Homestead’s mayor, council and their assistants are overworked, council members said Wednesday.
So they voted to hire an assistant for each of the seven elected officials who serve in the city. At the time, they didn’t know how much the new hires will cost, and instructed city officials to come back with an estimate before a final vote by the council.
“I love my job, and I want to answer everybody, and I can’t do it with the resources I have now,” Mayor Steve Bateman said during the sometimes tense discussion.
Four full-time aides currently work for the mayor and council — answering phone calls, scheduling meetings, arranging travel details. They make between $40,000 and $51,000 for their work, according to Homestead’s spokeswoman. One of the helpers is a “temp” hired through a staffing agency.
They all qualify for overtime, which has cost the city between $4,000 and $8,000 per assistant, according to figures provided by the city.
Additionally, the three assistants hired through the city get almost $27,000 in fringe benefits, according to a draft memo sent Thursday from the city’s finance director to the city manager.
The finance director wrote that the new positions would cost the city $311,000.
Councilman Jimmie Williams brought the issue up for discussion, saying there is too much staff turnover in the office of the mayor and council. Assistant Ana Paneque recently was reassigned to another city department because her position as an aide to the mayor and council was overwhelming, Councilwoman Judy Waldman told the Miami Herald.
Council members bickered amongst themselves over who uses the aides more, and whose events and needs seem to take precedence when it comes to staff time.
Mayor Bateman also had stern words for the city manager, accusing him of staying in his office and not realizing how overworked the mayor and council’s assistants are. City Manager George Gretsas had to ask the mayor multiple times for permission to speak, with the mayor at one point saying flat-out: “No; You’re not recognized.”
“You’ve never even taken one step into that office to see what’s going on,” Bateman told Gretsas, referring to the office of the mayor and council.
“That’s not true,” Gretsas replied.
“You do not get involved. And they all say the same thing. You don’t come out of that room,” Bateman continued.
When he finally got a chance to pipe up, after Bateman systematically asked council members whether they were done speaking, Gretsas said the decision to hire more help is, “a policy decision, and it’s yours to make.”
“To look at me and be angry that somehow, this is my fault, I take issue with that,” Gretsas said.
The manager said he would implement whatever decision the council makes. The council decided 5-2 that they should hire more help.
Councilman Stephen Shelley and Vice Mayor Jon Burgess voted against the move.
Shelley cited budget concerns.
“The cost is great,” Shelley said. “That’s hard for me as a council person to make that decision, knowing the hard times we are in.”
The day after the vote, Waldman told Miami Herald she will not approve the new hires when it comes to a second vote, because she crunched some numbers and realized the cost would be “astronomical.”
“I really do believe that more help is justified as far as the work load, but at this time, I just can’t do it,” she said.
The number of mayor and council aides that cities around Miami-Dade County employ varies widely.
Miami Beach, with a population of 90,000, according to the last census count, hires assistants for each of its six commissioners and the mayor. They make between $51,000 and $61,000, according to a city spokeswoman.
Miami Gardens, with 110,000 residents, only has one assistant for its mayor. The other six council members share two assistants. The aides in Miami Gardens make between $43,000 and $46,000, according to the city’s deputy clerk.
Comparatively, Homestead’s population is about 62,000.
Homestead’s largest department is the Homestead Police Department, with 142 full time positions and 43 part-time positions, according to the city. The police department only has one executive assistant and eight administrative assistants.
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