Pembroke Pines commission refuses to pay hefty fine from health department

City fined nearly $48,000 for violation, misleading letter about drinking water

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – Pembroke Pines commissioners are rejecting a hefty fine levied by the county health department over what's in the city's drinking water.

"They should pay it," Pembroke Pines resident Melissa Sherman said. "They should own up. 'We messed up, we misled our residents and we should pay the fine and fix the problem.'"

Sherman said she moved to Pembroke Pines with her family in March, but didn't get a notice about water contaminant violations until May.

The mandatory notice went out in February, but the city followed up with its own letter, telling residents not to worry about the first notice and saying that the water was always safe.

"It's an awfully scary mixed message, leading us to believe that it's OK when it's not," Sherman said. 

Now the city commission is rejecting a fine issued by the Department of Health for nearly $48,000 for the violation and misleading letter. They claim that the city did nothing wrong.

"Bottom line, they say there was a violation, it existed and the city sent them something saying there was no violation, and they feel like they were lied to a little bit," Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis said. "The letter was a little misleading -- I will agree to that. However, the letter was sent out to try to calm their fears."

Ortis said the city does not deserve the hefty fine.

Vice Mayor Angelo Castillo also defended the letter during Wednesday's commission meeting,

In an email to city officials May 25, Castillo wrote about the health department: "Tell them they need a tent to put over the circus they run over there...when they fine me for saying this, tell them I'm on a boat rowing back to Havana."

After several requests for an interview about the email, Castillo told Local 10 News reporter Amy Viteri via text that his comment speaks for itself.

"Well, I find that very offensive, talking about a circus in pertaining that's a joke about our water. That's not OK," Sherman said. 

The city is now waiting on a response from the health department and the issue could end up in an administrative hearing, in which a judge could decide just how much the city owes in fines.

Sources with the city of Pembroke Pines told Local 10 News that they expect the next water test results later this summer will officially place the system back in compliance with health department standards. 

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