Saturday, July 09, 2016
Court Upholds Secretive Decisionmaking on Hendry County Monkey Farm
Apparently there's no Neighborhood Bill of Rights in Hendry County, yet. Gleeful response of county administrators, invoking property rights, sounds gauche and louche.
Hendry County didn't break the Sunshine Law by permitting two huge monkey farms without letting the public know, Circuit Judge James Sloan ruled Friday.
Neighbors of one of the farms on the Lee County border brought suit against the county, alleging that because it never held hearings or told them about a primate facility being built in their neighborhood, the county violated Florida's Sunshine Law.
Hendry County argued that approving the farm, which was no different than a cattle ranch, was a routine matter that fell to county staff, and it had no obligation to tell the public.
"(We are) delighted with the judge’s ruling that we did not violate the Sunshine Law," said county spokeswoman Electa Waddell in a statement. "Hendry County continues to stand by the rights provided to our property owners contained within the language of our comprehensive plan and land development code."
The three plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from the nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund, say they had no idea their rural neighborhood would soon house thousands of macaque monkeys.
The county maintained that as long as land is zoned for agriculture, any species could be allowed.
“We are pleased with Judge Sloan’s ruling upholding our constant assertions that Hendry County did not violate Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law. Our legal team is to be commended, especially County Attorney Mark Lapp,” said Charles Chapman, county administrator, in the statement.
The nonprofit plans to appeal, said staff attorney Chris Berry.
"Obviously, we’re disappointed with the court’s ruling, given the evidence we produced at trial....For many reasons, these large biomedical facilities are very controversial, and people ought to know about them before they’re approved and have some voice in the decision-making process. It's extremely troubling that Hendry County didn’t think its residents were entitled to a voice."