Committee recommends moving ES meetings from City Hall

Friday, August 4, 2017

If the ADA Committee has anything to say about it, the Eureka Springs City Council won’t be meeting at City Hall anymore.

On Thursday, July 27, the committee met to discuss a complaint submitted by Joyce Knowles. In the complaint, Knowles writes that the council has willfully refused to move meetings from the courthouse to a location where constituents can face council members. This makes it particularly difficult, Knowles writes, for deaf citizens to participate in city government.

The council began closed captioning the meetings on Youtube in March, Knowles writes, but there is a delay of one day and the captioning is not edited.

“City council repeatedly uses lack of money as a reason for not moving out of the courthouse, but that is a straw argument, as the ADA was passed in 1990,” Knowles writes. “The city had more than adequate time to fund the move.”

Knowles suggests that the city council meetings move to a location where all members face the constituents and that the city edit the closed captioning on Youtube to more closely resemble what was said at the meeting, as well as provide equipment to help the deaf at public hearings.

Kim Stryker, the city’s ADA officer, read the ADA requirements to give more information behind the complaint.

“State and local governments must ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from services, programs and activities because buildings are unacceptable,” Stryker said. “I think that’s pretty much the issue we’re dealing with today.”

Committee member Lamont Richie said it is the city council’s responsibility to provide accessibility to all constituents, and Stryker agreed. Some council members have pointed out that the meetings can’t be broadcast live if the location changes, Richie said.

“I think the absence of live broadcast is one of the excuses given for not moving. Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s relevant in the grand scheme of things,” Richie said. “When I read the complaint, I thought it was a no-brainer that we’re not providing accessible meeting space.”

Richie said he’s tired of hearing elected officials say they’re new and getting up to speed.

“It has nothing to do with anything. The person who swears oath to the office needs to be up to speed that very minute,” Richie said. “They are responsible that very minute, and it’s still not being done.”

Stryker suggested that the committee recommend the council move to a more accessible temporary location immediately.

“Is it that simple?” Stryker asked.

“I think it is that simple,” Richie said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be better than what they have now, but there also has to be a plan to have a permanent relocation so every week we don’t have people schlepping tables all over the place.”

If the meetings move to the lobby of The Aud, Richie said, that’s exactly what will happen. Stryker pointed out that the city council isn’t the only group that will be required to move; all city meetings should meet in an ADA-accessible space, Stryker said.

“Moving it here would show good faith that something is being done,” Richie said.

Richie said he wants to be sure the committee recommends that the city find a permanent place to move by January 2018.

“Their feet can be held to the fire,” he said.

Committee member and Eureka Springs alderman Bob Thomas asked if the committee would like to have a more regimented timeline for the council to follow, such as a deadline for selecting the permanent location and another deadline for getting contractors into place.

“If the council and the mayor do not act at the next meeting, they’re wasting another two weeks. You guys are in charge,” Richie said. “It’s not up to me to tell you how to do it. If you cannot convince your fellow council members of the urgency or if you try to convince them and they’re not hearing it, it’s on them.”

“This is part of convincing them to me,” Thomas said.

The committee agreed to the recommendation, which states that the city council will move meetings immediately to an interim space and will meet deadlines for moving to a permanent space. These deadlines include choosing the permanent site by Sept. 1 and getting bids from contractors by Oct. 1, Stryker said. Knowles said she’d like to require elected officials to face constituents at meetings, and Stryker added that to the recommendation.

The committee moved on to the other complaints, recommending to edit closed captioning on Youtube when the city receives a FOIA request, make sure all elected officials are wearing microphones during meetings and allowing for front-row seating for those who need it.

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