before that he was a member of the town’s Educational Advisory Committee. He holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in history from the University of Miami.
Soriano is a real estate agent at Sotheby’s International Realty. Before that, she co-owned a construction and property management company as well as a few Miami restaurants.
Santana works as general manager of Little Havana’s Manuel Artime Theater, which is owned and managed by the city of Miami. Before that he worked as a business analyst for the city and recruiter at the human resources department. He holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from FIU.
Robert “B.J.” Duncan, was automatically elected to Seat 1 on the Cutler Bay town council; he won’t appear on the ballot. He works as a building operations coordinator and production specialist at FIU’s Department of Theatre. He also serves as a technical director for Zoetic Stage, a theater company that operates out of the Adrian Arsht Center in downtown Miami. Duncan holds a bachelor’s degree in theater and a master’s in public administration from FIU.
Though all five positions on the council are elected at large, the three district council members are required to live in the districts they represent. The other two positions will be up for election in 2020.
On November’s ballot is a referendum, that if passed, would allow council members who move to a different district within the town — after having been elected — to continue to serve on the council until the next election. Currently, council members have to live within their districts and if they move after being elected would not be able to serve anymore.
District 1 represents the northwestern part of the city — anything northwest of Old Cutler Road and southwest of Franjo Road.
District 2 represents the northeast part of the city — anything east of Franjo Road and north of Southwest 207th Street.
District 3 represents anything south of Southwest 207th Street and southeast of Old Cutler Road.
One subject is on all the mayoral candidates’ minds — traffic.
The bumper-to-bumper situation in the town, tucked between two booming cities — Palmetto Bay and Homestead — has only gotten worse as populations move further south, candidates say.
That’s why Giraud told the Miami Herald his mission would be to “reduce the overall density allowed to be built by developers.”
Right now, Cutler Bay’s regulations allow up to 250 residential units per acre in the downtown district, records show. Densities could go higher if developers build environmentally friendly structures and apply for bonuses.
“That is an astronomical amount of units for our small town, and that will only worsen our traffic woes,” Giraud said. He said he would aim to amend the code to require environmentally friendly construction, instead of rewarding it. “The city of South Miami mandates solar roof panels for new construction. We can do the same.”
Giraud also thinks more travel lanes should be added to existing roadways.
The town’s traffic fiasco is the reason one of the candidates, Meerbott, has been extremely vocal about bringing Metrorail to South Dade.
“I would work collaboratively with other elected officials to hold the county accountable for providing the rapid transportation we were promised 12 years ago,” Meerbott said. “We approved a half penny sales tax and encouraged smart development to support rapid transit. The county’s failure to uphold their end of the bargain has resulted in clogged roadways and a decrease in quality of life.”
In late August, the county’s transportation board approved giving South Dade the county’s first rapid-transit bus system, rejecting demands that elected leaders stick with a 2002 promise to bring a costly Metrorail extension to the region.
Meerbott believes that by limiting high-density projects and bringing in better public transportation, more green space would be available to “preserve as parks or natural areas.” Meerbott is the councilman who sponsored the green initiative to allow golf carts in the town years ago.
On that note, Scott says that if he’s elected, he would work to “pause any plans for large development that will increase the density of our community.” His priority? Crosswalks.
“Our children are being dropped off by our public schools’ buses in high traffic areas where there are no safety measures. I have seen the plans that were prepared in 2014 to include crosswalks in these areas. These plans are to be completed in 2019. With that said, four years have passed and the most basic safety precautions have not been put in place.”
Scott says the issue hits close to his heart because his son was a victim of a hit-and-run in Cutler Bay.
“Thankfully he was able to brush it off,” he said. “ I would first and foremost place safety measures for our children and families. I am a proud Army veteran who understands the importance of protecting our community.”
Apart from traffic, Giraud told the Miami Herald he would propose converting the Town Center building to office condominiums and selling up to 49 percent of the property. The eight-story building serves as town hall and multipurpose space; some units are leased to different businesses as well.
“This option would reduce the town’s mortgage obligations, reduce its maintenance costs and the town could focus on providing municipal services and not have to worry about being a landlord,” Giraud said. “Or, in the alternative, an outright sale of the building, if the terms of the sale are favorable enough to produce a multimillion-dollar cash-out. The town could then purchase or build a small complex similar to the Village of Palmetto Bay’s town hall.”
The three candidates running for Seat 3 expressed very different priorities to the Miami Herald.
Incumbent Roger Coriat — who was part of a council that brought in a town circulator bus and that began major roadway improvements to Caribbean Boulevard — says bringing Metrorail to South Dade would be at the top of his list.
“Our main fight has been to bring Metrorail south, and although there are many who oppose that option, we will continue to push for it,” he said.
Other issues of importance for Coriat are improving parks, fighting overbuilding, bringing in businesses to the region and protecting sensitive lands within the town.
“I have been working with a dedicated group of volunteers on a coastal wetland project and I am amazed at how well the area has recovered,” Coriat said. “What was once a field clogged with invasive plants is now a thriving ecosystem.”
Soriano told the Herald her hope would be to better disburse taxpayer dollars and increase the law enforcement budget. She says a recent concern was when council members supported spending nearly $1 million on drawings of a potential skate park plaza.
“That is an outrageous amount of taxpayer money for a project that very few residents supported,” Soriano said.
Another goal she cited would be to eliminate town politicians’ ability to ‘double dip’ on state and local pensions. “It is the taxpayers that end up paying for that double pension,” she said.
Santana says his priority would be to livestream council meetings online and make video of the meetings available on the town’s website.
He said he would look to partner with a local university that specializes in web programming so that residents can access town resources on their mobile devices.
“What constituents need is a functionally easy access to the website that will put online services ahead of everything else,” he said. “One should not have to surf the web to find how to register a burglar alarm. Doing so should be easy, on point, and [accessible] online.”
Santana added: “Government should be streamlined and allow the input of all its constituents, not only those that can attend meetings. Government has stayed in the dark ages for far too long and I will push to create a government that will reach its constituents on-demand.”
Robert “B.J.” Duncan will automatically be elected to Seat 1 after running unopposed. He says he will fight to expand rail service to South Miami-Dade.
“Regarding overdevelopment, I am a proponent of progress being made in the town — new businesses, residential areas, parks and green spaces. However, I do not want to see development for the sake of development. Part of Cutler Bay’s charm is the residential feel of our neighborhood, and I fear that overdeveloping areas in this town will diminish some of that charm.”
He also said the council needs to “find ways to make the town more accessible to more residents and to encourage their participation in town events and meetings.”
Referendum 1: This referendum would clarify that any elected official who has reached term limits shall be eligible to run again after two years. The clarification is needed because sometimes the election dates are not a full 730 days apart. Accordingly, the amendment clarifies that anyone who terms out may run for election in the next even-numbered year.
Referendum 2: The charter divides the town into three districts and provides that, in addition to the mayor and vice mayor, one council member is to be elected from each of the three districts. All five positions are elected at large, but the three district council members are required to reside in their districts. The amendment would allow a district council member who moves to a different district to remain on the council until the next regularly scheduled town election in November of the next even-numbered year.
Referendum 3: The charter currently provides that the council shall appoint a resident to fill a council vacancy that occurs six months or more before the term expires. The amendment would require that such vacancies be filled by special election within 90 days after the vacancy occurs.
Referendum 4: This is a general cleanup provision that will allow the town to correct grammatical and typographical errors and omit charter provisions that are moot and no longer applicable.