At $6,000 a year, the salary for being the mayor of Homestead is a pittance. But Steve Bateman, a barrel-chested booster of this gateway city to the Florida Keys, has found that the position comes with hidden perks.
This past February, Bateman leveraged his role as mayor to land a lucrative, secret side job working as a construction consultant for a nonprofit that needs the blessing of the city and county to expand its chain of health clinics.
The deal, which the head of the nonprofit, Community Health of South Florida Inc. (CHI), says he did not initiate, pays Bateman $125 an hour more than $4,500 during one 38-hour work week, according to a sampling of invoices reviewed by the Miami Herald. Bills for other weeks were unavailable for review.
Bateman, who has a county license to install awnings, shutters and screen enclosures but is not a general contractor or registered lobbyist, has not publicly disclosed the lucrative arrangement to his colleagues on the City Council, which holds sway over CHIs plans. Nor did Bateman inform the county of his employment with the nonprofit, even when he met with Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his top aides to personally plead for Miami-Dade to fast-track a multi-million-dollar Homestead sewer system expansion that would facilitate construction of a proposed CHI childrens clinic in downtown Homestead.
The citys interest in expanding its downtown pumping station is not surprising. The $3 million sewer project could spur development in a downtown that has withered since Hurricane Andrew nearly leveled the city in 1992. The station would benefit five projects that are currently on the drawing board but cant proceed without added sewer capacity. The mayor or his wife has a financial stake in three of the five, none of which he has disclosed.
Bateman, 58, who is running for reelection in November, did not return the Miami Heralds email or phone calls for comment.
The office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle is investigating several allegations stemming from Homestead.
We have been subpoenaing records and interviewing witnesses for the past several months, Fernández Rundle said in a previous Herald story about the mayor. She declined to discuss Batemans CHI connection.
The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust is also investigating.
A University of Miami ethics expert said Batemans conduct raises serious questions under state and county laws.
Anthony Alfieri, director of the UM Law School Center for Ethics and Public Service, said the mayors actions appear flagrant under the countys code of ethics and conflict of interest laws.
The more difficult hurdle is in applying the states unlawful compensation statute, because it requires some evidence of corrupt intent, showing that he acted knowingly and dishonestly for a wrongful purpose, Alfieri said.
Bateman went to work for CHI while he was seeking the citys and countys support for expanding the sewage pumping station in Homestead. Bateman and other Homestead council members voted to allocate city funds to pay for upgrading the pumping station.
In February, Bateman, in his role as Homesteads mayor, set up a meeting with Gimenez and one of his deputies to urge them to expedite the county permits required to expand the pumping station so that CHIs project could move forward. At their County Hall meeting on Feb. 21, Bateman did not disclose to Gimenez or his deputy, Jack Osterholt, that he was being paid by CHI.