Asbury Park Press
January 11, 2008

Advocate for disabled tangles with Middletown again

DISPUTE: Not reappointed to Human Rights Commission


Carolyn Schwebel shows the "purple people eater" she uses to illustrate talks she gives
 on tolerance for differences among people. (PRESS FILE PHOTO)


An advocate for the rights of the disabled says the township may have violated her First Amendment rights by not reappointing her this year to the municipality's Human Rights Commission.

Carolyn Schwebel, who sat on the commission for 17 years and headed it recently, questions whether the Township Committee did not reappoint her during its Jan. 6 organization meeting as retaliation for a lawsuit she filed in 2004 that charges Middletown with not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"I do plan to fight this," said Schwebel, who is considering filing a new lawsuit against the township. "I'm not going to let this go."

Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger told Schwebel during Sunday's meeting that she had not been reappointed because the outcome of the 2004 lawsuit is not final. The two sides settled in July, but terms of the deal have yet to be fully implemented.

"We felt it was a bit of a conflict," Scharfenberger said during the meeting. The mayor said he believes it makes more sense to reconsider Schwebel for the commission once the 2004 lawsuit is complete.

Bernard Reilly, Middletown's attorney, said he had input on the decision not to reappoint. There is no set requirement for when she can be reconsidered for the post, Reilly said.

"She could very well be reappointed in a year or two," Reilly said of Schwebel. "If she continues to express an interest, she will be given due consideration."

According to court documents, the July 31 settlement called for Middletown to:

Position left vacant

During its Jan. 22 meeting, the Township Committee is expected to hire a firm that will devise the transition plan, Reilly said. The plan will identify what improvements Middletown needs to make and establish a timetable for its implementation over several years, he said.

The Township Committee did not appoint a replacement for Schwebel during its Jan. 6 meeting, leaving the eight-person commission with only seven members.

Schwebel, who uses a wheelchair, said Middletown is reducing the commission's diversity by not reappointing her. During the meeting, she said she had asked township officials to try to diversify the commission's members, who she said include an Asian man and "five WASPy females."

There was an audible gasp from throughout the audience, but no one at the meeting commented on her choice of words.

Committeeman Patrick Short later made a motion to reappoint Schwebel.

Committeeman Sean F. Byrnes successfully moved to table the matter, asking Reilly to give the committee an update on the status of Schwebel's 2004 lawsuit during its next executive session, before taking further action on the matter.

Don Tow, who has sat on the commission for two years, said that in recent months, the group has explored how to create more affordable housing in Middletown, how to diversify schools' teaching staffs and whether people can stay with their pets in shelters should they be evacuated from their homes because of an emergency.

"I would definitely like to see her stay on," Tow said. "Without her, someone has to
pick up the slack."

Schwebel is considering whether to wait and see what the Township Committee does during its Jan. 22 meeting before taking further action, she said. Should she not be reappointed, Schwebel plans to continue attending the commission's meetings.

"They might have done better to simply have left me quietly on my little commission," Schwebel said.

CORRECTION [by Carolyn Schwebel] : The text in the above article, which says:  "who she said include an Asian man and "five WASPy females" is incorrect. I did not say that the current commission had the members that the article describes. I said that when we were trying to diversify the commission, the township sent us "five WASPy females." Then I immediately corrected  "WASPy"  to "Caucasian female." 
The audio recording of these comments from the public comment part of the township meeting is at:  ../Middletown/Mdtwn_com_01_06_2008/Mdtwn_01062008_4.wav