R.B. settles ADA compliance suit

Complaint was filed against borough
in July 2000

By libby kesil
Staff Writer

Complaint was filed against borough
in July 2000
By libby kesil
Staff Writer

Red Bank will be making improvements to public areas to make them more accessible to the disabled. The borough will also apply for a grant to assist in covering costs incurred from the changes.

Borough Attorney Richard O’Connor spoke to the Borough Council about a resolution authorizing the settlement agreement of a dispute between the borough and the federal Department of Justice to bring the library and other public areas into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The council voted unanimously to authorize the settlement agreement.

O’Connor said a complaint was filed with the Department of Justice, prompting a thorough investigation of the borough public areas.

"They sent to us two highly intelligent, very vigorous employees. They came with their levels and their tape measures and reviewed all the public facilities in Red Bank," said O’Connor. "We don’t know of another community in the United States that benefited from such a thorough job by the Justice Department."

In a released statement, Carolyn Schwebel, co-chairperson for The Equalizers, a civil rights advocacy group for people with disabilities, said, "I’m pleased with the outcome, but I wish to point out that Red Bank officials had ample warning of our concerns about projects."

Schwebel filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice against the borough in July 2000.

Schwebel said that prior to the RiverCenter Streetscape project, she had worked with Borough Administrator Stanley J. Sickels and Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. to ensure compliance with ADA.

Schwebel said she was under the impression that the borough was taking her suggestions into account.

"We had a dialogue going," said Schwebel.

After the Streetscape project began, Schwebel raised concerns with the borough officials over obvious and potential problems with the project.

"The sidewalks were bricks placed in sand, and people were tripping on them," Schwebel said. "Pathways should be stable, firm and slip resistant."

She also expressed concern that the trees and planters along the sidewalks made the pathway less accessible.

"The conclusion was, ‘It’s pretty and we’re going ahead with it,’" added Schwebel.

Schwebel’s group was especially concerned about the use of uneven, bumpy pavers, made of Belgian block, in the crosswalks.

"We suggested then that they put them on just the sides of the crosswalks; they didn’t listen," said Schwebel.

Schwebel spoke with Sickels in the spring of 2000 and informed him that she was filing a complaint with the Department of Justice due to the borough’s lack of cooperation. She filed complaint in July 2000.

O’Connor said most of the issues will involve adjustments such as moving a sign on a door from 58 inches to 60 inches or a toilet from near 18 inches to exactly 18."

"Through efforts of engineers, other staff members, the health officer and the police, we have reached this settlement to avoid litigation, and hopefully the application for the ADA Grant will assist in funding. We expect to have all the issues addressed."

Councilwoman Jennifer A. Beck raised a question regarding compliance over plans approved by the council for pending improvements to Monmouth Street.

O’Connor said the area of concern, Belgian block crosswalks, "complied with liberal rules of the ADA."

O’Connor told the council he expects everything to be addressed within two years.

The council also reviewed a resolution authorizing application to the N.J. Department of Community Affairs for an ADA compliance grant, and unanimously agreed to apply.

O’Connor indicated that the borough will be addressing some issues at the various locations listed in the complaint such as providing a wheelchair accessible table in the courtroom and the installation of a wheelchair accessible grandstand in Count Basie Park.

O’Connor said the borough might ultimately benefit from such efforts being made.

"The borough will be better for it," O’Connor said. "There were some items that were important."