Broward News

Pembroke Pines Commission Cancels Fire/EMS/Water Contract, Creating Roadblock for ICE Jail

Planners and lawyers at the Corrections Corporation of America are going to show up for work this morning with a significant task ahead of them: figuring out how to provide water, sewer, and emergency services to the ICE detention facility they want to build in Southwest Ranches. They were counting on Pembroke Pines, which last year signed a pretty hefty contract to provide those services -- including a clause to provide more than a million bucks' worth of water, which one commissioner said she didn't know she had voted on.

Pines commissioners moved 3-2 last night to cancel that contract, and they also voted to find some way for the 14 firefighters hired to fulfill it to keep their jobs.

As a result, there was an interesting sight in the chambers: smiles on the faces of the usually angry anti-CCA activists. This was a big night, because the Pines contract was, if not vital, very important to the construction of the facility. This may be the most tangible achievement of the opposition movement so far, and judging from commissioners' acknowledgments, they really did have a lot to do with it.

Recently, CCA has been sending out mailers that threatened a huge loss of service-fee revenues if the contract were canceled. Commissioner Angelo Castillo acknowledged that but said that residents had made a decision: "They would rather us deal with that financial challenge than face the other issue" of a prison in their backyards, he said.

Jay Schwartz, a new commission member recently voted in with the help of anti-CCA folks, also acknowledged that fire fees in the city would increase as a result of the additional hires. "The reason your fee is up is we did whatever we could to make sure you don't have Prisontown, USA, in your backyard," he said.

Um, Mr. Schwartz, we believe that's Prisonville, Fla.

CCA has claimed in the past that it'll drill its own wells and use a little American elbow grease to work out its own infrastructure services, should it lack a deal with Pines. But one resident last night noted that if this issue weren't important for CCA, "they wouldn't have invested so much money in fliers and robocalls."

Southwest Ranches Town Attorney Keith Poliakoff, who's currently waiting for the feds to send a contract to the town for the ICE facility, sent a letter to the Pines commission before the meeting gave the Pines attorney a letter after the vote asking the city to waive the usual dispute-resolution process so that the decision to cancel could be filed sooner. We're not sure about the legal maneuvering here, but it's likely an attempt to get all the cards on the table so Southwest Ranches can work out its own response without having to deal with mediation, which might force it to agree with Pembroke Pines commissioners on something. 

Hell, the cities have been closing off each other's roads out of spite for years now. Mayor Frank Ortis responded to Poliakoff's request with a "Hell, no."

Anti-prison organizer Bill Di Scipio thanked Vice Mayor Iris Siple for moving to cancel the contract. A commissioner -- we think it was Schwartz -- Castillo then said to him, "Bill, can I give you a prediction? You're going to be spending a lot of time in Davie," implying that CCA might start courting that city for services. Later Schwartz and Di Scipio shared a heartfelt "thank you" moment that threatened to end in bear hugs.

But it's not over until the fat lady sings, as they say... and in this case, the fat lady is the country's largest private prison company, and the song it sings will be full of legalese. Onward!

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph