By John Schaffner
Just when Atlanta residents hoped the last unexpected financial crisis had been discovered and remedied, a recently released 2007 audit by the U.S. Justice Department found the city in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) for items ranging from bathrooms to water fountains, City Hall elevators to the seats at the Chastain Park amphitheater.
The total cost for correcting the violations set forth in a settlement accepted by the city is $13.8 million.
The City Council passed a resolution during its July 20 meeting authorizing Mayor Shirley Franklin to sign a settlement agreement committing the city to set aside $2 million a year for six years to satisfy corrective measures. In following years, the city will continue to set aside $2 million annually for deficiencies not cited in the agreement.
Franklin was invited to participate July 21 in an annual ceremony in Washington, D.C., that recognizes the commitment of cities and counties in complying with the ADA. The City Council’s approval of the resolution the day before allowed Franklin to appear at the ceremony and sign the agreement to further the city’s compliance efforts with the ADA.
Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook once again appeared surprised during a TV interview after the compliance resolution was brought before the City Finance/Administration Committee he chairs the week before the City Council’s action.
“We have to remedy this list of defects, period,” Shook said. “Some of these defects go back before this current administration.”
Shook said the city has to pay the $13.8 million to fix the violations at a time when the money isn’t there. “It could not come at a worse time, when we’re scraping for nickels and dimes under the sofa cushion to make sure we had cops on the street and the lights are turned on.”
Although the ADA has been around for 19 years, the city of Atlanta was audited by the Justice Department for the first time in 2007. It seems Atlanta was randomly selected by the Justice Department for the ADA compliance audit.
The settlement agreement lists each and every violation in each city building and has a completion date on when fixes need to be made.
The City Council’s Finance Committee learned off the violations July 15 and approved the settlement offer.
The Finance Committee was handed a thick binder listing hundreds of defects that need fixing — from wheelchair ramps built at the wrong grade to bathroom hand dryers installed at the wrong height.
Many of the discrepancies involve minute angles and small distances, giving the city hope that some of the violations will be forgiven — thereby bringing down the ultimate cost — if the city demonstrates a good-faith effort at correcting the problems.
But for now, the city will have to find an extra $2 million this year to cover the unanticipated ADA costs.
In response to the Justice Department audit, City Council President Lisa Borders, who is a candidate for mayor in the November elections, said the city will find the money to comply. “The ADA requirements are clear, and the Justice Department’s audit has indicated we are not giving access to all citizens; so we must, and we will, find the money to rectify the situation,” Borders said.
The Justice Department initially gave the city three years to correct the deficiencies and was amenable to a one-year extension. The city has since reportedly “negotiated a more relaxed time frame and was granted permission to extend the corrective period.” according to the resolution Council passed July 20.
But resolution online shows the document the mayor was authorized to sign still mentions the three-year period for correcting the deficiencies.