HOMESTEAD – A day after he was elected, Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman began taking steps to clean house at city hall.
City Manager Mike Shehadeh and his deputy have been placed on administrative leave with pay, and appear to be en route to losing their jobs.
The city’s spokesperson and at least one other department head also have been fired. More pink slips are said to be on the way.
Bateman, who was elected on Nov. 3, held a meeting Nov. 4 with Shehadeh and City Attorney Richard Weiss to initiate the termination process against Shehadeh.
“As a follow up to our discussion a few minutes ago in which you, City Attorney Richard Weiss and myself were present, in which you asked that myself and Johanna Faddis, Deputy City Manager go on Administrative Leave with pay until November 17th, 2009, effective immediately,” Shehadeh wrote to Bateman in a Nov. 4 internal memorandum. “As such in my absence, [Police Department] Captain Randy Chong will be designated as the acting City Manager.”
Bateman did not return calls to the South Florida Times. Shehadeh also did not return calls or respond to messages left on his home and cell phones.
Faddis did not respond to messages left on her cell phone, and hung up the phone when contacted at her home.
Bateman would need a vote from a majority of council members to terminate high-level city employees. Already, at least two of the seven council members appear to support him in the firings.
“I think what we have to do is to restore integrity in city hall,” said newly elected Council Member the Rev. Jimmie L. Williams, III, supporting Bateman’s request. “We have all sorts of complaints from citizens, and most of them appear to be related to performance, and how people have been treated in city hall.”
Vice Mayor Judy Waldman, who was re-elected on Nov. 3, agreed.
“I certainly have never hidden any of my thoughts or concerns about Mike Shehadeh’s performance and how he ran things,’’ said Waldman, who frequently clashed with Shehadeh on the dais. “He is on administrative leave, and that was a decision that was made without my knowledge, but I certainly support it. A city manager should not play politics, and he certainly has.”
Sources say Shehadeh and Faddis face termination or, at the very least, demotions to lower, non-management positions. The actual decision will be based on what, if any costs, the city will incur as a result of firing them, according to sources.
The city’s attorneys are examining the issue, and will report back to council members on exactly how to proceed by next week.
As part of the house cleaning, Lillian Delgado, who headed the city’s Public Information Office and served as the city’s spokesperson, was fired on Nov. 4.
The city’s Development Services Director, Shari Kamali, whose department oversees planning and zoning, building inspections, construction permitting and more, was also fired.
Other department heads and managers are under review, and more firings are expected in the coming days.
As of press time, the city’s Human Resources Department had not released the annual salaries or benefit packages of Shehadeh, Faddis, Delgado or Kamali.
Nevertheless, the personnel actions come in the wake of widespread citizen discontent with city hall operations.
On election day, five of the seven council members were up for reelection. Voters gathered at city hall to monitor the election returns. Hours before the final tallies were even in, it was clear the night would be devastating for the incumbents.
Only Waldman, a frequent critic of Shehadeh and his administration, was reelected.
Once the political dust had settled, Mayor Lynda Bell and council members Melvin McCormick, Nazy Sierra and Tim Nelson – who were viewed as allies – fell to crushing defeats. All of them were open supporters of Shehadeh, and rumors of the manager’s demise began circulating at that time.
When running as candidates, the new council members heard complaints from residents about Shehadeh and other senior managers who were getting pay raises at a time when other workers were being laid off.
Homestead has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state, had to cut $10.9 million from its budget, and had to lay off workers. The city also raised taxes by 17.8 percent, which infuriated business leaders and residents alike.
There are also concerns about mismanagement in several departments, and the construction of a new city hall at a time when the city’s tax base shrunk by more than 25 percent last year, a higher rate than any other city in Miami-Dade County.
“There is just so much that has gone on here for the past several years, that needs to be cleaned up, and I think when people find out about it, they will be shocked, but happy it’s finally being taken care of,” Waldman said.
Photo: City Manager Mike Shehadeh