Council hears from ADA coordinator on compliance measures

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The city of Eureka Springs is making major strides toward ADA compliance.

On Monday night, the Eureka Springs City Council heard from ADA coordinator Kim Stryker about all the compliance measures that have taken place since 2017. Stryker said the Americans with Disabilities Act requires municipalities to provide access to all services, programs and activities to people with disabilities.

"Cities are required to make reasonable modifications in their policies, practices and procedures to accommodate individuals," Stryker said.

Stryker said the city started working toward ADA compliance in April 2017, when she was named ADA coordinator. The ADA Complaint Committee was formed in May 2017, Stryker said, and she produced an annual report in January 2018 showing areas where the city could improve. Stryker pointed out how Eureka Springs is in a unique position when it comes to ADA compliance, saying the city's terrain and historic distinction make it difficult for people with disabilities to get around.

"We actively sought out what we could accomplish, and the transition plan is the key to these focus areas of improvement," Stryker said. "That's the great thing about reviewing something annually. You're suddenly aware you made more progress than you were aware of."

Over the past year, Stryker said, she has helped train all city employees who answer phones to understand when a call is coming from a relay coordinator.

"They know to just take the time and understand what's being typed on the other end and translated and communicated to us," Stryker said. "All our frontline telephone operators have been trained on how to handle those relay calls."

She's helped get that information to emergency personnel in the city, too. Stryker said she distributed information on how to handle those with disabilities to police, fire and EMS employees.

"We needed to bring that level of awareness for all law enforcement and first responders up a notch or two," Stryker said.

Stryker said she's been working with alderman Bob Thomas, who serves on the ADA Complaint Committee, to establish quality control procedures for closed captioning on city council meetings.

"When providing access to all citizens we try to remove any barrier, and closed captioning is exactly that," Stryker said. "It's the removal of a barrier."

She said the city was honored by 3PlayMedia in March 2018, saying Eureka Springs was featured on a list called "5 Municipalities Doing Captioning Right."

"We were mentioned alongside cities such as Boston, Mass., and Los Angeles, Calif.," Stryker said. "That was cause for celebration for us."

The city has been working on alterations to buildings that need it, Stryker said, to comply with ADA standards. She recalled when all city meetings moved to The Auditorium and said there's still work to be done.

"The lift we use on this lower staircase is electric. On the off chance a fire broke out and we had to evacuate," Stryker said, "we don't have any way to get a wheelchair out of this building. So we have plans to purchase a very long ramp that meets ADA specifications, and it would be housed under the stage door."

Alderman Harry Meyer asked if there's a plan to make City Hall more accessible, and Stryker said that would be tough because the city rents that space.

"Adaptive measures have taken place to try to accommodate those people to the best of our ability in our current location," Stryker said.

"I would think at some point we should think perhaps about building a city hall that is accessible," Meyer said.

Also at the meeting, Thomas said he'd like to discuss recent actions by council members he believes violated the Freedom of Information Act. Thomas recalled speaking with three B&B owners about whether or not they needed to sign a document sent by the planning commission. He asked city attorney Tim Weaver about it, Thomas said, and emailed the citizens saying Weaver advised there is no requirement in the code to sign the documents.

"One of the three citizens I sent that to then disseminated that email by sending it to a whole bunch of people," Thomas said. "At that point, one of our council people hit reply all, and she responded to it, which I consider a minor infraction."

Then alderwoman Susan Harman composed an email addressed to the council, planning commission and the mayor's office, Thomas said. In the email, Harman says she is shocked Thomas sent the email to those citizens.

"Not only does it open us up to a potential class action lawsuit at a state level by those B&B owners who fear there may be favoritism/discrepancies on how the ordinance is or is not enforced," Harman writes, "but also to the fact that a City Council member has spoken on behalf of the City Attorney."

Harman continues, saying the planning commission has the authority to ask B&B owners to send updated information to the city.

"It seems strange to me that a member of City Council would want to undermine the Planning Commission from doing their job," Harman writes. "Why create code at all? Why give the illusion of enforcing code, if we have no intention of doing so?"

Harman ends the email stating her discomfort with the situation.

"I'm very uncomfortable with this and request a written opinion from Tim Weaver and a second opinion, as it relates to the issue from Municipal League," she writes.

Thomas said he was concerned about how Harman handled the issue.

"My main concern at this point is it's a violation of open meetings sending emails to other public officials," Thomas said. "I'd just like to bring that to the attention of the community."

Later in the meeting, Harman said she's still uncomfortable with Thomas responding to individual citizens on behalf of Weaver.

"When emails like that go out, unless there is a written report provided by the city attorney, I think it is open to interpretation," Harman said. "It is a dangerous thing to do. I think an opinion by the city attorney should be provided, and I still believe there should be one coming from the municipal league on the issue as it relates to what planning is requesting from those B&B owners."

The council's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, April 22, at The Auditorium.

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