City Council Votes To Give More Access & Transparency to Individuals With Disability; Support Full-Time ADA Coordinator

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FRAMINGHAM – Seeking equal access for all residents and wanting the City of Framingham to be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) Act, the 11-member Framingham City Council took several actions on Tuesday night, to support individuals with disabilities.

The City Council at the start of its 4-hour meeting unanimously approved a proclamation by District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon to mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We really, really appreciate this acknowledgment,” said Framingham Disability Commission Vice Chair Karen Foran Dempsey, on the Council supporting the 30th anniversary proclamation. “We look forward to working with everyone to make Framingham more accessible, so people with disabilities can fully participate.”

At the end of the meeting, the Council voted 9-1-1, to reject all of Mayor Yvonne Spicer’s nominees to the Framingham Disability Commission. Voting against the motion was District 2 City Councilor Cesar Stewart-Morales. Abstaining was District 7 City Councilor Margareth Shepard, who has a disability. She wears a hearing aid.

Mayor Spicer had chosen last month to not re-appoint one of the co-founders of the Commission, which had sparked outrage by many in the community.

In between, the City Council approved two motions by Councilors Cannon, that would provide more transparency on accessibility and disability compliance issues, including the need for a full-time Americans With Disabilities (ADA) Coordinator. Current, the City’s Chief Operating Officer Thatcher Kezer III is the City’s ADA coordinator.

But before the motions were approved, there was a discussion of whether Cannon’s motions were “burdensome” to the Spicer Administration.

The first motion formalized multiple previous requests made to the Mayor and City’s Chief Operating Officer to provide the Council on updates on accessibility and compliance issues.

Cannon’s motion requested the Spicer Administration to provide an “update on their efforts with ADA compliance; particularly any outstanding comments, complaints, or grievances relating to accessibility, and other progress with ADA compliance; on a date to be scheduled within 60 days at the discretion of the Chair.

District 8 Councilor John Stefanini amended that motion to include a report on the “addition of a full-time ADA Coordinator, as suggested by the Charter.”

The first motion passed unanimously, 10-0. Council Chair King was not present at the start of the meeting, as a tree had fallen on his house during the Tropical Storm that night.

Councilor’s Cannon’s second motion related to the “transparency of comments/complaints/grievances relating to accessibility.”

“My hope is that the more Councilors and the public see the details of these challenges, the more urgently we will collaborate as a community on solutions to overcome them,” said Councilor Cannon.

The motion specifically required the Spicer Administration “to forward to the City Council and make available to the public all comments, complaints, and grievances related to accessibility within five days of receipt; and also the responses to such within 15 days of receipt of the original comment, complaint, or grievance.”

“These are processes already required,” said Cannon. “It provides a little more sunshine and transparency,” he told his fellow Councilors Tuesday night. “the law provided for 15 days before a response is required to be sent.”

“I don’t know much about this process,” said District 2 Councilor Stewart-Morales. “Do complaints that get made get sent to the Disability Commission? Is there already a public body that is receiving these complaints?”

“There is a transition plan, that was last updated in 2005,” said Councilor Cannon. “Legally, they go to the ADA coordinator, which is currently Mr. Kezer. There have been some inconsistencies …. my goal here is … by making these complaints, comments, and grievances public, their urgency will be perhaps more pronounced.”

“Could Mr. Kezer comment to whether this request would be burdensome?” asked Councilor Stewart-Morales.

“There is a process,” said Kezer.”the real enforcement agency is the Disability Commission at the state level. they are the ones with the teeth. We take in the complaints. We evaluate them. Try to address them, and respond to them.”

Kezer questioned the realm of the motion of the legislative body giving directives to the executive branch of the city government, but Cannon said all he was requesting by the motion was to make the complaints public and to send to the City Council ( to view) within 5 days of receipt.

“We are having to make any documents public,” said the City’s COO, “in the normal course of business.”

“We can debate the notice requirements, but for a co-equal branch of government to ask for simple notification is not directing staff … we are just asking to be in the loop,” said Councilor Stefanini.

In regards to compliance with disabilities “we treat it differently than we do all of the other protected classes of people,” said Stefanini. “Imagine for a moment if we were having this conversation about gender, or sex, or sexual orientation, or someone’s race, we would be absolutely outraged, and repugnant at such a push back (from the administration). But because it is a disability somehow it is different.”

“This is about equality and opportunity,” said Councilor Stefanini. “Our community has not done a good job in this area.”

“We are talking about people’s civil rights,” said the District 8 Councilor.

Councilor Leombruno, who is the sister of Dempsey, said she has watched the challenges her sister has faced since she was 2 years old.

“Everything has been a fight,” said Leombruno, who told a story of how her sister fell down a flight of stairs when she attended Cameron middle school, as they didn’t want to give her the elevator key, as it would inconvenience the custodian’s doing their job.

“I have seen my sister struggle every step of the way,” said Leombruno, an at-large Councilor, who said fighting for those with disabilities is the one issue she takes to heart.

Stewart-Morales said since he was unfamiliar with the issues related to the Disability community and this was the first time he was hearing about this from Councilor Cannon, had a lot of questions and concerns.

“The word in a question about this simple request was burdensome,” said Councilor Cannon. “Would it be burdensome for the administration to simply keep the City Council and the public in the loop, on complaints, comments, and grievances? … This is not last-minute. Think about that burdensome. … and an elected member of the public asked would it be burdensome? This is a simple request. It is overdue.”

“The word was burdensome, and for any other minority group, let’s just take that word out. It’s how people with disabilities, those who especially grow up with a disability, have been made to be (felt) their entire life as a burden,” said Dempsey, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a child, and uses a motorized scooter to get around. “Words mean things.”

“With all due respect, Mr. Stewart-Morales, I don’t think that was the intention but we are have to work together, bottom line. Disability goes across all genders, all races, all minority groups, I’ve said that from the second I started, until the second I die. And the word was burdensome, and I know you meant that towards our ADA Coordinator, I know he is extremely busy, but therein lies the reasoning for a full-time ADA coordinator,” said Dempsey.

“We need a full time ADA coordinator, so that every group is represented,” said Dempsey, who is the District 2 School Committee member and the Vice Chair of the Framingham Disability Commission.

The second motion passed unanimously, as well.

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