Woman fights neighboring town over records on construction of immigration detention center
Eds: This story is part of the Florida Society of News Editors' Sunshine Sunday package and is available for publication Sunday, March 15, and thereafter. AP Photo upcoming.; FOR RELEASE SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2015, AT 12:01 A.M. EDT.
By GLENN MARSTON
Ryann Greenberg pushes for access to public records and governmental meetings in the town of Southwest Ranches.
The access provides information about a town plan to approve a 1,500-bed immigration-detention center, she says. The property is just up the road from her house and those of many others.
Southwest Ranches is seven miles southwest of Fort Lauderdale. Greenberg, 37, is an IT sales manager who lives in neighboring Pembroke Pines. She is a candidate for the Pembroke Pines City Commission.
Southwest Ranches is working with landowner and prison operator Corrections Corp. of America to build the detention center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
To learn more, Greenberg requested town emails. The town said it would provide the emails, only after redacting — blacking out — certain information and payment of $1,000 for the work. A community-donation effort raised the $1,000.
Then, Greenberg says, "I got word that the town had hired a lobbyist."
She asked the town for lobbying records. "All I got was a contract, essentially, for lobbying services," she says. "They charged it through the town attorney's law firm, and the law firm paid the lobbyist."
She had to comb point-by-point through the town attorney's bill to document the lobbying costs.
For a town meeting on the detention center, she says, members of the public were grilled one-by-one before being allowed into a town meeting.
Those hoping to enter the meeting each had to write on a card "their name, address and phone number; put whether they were for or against or neutral on the prison; and turn them in before they were granted access."
Because of the expense to individuals seeking to enforce Florida's open-government laws, Greenberg says, the state should help them by creating a pro bono procedure "just like the public defender."