HOMESTEAD – Homestead city council members on Thursday voted 5 to 1 to reject a $265,000 severance offer from fired City Manager Mohammad Aref “Mike’’ Shehadeh, and to move forward with the termination process.
Councilman Jimmie L. Williams III, a strong Shehadeh critic, missed the meeting for medical reasons.
“The evidence strongly, strongly supports conduct unbecoming a city manager,” Mayor Steve Bateman said of Shehadeh, who was terminated on Feb. 3. “I truly believe he is entitled to zero, zero.”
The remarks came during a special meeting the council called after a private investigator hired by the city provided new details about Shehadeh’s activities on his city-issued Blackberry, computer and email accounts.
The new information detailed hundreds of visits to dating websites from Shehadeh’s city computer, emails documenting his work on the re-election campaign of defeated former Mayor Lynda Bell, and Shehadeh’s efforts to help his brother’s engineering firm get contracts with other agencies, all on city time.
Only Councilwoman Wendy Lobos voiced support for Shehadeh, and voted against the termination.
“I think the city has crossed the line,” Lobos said of the public meeting, where the emails and text messages were openly discussed.
Lobos provided examples of other employees who were fired, but whose cases were heard in private, executive sessions. She then cited a specific case – without naming the person involved – that was settled in private.
Vice Mayor Judy Waldman said, and the city attorney confirmed, that the case Lobos cited was conducted in private because of its pending litigation status.
Based on the new evidence presented at Thursday’s meeting, council members also recommended lowering their original $100,000 offer, one they had previously made to Shehadeh, and directed the city attorney to “wrap up” any settlement discussions.
“I believe the offer we made was too high,” Councilman Stephen Shelley said.
Per his contract, Shehadeh now has the right to a public hearing on his termination.
According to City Attorney Richard Weiss, Shehadeh has requested that hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 17.
The evidence against Shehadeh includes, among other items, records of a series of passionate text messages between himself and former Deputy City Manager Johanna Faddis, in which Shehadeh professed his love for Faddis, who is married.
“I have a problem! I can not [sic] entertain another woman in my mind besides you,” Shehadeh wrote in a Sept. 22, 2009 text to Faddis, one of hundreds that he sent to her. “I’m deeply in love with you girl. I’m getting deeper and deeper into it!”
Prior to Thursday’s meeting, a South Florida Times investigation uncovered logs that appear to show also that Shehadeh spent time on his city computer on websites such as Goddessqetesh.com, a dominatrix site, which the private investigator later detailed during Thursday’s meeting.
“This is a pornographic site in my eyes,” Vice Mayor Judy Waldman said in a previous interview with the South Florida Times.
Some council members said the newly discovered material supports their Feb. 3 decision to fire Shehadeh, and bolsters the city’s case against him.
The new information came to light on Friday, Feb. 5, just two days after council members voted 6 to 1 on Feb. 3 to fire Shehadeh from his $179,431-a-year job. Commissioners at that time left open the possibility of a $100,000 settlement, if an agreement was reached on a severance package.
“I just don’t think he deserves any payments,” Waldman said earlier this week. “There is more than enough evidence to fire him and not pay him anything. He should not have done this on city time.”
In an interview earlier this week, Williams agreed.
“The evidence speaks for itself and at this point I am not in favor of giving him a dime of taxpayers’ money,” Williams said.
Shehadeh could not be reached for comment, and did not attend Thursday’s meeting. But his attorney said he only became aware of the new issues on Tuesday, two days before the meeting.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to speak with my client, Mr. Shehadeh, and our private investigator is still gathering information, so I don’t have a comment on it at this time,” Shehadeh’s attorney, Alfonso J. Perez, Jr. said on Tuesday afternoon.
“But I would love to see what new evidence they supposedly have,’’ Perez said. “First of all, let me tell you this. They don’t have the Blackberry, or the laptop, because they are both sitting right here on my desk. Now they may have gotten information from a bill or some other source, but it didn’t come from his Blackberry or laptop.”
Perez continued: “Second of all, I don’t know about any websites and certainly don’t have any information about any relationship with Mrs. Faddis. I met her, and she is a very nice person.”
Perez also said on Tuesday he has not received any of those records, which include thousands of emails, text messages and call logs from more than a dozen employees and elected officials. He said he has been told they were “published around city hall.”
“If this has happened, it is not fair to all of those people, and a gross invasion of privacy,” he said.
Perez could not be reached after Thursday’s meeting for comment on the council’s most recent actions.
While some of the text messages exchanged between Shehadeh and Faddis detail what appears to be a romance between the two, other messages detail arguments they had. Still others contain more detailed plans for lunch.
“I can never imagine that I will ever love anyone like I love you. I was looking at you when you left and felt so much nostalgia,” Shehadeh stated in a text message from his city-issued Blackberry to Faddis on Sept. 9, 2009. “Te quaro (sic) mucho mi Corazon [I love you a lot, my dear.]”
Shehadeh did not attend the Feb. 3 meeting, and did not turn in any city materials that night, after council members voted to terminate his contract, which runs through December 2011.
Since then, Homestead police have been unsuccessful in their attempts to meet with Shehadeh at his home to recover his city-issued Blackberry and laptop computer.
The emails and text messages city officials have obtained were not taken directly from Shehadeh’s Blackberry or laptop devices, but were captured with a software program the city uses to log all incoming and outgoing calls from Blackberries and other smart phones.
The program also stores emails and text messages that are sent or received by all users of the devices, including those of elected officials.
Faddis could not be reached for comment.
Her attorney, Neal Flaxman of Miami, did not respond to messages at his office or emails seeking comment.
At the Feb. 3 meeting, Councilman Jon Burgess expressed a desire not to settle or pay Shehadeh a severance, and also made a motion at Thursday’s meeting to withdraw any offers and proceed with the termination.
Shehadeh was on the job for more than 15 years, working his way up to deputy city manager, and eventually to city manager in 2008.
He was officially terminated due to conduct unbecoming a city manager, but the specific allegations are much broader.
A review that the city contracted to Franklin Investigations, Inc. of North Miami Beach determined that Shehadeh engaged in political activities for some council members, was rude to residents, and may have violated city policies.
Five of the seven incumbent council members were up for reelection in 2009, four of whom were Shehadeh supporters. After the Nov. 3 election, the four council members who were up for re-election and supported Shehadeh were defeated.
Shehadeh and Faddis were both placed on administrative leave with pay after the new council members were sworn in to their offices.
Faddis was fired in December, but Shehadeh’s contract did not allow for his termination until 90 days after the election, which set up the Feb. 3 termination meeting.
“This has gone on too long, and it’s time for us to move on, because the taxpayers deserve it,” Williams said. “This can only get worse, not better, because there are over 8,000 texts we have to go through, and who knows what we will find?”
The South Florida Times review also found some records of communication between council members.
There are also instances of certain employees using racial slurs, and more.
“We have to get this information before the residents,” Williams said earlier this week. “No matter where it goes, because they have every right to know.”
Pictured above is former City Manager Mike Shehadeh.