Broward News

PolitiFact Rates Pembroke Pines Mayor's Claim of Hands Being Tied on ICE Jail "Mostly False"

We've just discovered the austere yet intriguing Twitter account of Southwest Ranches Town Attorney Keith Poliakoff -- perhaps the perfect 140-character medium for the man who stated, "the less we say, the better off we will be."

His feed did alert us to a recent examination by PolitiFact Florida of some strong words from Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis at last Saturday's raucus town-hall meeting about the planned ICE facility next door in Southwest Ranches.

Ortis, addressing an angry crowd at the event, brought them wildly to his favor by saying that Pembroke Pines didn't "have a vote on" the jail and that "this is what happens when you don't go to the people first."

Ortis' comments got a standing, screaming ovation from the residents in the room who were critical of Southwest Ranches' silence on the issue. But at the Southwest Ranches Town Council meeting the following Monday, council members were critical of Ortis' remarks, as well as similar comments by Pines Commissioner Iris Siple.

Council Member Doug McKay noted that there's a mayoral and commission election in Pines at the end of January, implying that Ortis and Siple were simply playing politics.

PolitiFact looked at Ortis' claim that his city hadn't had any say on the jail coming to the area and rated it "mostly false," listing the following opportunities that Pines commissioners had to discuss it:

• September 21, 2005: The commission, along with Ortis, voted unanimously to notify Broward County that it objected to the 1,500-bed jail. But at the time, the town and city were embroiled in some unrelated spats about road lights and barricades the town had set up blocking drivers from Pines from traveling on certain Ranches roads. Pines' objection to the prison appeared to be more of a bargaining chip, because a few months later the city agreed to not fight the prison and the two municipalities reached an agreement on the roads.

• December 21, 2005: The commission, along with Ortis, unanimously approved an agreement with Ranches that included language that stated, "The CITY shall not interfere with Corrections Corporation of America, or its successors or assigns, development and/or operation of the jail facility, or with the TOWN'S Agreement with Corrections Corporation of America concerning development of same."

• June 27, 2011: The commission, along with Ortis, approved an agreement with the town to provide emergency medical and fire protection in exchange for $2.5 million annually starting Oct. 1. The agreement includes a section that states that "CITY acknowledges that it has sufficient capacity to deliver emergency medical protection and fire prevention services to the TOWN's future 2,500 bed penal institution/deportation facility, located on property currently owned by the Corrections Corporation of America...." The agreement also states that it has capacity to provide water and sewer. The vote, which included Ortis, was unanimous.

• August 17, 2011: Commission, along with Ortis, unanimously approved a motion to begin providing fire service one month earlier than planned: Sept. 1, 2011. (The minutes were not available but city clerk Judy Neugent provided us with a draft copy.)

Still, the analysis concludes, "There is a kernel of a fact here: it was Southwest Ranches -- not Pembroke Pines -- that penned the deal with the prison operator, and Pines didn't get an up or down vote on whether the facility should be built. But it's not as if Pines has been in the dark here."

Regardless, the next Pembroke Pines commission meeting, on Tuesday, November 16, is sure to be a raucous one as well as Siple introduces a motion to cancel the city's agreement to provide water and sewer services to the jail site. Opponents of the facility are encouraging people to attend that meeting. We're hoping to catch up with Ortis and Siple to get their side of the story firsthand.

Stefan Kamph is a New Times staff writer.
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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph