By Luke Canavan
FRAMINGHAM – Mayor Yvonne Spicer attended the virtual City Council meeting last Tuesday to give a presentation on Framingham’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Mayor Spicer’s presentation gave a brief history of the ADA and how it was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and influenced by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Spicer then went on to discuss the intersectionality between different types of discrimination (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) and how discrimination by disability overlaps with these other forms.
Spicer also gave an overview of ADA projects the Town/City had developed since 2010, including renovation at Loring Arena, Bowditch Field, and Village Hall.
The presentation also provided a detailed list of more recent projects that had been developed, since Framingham became a City with a Mayor-Council form of government in 2018, most of which were Public Works and street improvements.
The City’s Chief Operating Officer Thatcher Kezer III is the City’s ADA Compliance Officer.
Although the 11-member City Council was happy Mayor Spicer was present at the meeting to participate in discussion, they were aggravated it had taken so long to get her there.
“The Council voted on this in July or August of 2020 in concert with the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and informal requests to get an update from your administration on progress with ADA compliance and accessibility were basically ignored up until that point,” said District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon to Mayor Spicer.
This vote gave the ADA Coordinator 60 days to schedule a meeting with the City Council and update them on ADA compliance progress. 60 days came and went and the ADA Coordinator failed to meet the deadline.
The Council then exercised a right in the charter that warranted Mayor Spicer herself to appear back in October 2020, and still they were met with silence.
The Councilors appreciated the Mayor’s presentation and were happy to finally start a dialogue, but they made sure to voice their opinions and let it be known that they were not currently happy with the progress that had been made on ADA compliance.
“If disability is like race, why aren’t we outraged that we’re not addressing it in the most forthright and direct way possible, and we’re just nibbling at dealing with discirmination? Doesn’t that offend you? It does me,” said District 8 City Councilor John Stefanini to Mayor Spicer.
Councilor Janet Leombruno, sister of the late Karen Foran Dempsey whoco-founded and served on the Framingham Disability Commission and had disabilities herself, also had a lot to say on the matter.
“It’s the law. The problem is that we have to look at it like that. You can’t just look at it like, ‘Oh, Karen will find her way around,’ and she would find her way around… but not everyone can find a way around,” said Leombruno. “We don’t need to have everything done… We just need to know that there’s going to be a plan and a transition plan, that that’s in the works, and that it’s a forethought and not an afterthought.”
Leombruno was also upset that the Mayor not once but twice chose in 2020 not to re-appoint her sister to the Framingham Disability Commission. (Dempsey was also the elected District 2 School Committee member)
The City Council, not once but twice rejected the nominations to the Disability Commission in 2020, so Dempsey stayed on the Commission until her death. Both votes were identical 9-1-1, with District 2 City Councilor Cesar Stewart-Morales in favor of the mayor’s selections.
A big part of Mayor Spicer’s presentation and the explanation for lack of ADA compliance projects had to do with insufficient funding.
“We need more investment in capital improvements. The lack of funds allocated by City Council for capital improvements, with a few exceptions; however ongoing ADA progress is impeded,” wrote Mayor Spicer in her presentation.
Although the Councilors recognized the limitations of certain budgets, they still felt that this was beside the point.
Their frustration seemed to stem more from the fact that they weren’t being met halfway or given the proper attention and planning that ADA compliance deserved.
“Village Hall wasn’t renovated because there happened to be funding for it. Village Hall was made accessible to all because the people of this community got together and decided to make it happen,” said Councilor Cannon. “They didn’t not do the project to a certain level of completion because it would trigger a threshold. They planned for it.”
The meeting ended with a motion for the Mayor to attend another meeting in six months with more updates and information about the city’s progress on ADA compliance.
The Council eagerly awaits the Mayor’s next steps and looks forward to hopefully seeing more renovations and projects that will make the city more accessible to those with disabilities.
Luke Canavan is a spring 2021 SOURCE intern. He is currently a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he studies Communication and English. He is passionate about film, television, writing, and literature, and upon graduation, he hopes to work in the entertainment industry full-time, where he can pursue his love for storytelling.
BELOW are screenshots of the Mayor’s presentation to the COUNCIL