Middletown Settles Lawsuit Over ADA Compliance
The Two River Times, August 24, 2007
By Shanna Williams

MIDDLETOWN   -     The Township settled a lawsuit filed by Advocates for Disabled Americans, formed by Carolyn Schwebel of the Leonardo section of the township and Carmena Caivano Stoney of Aberdeen, earlier this month. The original complaint was filed in June 2004 and was based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In early 2006 a consent order was reached between the township and the Advocates for Disabled Americas. However, the most recent settlement was reached because the township did not meet all of the stipulations of the 2006 settlement.

According to Robert Czech, the township administrator, the major stipulation of the 2006 agreement that was not met by the township was the creation of an ADA transition plan. "A transition plan is a document that lays out how the municipality is going to meet its ADA requirement throughout the township," he explained. After the first consent order, the township began investigating the cost of a transition plan and found it would cost between $130,000 to $150,000. That was before any implementation costs. He said the township did not go forward with getting a transition plan because of the cost.

Czech said disabled residents did have access to all township facilities. Some adjustments had to be made though. An example was the new library had to have the entrance ramp regrarded because the contractor made a mistake the first time. The township also installed an elevator in town hall so the lower floor was accessible. 'There were issues that had to be addressed specifically," and they were, Czech said.

"All of these things have been done over the course of time to address these access issues," Czech said. In addition, when roadwork is done, ADA curb cuts and ramps are included in the jobs, he explained. "For the most part, we have accommodated accessibility throughout our facilities," he said. "Any disabled person can gain access to a township facility."

In addition to the transition plan, the township also has to appoint an ADA coordinator and publish the settlement on the Web site. The plaintiffs, Schwebel and Caivano Stoney, were awarded $45,000 in damages and legal fees, according to the settlement. Czech said the plaintiffs originally asked for more money than what was awarded.

The terms of the settlement will have to be met or the township will have to pay $10,000 for each time stipulated dates are not met. Schwebel said she hopes this will ensure the township will comply with the settlement this time.

Schwebel said while the township did correct some issues, the major issue was a transition plan, which was never created. She said she is worried the terms of the new settlement will not be met, either.

"People do have rights, and I think a lot of times they are afraid to ask for them," Schwebel said. She said the settlement demonstrates that people have rights, and they might need to be stubborn to make sure their rights are upheld.

Schwebel said Advocates for Disabled Americans are moving onto other projects to ensure the rights of disabled citizens. She said the group is currently focusing on Monmouth County which she described as "really resistant."