Disability-rights group drags NIRPC back to court

2013-12-02T16:30:00Z 2013-12-02T19:23:17Z Disability-rights group drags NIRPC back to courtBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The disability-rights group Everybody Counts is going back to federal court to compel the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission to comply with the terms of a 2006 consent decree.

Months of back-and-forth negotiations between the two organizations has led to police calls and sometimes bitter public debates over the consent decree, which forced area transit agencies to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Over the past six months, we have made repeated requests of NIRPC’s chairperson, Mayor David Uran, and other commissioners, for progressive cooperation,” said Everybody Counts board member and former Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez. “Instead, they called armed police officers to place us under surveillance and implemented new rules to suppress public comment."

At a Sept. 19 NIRPC meeting, Uran declared the use of Roberts Rules of Order at all future meetings he chairs, saying those rules allow public comments only on points on the agenda for the meeting. That ruling came after people with disabilities spoke about their issues during the public comment section of NIRPC meetings.

On Monday, Uran said he had always broadly interpreted those rules and never prevented anyone from speaking at a NIRPC meeting. He also noted he did not make the decision to call police.

Portage Mayor James Snyder at the time took responsibility for calling the police, saying as head of the municipality where the meetings are held he had that duty.

Contacted Monday, NIRPC Executive Director Tyson Warner said he had not yet seen Everybody Count's court filing and could not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, in Hammond, specifically accuses NIRPC of failing in its obligations to work with Everybody Counts to revise its public participation plan and in regards to an annual meeting the two organizations must hold under the consent decree.

The issue of the consent decree is almost sure to come up Tuesday at a meeting of NIRPC's Transportation Policy Committee, which is set to consider a new public participation plan that has at times drawn outrage from Everybody Counts.

Everybody Counts is represented by lawyer Steven Siros, of the law firm Jenner & Block.

“Unfortunately, NIRPC failed to engage in meaningful discussions to resolve the issues that we identified,” Siros said. “They didn’t even respond to our requests.”

Everybody Counts took care on Monday to praise three other transit agencies, two that were defendants in their original lawsuit first filed in federal court in 1998. The organization pointed out former defendants Gary Public Transportation Corp. and East Chicago Transit, as well as North Township Dial-A-Ride, have all endeavored to meet the requirements of the American with Disabilities Act.

“They have come to recognize the mutual benefits of collaboration with our agency, and have been actively engaged in meaningful dialog with their riders,” said Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres.

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