Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Homestead Mayor Bateman’s conflicts undisclosed

It’s curious: Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman had nothing to say to the Miami Herald or its news partner CBS-News 4 about dual investigations into his possibly criminal — and definitely lucrative — conflict of interest.

However, he had plenty to talk about whenever he was trying to persuade county officials to push through projects that would benefit a healthcare concern in his city. Mr. Bateman, it turns out, was on the company’s payroll. But he never talked about that, either, keeping the relationship a secret from the Homestead City Council and county officials, including Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

The state attorney’s office and the county’s ethics committee are investigating. We hope he has deigned to talk to them. He has a lot to explain, especially to the residents he hopes will reelect him in November.

Community Health of South Florida — CHI — paid Mr. Bateman $125 an hour to be its “construction consultant.” Mr. Bateman is licensed to install awnings. But he quickly installed himself in the offices of the county mayor and top aide to personally push, push, push them to put a multimillion-dollar sewer-system expansion, including a sewage pumping station, on the fast track.

Homestead continues its slow, but steady recovery from Hurricane Andrew’s destruction more than 20 years ago. When it wiped out Homestead Air Force Base, it took with it the sturdy foundation of the city’s vibrant economy.

So for Mr. Bateman to lobby hard for that sewer project is what any responsible mayor would do. He already had persuaded the City Council to put $3 million toward the expansion. More sewer capacity would help downtown’s rebound immensely.

Of course, CHI, Mr. Bateman’s secret employer, would be one of the beneficiaries. The healthcare concern wants to build a children’s clinic downtown. And Mr. Bateman dutifully reported back, via email, to CHI’s CEO about the progress he was making with the county.

But the mayor appears to be hip-deep in undisclosed conflict. In addition, five other projects would benefit — Mr. Bateman or his wife have a financial interest in three of them. Again, he disclosed none of this.

As dispiriting as this is, Mr. Bateman’s misuse of his office has been under scrutiny by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office and the county’s ethics commission for quite some time. A Herald story outlined Mr. Bateman’s hush-hush dealings with another downtown Homestead developer, Ernesto A. Perez, CEO of Dade Medical College. The mayor may have been the lead cheerleader in asking the city to help Mr. Perez purchase city-owned land at an attractively low price. The mayor’s wife, Donna, is the college’s real-estate agent. Fancy that.

Already there has been fallout: Council members have suspended the $3 million in funding for the pump station.

The state attorney’s probe should ultimately pave the way to restoring some integrity to the office of Homestead mayor. Harder to resurrect, however, will be the public’s trust. Such egregious behavior is why residents here, and across the country, have little faith in their elected representatives. It’s why voters reject time and again giving local legislators a raise, even though it could ultimately help stem corruption. Mr. Bateman, for instance, earns $6,000 as mayor.

At this point, voters in Homestead should be extremely skeptical of Mr. Bateman’s fitness for office. His first allegiance does not appear to be to his constituents.

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