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Handicapped community threatens legal action against city

Advocates for the handicapped in Williamsport said Thursday they were preparing a civil action in U.S. Middle District Court against the city for failing to make City Hall accessible and for violation of civil rights.

The representative for the Center for Independent Living handed out a letter co-signed by two attorneys representing the group to council and the administration Thursday night.

After the distribution, council discussed the issues and then voted 4-2, with one councilman absent, to reject bids for an elevator modification and accessible ramp at City Hall.

The chambers then exploded in a cacophony of “shame on you,” which came from the disabled community and their advocates.

The bids were $312,770 to modify the City Hall elevator and an add alternate bid of nearly $468,000 to add an accessible ramp to the front of the building.

Misty Dion, CEO for the center, said the city has a plan to comply with the law and had been aware of the law since 1990.

“They decided to do nothing,” Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said, before storming off to his third floor office.

Council President Randall J. Allison said that is not true. He added that it remains a moral imperative to continue to be responsive to all of the public, and that included having more assurance on figures and plans before taking action.

Councilwoman Liz Miele said she wanted to ensure moving ahead there be a construction management team hired by the city.

Councilman Joel Henderson said there may be potential for the city to look for grants to complete the desired ramp access and other improvements for the building, should that be available.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services may have funding sources available, according to a city consultant.

The vote was Derek Slaughter, Bonnie Katz, Henderson and Gerry Fausnaught against the resolution and Allison and Miele for it.

During the exchanges, Allison lightly banged the gavel to control vocally disgruntled members of the audience, but they left upset and, as one said, they feel isolated and forced to take further action.

Earlier this week, Joseph Gerardi, codes administrator, said in a four-week analysis of the building, he determined at least $2 million needs to be spent to make repairs and to make the building accessible.

Fausnaught said discussion on whether to repair or go to another location needs to happen sooner than later.

An ad-hoc committee is likely to be formed to look at the viability of staying and repairing the building, or repairing what could be done to save the city money and then leaving, or leaving without making repairs.

Slaughter, mayor-elect, said it was best to see accurate figures on what the costs will be either way before spending another dime of bond or borrowed contingency funding.

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