Reporting Jim DeFede
South Florida Crime
HOMESTEAD (CBS4) - As the Mayor of Homestead, Steve Bateman has been relentless pushing county officials to approve permits for a new sewage pump station in South Dade. He spent hours at County Hall cajoling staff, he berated reluctant bureaucrats in emails, and he even pitched the project during a rare, hour-long February meeting with County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Bateman made it clear he considered the pump station to be one of his highest priorities as the elected leader of Homestead, noting it would open the way for several new developments in his city, including a new children’s crisis center for Community Health of South Florida Inc (CHI).
Emails obtained by CBS4 News show how Bateman kept Community Health posted on every development. “I am at Dade County waiting for final review on city lift station will be here until five I think it’s important for final work permits. I will update you tonight,” Bateman wrote in a February 19 email to Community Health’s CEO Colonel Brodes Hartley Jr.
A few hours later he sent Hartley another note: “Just leaving things went well maybe one week for completion.”
Of course, what Mayor Bateman didn’t tell anyone at County Hall, is that while he was pushing the county for the new pump station – he was also on the payroll of Community Health.
In February – just before Bateman met with the county mayor – Community Health gave Bateman a one year contract as a consultant paying him $125 an hour for his services.
“We have a contract with Steve Bateman,” Hartley told CBS4’s Jim DeFede.
Gimenez was out of the country on vacation and could not be reached for comment about the meeting. Miami Dade Deputy Mayor Jack Osterholt, who attended the February 21 meeting between Bateman and Gimenez, said Bateman never disclosed that he was working for Community Health.
“If he had let us know he was working for that company, we would have required him to register as a lobbyist before we’d even let him in the building,” Osterholt said. “And he wouldn’t have gotten a meeting with the Mayor. We probably would have had him just meet with staff.”
And therein lies the problem for Bateman.
Was he in the meeting with Mayor Gimenez as the Mayor of Homestead or as the “consultant” for Community Health?
Did Community Health hire him because as the Homestead mayor he could push projects like the pump station that would directly benefit Community Health? And once hired by Community Health, should Mayor Bateman have recused himself from all decisions and discussions concerning the pump station because of the possible conflict of interest?
The Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office and the county’s Ethics Commission are examining Bateman’s actions. “We have been subpoenaing records and interviewing witnesses for the past several months,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told the Miami Herald. Rundle declined to specifically discuss the allegations concerning Community Health.
Bateman only earns $6,000 a year as the mayor of Homestead. And he is allowed to have outside employment. Nevertheless, prosecutors will try to determine if the nature of this work violates statutes governing official misconduct and unlawful compensation.
One key issue: What were the circumstances behind Hartley’s decision to hire Bateman? In an interview with CBS4 News, Hartley was vague about whose idea it was to hire Bateman.
When asked if it was his idea to hire Bateman, Hartley told CBS4 News: “I didn’t bring it up.”
So does that mean it was Bateman who approached Community Health about the job? Once again Hartley seemed reluctant to answer. Eventually he said: “I didn’t initiate the discussion with him.”
Hartley then said Bateman’s name “came up” with his staff. He said he wasn’t sure how Bateman’s name came up.
Asked why he believed Bateman was a good person to hire, Hartley said: “He has a construction background.”
Bateman has worked construction in South Dade for at least 20 years. But he does not have a state contractor’s license and his license in Miami Dade County is limited to awnings, shutters, and screen enclosures.
CBS4 News contacted several construction industry experts and without identifying Bateman – described the duties Bateman was charging to Community Health. The experts said the role Bateman appeared to play was that of “owner’s representative” and that $125 an hour was on the high end of the spectrum – but still within industry standards. They also said while it is not a requirement for an owner’s representative to be a general contractor, given the hourly rate being charged, they would expect the person to have such a license or experience.
CBS4 News asked Hartley if he was concerned about a possible conflict of interest or the appearance of something improper in hiring the mayor. Hartley said he trusted Bateman would do whatever was required to avoid any possible conflict. He said it was Bateman’s responsibility to handle those issues.
A review of records at Homestead City Hall shows Bateman has never disclosed his new job with Community Health, a non profit that operates healthcare clinics in South Dade and Monroe County.
In addition to the pump station, Bateman has helped Community Health in other ways. Last year, at the company’s urging, he signed a letter of support to the federal government to help get Community Health grant money. He has also promoted their events through his city email account.
The contract with Community Health is potentially very lucrative for Bateman. Hartley estimated Bateman would work on average 20 hours a week for Community Health. That would add up to $2,500 a week or $130,000 a year.
But it could be more.
CBS4 News reviewed invoices reportedly submitted by Bateman to Community Health for the week of April 21 through April 28. In those invoices Bateman billed Community Health for a total of 38 hours of work on six different projects, including ten hours alone on the proposed Children’s Crisis Center in Homestead. The total for the invoices came to $4,750. At that rate, Bateman stood to be paid $247,000 for the year.
Community Health isn’t the only project in Homestead tied to the pump station. Nor is it the only project with financial links to Bateman and his wife, Donna, a real estate agent in Homestead.
Dade Medical College is hoping to break ground in downtown Homestead on several new facilities. The head of Dade Medical College, Ernesto Perez, is a close ally of Bateman and one of his campaign contributors. Perez recently told the Miami Herald he hired Donna Bateman as a real estate advisor.
A third project, involving a charter school, is also hoping for the pump station. If the pump station is approved it will save the developer the cost of having to find an alternative way to deal with its sewage. The deal is being spearheaded by developer Wayne Rosen, who told CBS4 News that the real estate agents he selected to gain the commission on the land sale was Donna Bateman.
Both Steve Bateman and Donna Bateman declined our requests for an interview.
In its last city council meeting, the council decided to pull the funding for the pump station. At the time of the vote, Bateman had walked off the dais.