Prisonville, Florida: Low Taxes and Big Yards, All for the Price of a Box Full of Immigrants | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Prisonville, Florida: Low Taxes and Big Yards, All for the Price of a Box Full of Immigrants

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BSO Fire Marshal Charles Raiken offered a gruff response to a proposal to expand the facility's capacity from 1,500 detainees to 2,200 (CCA later backed away from this number). "The town has not provided this office any notice or opportunity to officially review this development," wrote Raiken on January 3.

Raiken concluded that "the proposed expansion... exceeds the capabilities of the existing and projected contractual fire rescue resources available within the jurisdiction of the Town of Southwest Ranches."

Around this time, the contract negotiations with BSO started to break down. Finally, in June 2011, the town signed with Pembroke Pines for fire service. The rate was cheaper, and Pines officials agreed to service the future prison site. Conveniently, the city has a fire station less than half a mile away.

As part of the contract, Pines also agreed to provide water and sewer services to the site, which city officials predicted would bring in nearly a million dollars a year. The deal was approved unanimously by the Pembroke Pines City Commission.

Winning over the residents of Pembroke Pines would be a totally different matter.

Mike Machak, public affairs manager for CCA, stood at the door of the public library in Pembroke Pines on November 5, looking at the line of opponents gathered on the cool Saturday morning. A few held signs, many wore stickers, but the crowd was quietly waiting for admission to the building. "I expected... more," Machak said.

The meeting was organized by Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, who had recently criticized the Southwest Ranches Town Council for providing "a paucity of information" about the detention center plans. The audience was mostly Pembroke Pines residents — some of whom live closer to the CCA site than anybody in Southwest Ranches — demanding to know why they hadn't been consulted while schools and homes were built near the site.

Wasserman Schultz recruited friend Bob Butterworth, an elder statesman of Florida politics, to moderate a question-and-answer session. The questions were to be read from cards filled out by audience members. Only three people, out of the dozens in attendance, indicated that they supported the prison.

Much of the audience had been recruited by Di Scipio's anti-detention-center group, which had publicized the event on Facebook and the web and put up signs. What Wasserman Schultz had intended as an opportunity to spread information, the activists had seized on as a rare chance to speak candidly to ICE and CCA honchos.

The meeting devolved into a circus. Residents asked Mayberry, the CCA vice president, about a recent news report that the company had been avoiding property taxes by renting cows to graze on the property. "We have done everything we are allowed to do and take advantage of exemptions as any business would," she said.

Whenever residents complained that they hadn't been made aware of plans to build the detention facility, Mayor Nelson countered that the process had been thoroughly vetted and rattled off a history of the decades-old deal.

In response, a woman stood up and read the email from Poliakoff that Di Scipio had discovered, in which the town attorney had said, "the less we say the better off we will be." If Poliakoff hadn't meant to sound conspiratorial, his words were certainly interpreted that way by the jeering crowd. He did not speak at the meeting.

Things took a turn when Frank Ortis, mayor of Pembroke Pines, took the podium. "The longer I sit in this meeting, the angrier I'm getting," he said. But he wasn't angry at the raucous crowd, which was booing him. "I've told you this is a Southwest Ranches issue," he said. "We don't have a vote in it... This is what happens when you don't go to the people first."

Before he could finish that last sentence, the booing had changed to thunderous applause.

PolitiFact Florida later rated his claim that Pembroke Pines "didn't have a vote in it" as "mostly false," citing four separate occasions when his city's commission voted to support or not interfere with development of the detention center.

Pembroke Pines Vice Mayor Iris Siple was next to take the stage. She said that part of the firefighting agreement — the part that said her city would provide water and sewer to the facility — had been added by Southwest Ranches without notice at the last minute and that she hadn't seen it before voting.

"I just sent a text to our city clerk," she said, "asking to add an item to the agenda for our next meeting, where I will ask my fellow commissioners to consider using the agreement's... termination clause." She was threatening, maybe promising, to withdraw the city's pledged support for services to the facility. More wild applause.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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