For the past month, Homestead has been functioning without a mayor. And with an election scheduled for November, City Council members plan to leave it that way.
The council decided Wednesday not to go through the process of appointing a new mayor but to let voters choose their city leader in the election. After a short discussion, the council took the decision through a consensus rather than through a vote.
Homestead’s mayoral post was vacated when Gov. Rick Scott suspended former Mayor Steve Bateman after he was arrested on conflict-of-interest charges for holding a secret consulting job at $125 per hour.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office says that Bateman pushed Community Health of South Florida Inc.’s Homestead construction project through Miami-Dade County, including at a meeting he held with county Mayor Carlos Gimenez. CHI also had business in front of the city.
City Attorney Richard Weiss said the process of appointing a new mayor is complicated.
"It should be a very transparent process, and it should let people know what is going on," said Weiss.
The city has to announce ahead of time that it is seeking applications for the mayor’s office, and the council has to take the time to review applicants’ resumes.
“By the time we do all of that November would be here,” said Councilman Jimmie Williams III.
The city’s general election is scheduled for Nov. 5. But the polls have already opened for early voting for the primary election. The official day for the primary election is Tuesday.
Running for the mayor’s seat: Bateman; former councilman Jeff Porter; the Rev. Joseph Sewell; and county commissioner Lynda Bell’s husband, Mark Bell.
After the primaries, the two candidates with the highest number of votes will move on to compete at the general election Nov. 5. But if one of the four candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote during the primary election, he will automatically become Homestead’s mayor.
“I understand that we are theoretically not functioning as a full body here without a mayor," said Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough-McCormick during the meeting. But "I am waiting for the voters to elect a mayor as oppose to me appointing one. Time is not on our side.”
Since Bateman’s suspension, Vice Mayor Jon Burgess has chaired the city’s meetings but he has said he does not want to assume the mayor’s post. If Burgess had agreed to become mayor, he would have given up his post as Seat 2 councilman representing the Keys Gate district in Homestead. Re-elected to the seat in 2011, Burgess still has two more years to his term.
Also on Wednesday night, the council gave its final approval to Homestead’s budget for next fiscal year. The city will have a budget of $167.3 million, a 3.8 percent increase from this year. Part of the increase stems from an extra $450,000 budgeted for health-care costs for city employees, including the council and mayor, and another $127,000 budgeted for an additional police officer. The city will use one-time revenue sources, such as surplus in different funds, to balance its budget.
The City Council also approved a lower property tax rate of $5.9215 for every $1,000 of taxable property. That means that the owner of an $80,000 home would pay about $186, about the same as this year. Those figures assume the owner qualifies for a $50,000 homestead exemption, and that the home’s value increased by 1.7 percent, the maximum allowed this year for an owner-occupied home.
In other decisions, the council approved the following items with a 6-0 vote:
• An extension of City Manager George Gretsas’ employment agreement with the city for an additional two years — until November 2016. His salary will remain at $180,000, a city spokeswoman said.
• A bid award for citywide janitorial services to Bethesda, Md.-based cleaning company, United States Service Industries Inc. for $54,639. USSI was not the lowest bidder. But Homestead’s Procurement and Contract Services Division said it was unable to confirm references for the lowest bidder, Miami Janitorial Supplies Inc., which had offered a price of $47,000.
• A one-year lease extension for Homestead Main Street, a nonprofit that works toward the economic and cultural revitalization of Homestead’s downtown. The organization’s offices are based at a city-owned building, 43 N. Krome Ave., which the nonprofit leases from he city at $1 per year.
• A $200,000 settlement of a Homestead police officer’s worker’s compensation claim. The officer, Alfred McClendon, was injured on the job in 2004.
• A $30,000 settlement of a personal injury claim stemming from a 2012 car crash where a Homestead police officer rear-ended a couple driving in front of him. The couple filed a lawsuit against the city seeking damages. The settlement does not mean that city officials believe the city of Homestead was responsible for the accident, according to city documents.