Records raise questions about where Miami-Dade school board candidate lives

Then-state Rep. James Bush III, left, is shown at the opening of a new health clinic in 2009.
Then-state Rep. James Bush III, left, is shown at the opening of a new health clinic in 2009. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Since 1987, James Bush III has owned a modest house in Miami’s Brownsville neighborhood. That’s where he has his homestead exemption, a tax benefit for a homeowner’s primary residence. And it’s where he was registered to vote up until three weeks ago.

Yet Bush claims he doesn’t live there. Bush insists he has lived 15 miles north, in Miami Gardens, at the home of a woman who is “really good friends” with his family.

His address matters because he’s running for the Miami-Dade County school board, where Florida law requires candidates to live in the districts they campaign for by the time they qualify for the race.

If Bush lives in Miami Gardens, he meets the requirement. If he lives in Brownsville, he doesn’t.

There are only two records that show Bush, a Democrat and former state representative, living in Miami Gardens. He filled out both himself — on June 22, the day he officially declared his candidacy. One of Bush’s residency documents is a signed candidate oath for School Board District 1. The other is his voter registration.

He’s running against incumbent Wilbert “Tee” Holloway and former principal Steve Gallon. Qualifying ended June 24.

Bush maintains he’s lived in Miami Gardens for five years.

“I did meet the qualifications” to run, he told the Miami Herald.

If that’s true, Bush didn’t register to vote there until June 22. He was registered at his Brownsville home instead. But records show he wasn’t eligible to vote in Miami Gardens’ most recent city election, in 2014.

And he’s never changed his homestead exemption from his home on the 3000 block of Northwest 49th Street in Brownsville, which he owns with his wife, Bernadine. Their most recent, $25,000 homestead exemption was claimed for 2016.

Property records also show Bush owns a property at the 2400 block of Northwest 61st Street and a vacant lot next door. Neither property has a homestead exemption.

Bush’s wife is his campaign treasurer; the campaign lists its address as a post office box in Brownsville, also outside the district.

Bush pointed to the voter registration as evidence of his residency.

“I can give you my voter registration,” he said. “My contract shows that I live there.”

Bush did not produce either document, though the Herald later obtained his voter registration. It was unclear what sort of contract he was referring to.

The home on the 1400 block of Northwest 196th Street where Bush claims to live in Miami Gardens belongs to Althea Jones, a woman who said her family is “really good friends” with Bush.

Jones didn’t return a reporter’s call until after the reporter spoke to Bush. Then she called back, unprompted, to back him up.

When did Bush move in to her house?

“I’m not saying that he moved, because he’s been here for 25 years,” Jones said. “As far as I know he comes and goes as he wants. I don’t clock in on him or anything.”

If Bush has indeed lived in Miami Gardens for a quarter century, he would have lived outside of the district he represented in the Florida House from 1992-2000 and again from 2008-2010.

Jones wouldn’t say if Bush sleeps in the house or spends weekends there. “They have parking,” she said. “They have a lease.”

She wouldn’t provide the Herald with a copy, however, without Bush’s consent.

A neighbor who claimed to have lived nearby for 30 years said he had no knowledge of Bush living on the same street.