A Tale of 2 Boroughs (Part 5) Why Waste Money on the ADA?

EDITORS NOTE: One in 4 U.S. adults – 61 million Americans – have a disability that impacts major life activities, according to a report in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

Trying to convince Highlands, rather, trying to get officials in Highlands to even talk to me or at least consider doing something about the ADA , Americans with Disabilities Act violations they certainly appear to be endorsing by ending virtual coverage of their municipal meetings, has taught me even more about the differences between the two neighboring communities, both with great residents but different ways of thinking.

Facing my own recent disability which has been crucial and difficult for me and my vision, it has also made me acutely aware of so many disabilities that many people face.

It has made me more aware of the many things we take for granted, but others have to struggle with great difficulty to even come close.

That is probably why I was so moved by the ASL presentation of the National Anthem at the Postage Stamp ceremony at the Twin Lights earlier this week. The translator of the Star Spangled Banner for the hearing impaired was so moving due to her intense hand and facial movements, it gave new meaning to the stars and stripes and the bombs bursting in air. I’ve learned, I appreciate the lesson, and I will never forget it.

Highlands Borough government doesn’t act that way. I let them know, many times, and tried even many more times, to let them know my disability does not permit me to participate in council meetings at the Community Center. Simply by continuing virtual meetings I explained, they could accommodate not only my disability, but that of every other citizen who can not physically get to a meeting.

Few people knew about my disability, it's not something that I advertise. I was compelled to write my last story disclosing my condition simply because the governing body continued to ignore my requests for accommodation. Perhaps that is the reason why only one resident who had read about it offered to assist me until I could get the borough leaders to grow up and act accordingly.

It was different in Atlantic Highlands. In addition to the administrator responding immediately to my letter…the same letter that was summarily ignored by the Highlands administrator, not only did several local residents, but several council members as well immediately offered to help me out until the borough could get an effective program in place. And the borough is immediately improving its system to ensure accommodations are as accessible to all.

There was another instance this week where members of local government boards showed how things are handled differently in Atlantic Highlands. For whatever reason, a vitally important item was missing from the planning board agenda. Without action that night, it would have called either for a very expensive series of actions on the part of the governing body, a drastic and permanent change in what the people in the town appear to want for the future, or a hastily called special meeting of the planning board within a very short period of time.

A local resident, Jim Krauss, brought up the question of why the item wasn’t on the agenda. He did not do it in an accusatory manner, he did not chastise, yell, or rudely belittle the board members for not having it on the agenda.

He simply asked why it wasn’t there.

Quite frankly, the Board members didn't notice the oversight either and appeared surprised by it.

The board attorney obviously did some very rapid research, and just as rapidly recognized the possible negative ramifications that could take place without the item being enacted. So he simply interrupted the routine of the meeting and advised the planners they could and should add the item and act on it during the meeting.

Mr. Krauss, to his credit, did not rebuke, or chastise or even say “I told you so.” Nor did the planners appear to take any affront from the citizen’s question since they readily agreed it should be an agenda item.

The Board Members thought, considered, listened to the advice of their Attorney and acted.

Mr. Krauss offered more information, thanked them, and just like that, numerous residents were saved a lot of inconvenience, the planning board members, themselves all unpaid volunteers, remember, saved themselves the inconvenience of having yet another meeting, and the borough was probably saved a whole bunch of money. All that in addition to the fact the next borough council meeting can go on without any legal entanglements.

So now, Highlands is facing the probability of an expensive lawsuit from this journalist. A lawsuit that could have been avoided by simple courtesy months ago, could have been avoided by professional handling of routine municipal business actions over the past few months, could have been avoided by not running right away to see if it’s insurance company would cover anything rather than simply communicate directly with me.

The Mayor and Council still have that one option one more time. Without their taking action now, it’s their costly way of saying, sure, what the heck, let’s just go to court ... After all, it’s only taxpayer’s money.

They really ought to read the lawsuit a bit more closely. Each is being sued individually as well as in their official capacities. Maybe it makes a difference then, where the money comes from to settle the case. All because they choose not to respond to simple questions.

Highlands Council members; I really do think you love Highlands. Maybe not as much as I do because you don’t know its history, its families, its character like I do. But you loved it enough to discover, us to come here, live here, and form your own memories and affection for it.

You still have the opportunity to stop a federal lawsuit that will be costly to the taxpayers.

You still have the opportunity to show the disabled, people of all disabilities that you really want to make everything accessible to them, be they blind, crippled, infirm, or disabled in any way. Let them all know you believe everything should be as is available to them as it is to all the other citizens who want to participate in your meetings.

Communication and respect go a long way towards resolving differences.


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