Special NIRPC committee meets with disability rights group

2013-07-02T14:37:00Z 2013-07-02T15:41:08Z Special NIRPC committee meets with disability rights groupRob Earnshaw Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
July 02, 2013 2:37 pm  • 

PORTAGE │ A Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission ad hoc committee met Tuesday to discuss objections the disability-rights group Everybody Counts has with NIRPC’s public participation plan.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres said the proposed public participation plan fails to meet both federal regulations and the stipulations of a 2006 federal consent decree ordering NIRPC to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a presentation to the five-member committee made up of NIRPC board members, Torres said the agency has failed to seek out and consider the needs of low-income and minority households and individuals with disabilities. Torres also said NIRPC representatives publicly claimed they had worked “extensively” with Everybody Counts and that they were in compliance with the consent decree.

Neither statement is true, Torres said.

Everybody Counts submitted a 60-page document to the committee chronicling previous communication issues with NIRPC regarding the public participation plan, a document committeeman Geof Benson said “is a piece of paper about things you’re mad about.”

“It’s important history but it’s not what’s on the table,” he said.

Everybody Counts also submitted a copy of the plan itself with highlights and circles around its concerns.

Torres said the group still has more concerns not in the documents and there is still an intent to return to court regarding the consent decree.

“You can keep whipping us, and we can never move forward,” said East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland, one of the committee members. “There will be a final deadline.”

The ad hoc committee, which also includes Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Highland Clerk Treasurer Michael Griffin and Lake County Surveyor George Van Til, said it would submit the documents and reach out to entities that would have a response to it. During this 30-day review period Everybody Counts could submit additional information to the committee prior its next meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, Former Lake County Sheriff and Everybody Counts board member Roy Dominguez said over the years the relationship between NIRPC and the disability rights group has been adversarial, combative and “not been productive at all.”

Van Til said there has been an unspoken uneasiness and unhappiness about dealing with Torres.

“There is nothing in what we do that says we have to love each other,” he said. “What we have to have is a respect for each other. I think that’s missing. I want to see where we can go from here.”

Van Til said from this point on he would like to see these types of issues as part of NIRPC’s regular agenda.

The presentation of the public participation plan to the full commission for adoption is scheduled for Oct. 17.

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