Greenwich Republican Leaders Give Disabled Residents an Uphill Climb

Newsletter Volume 1 • Number 35

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It’s has been fifty years since President Nixon signed a law that recognized the need to make the simple act of getting around possible for everyone. President George Bush signed even stronger legislation in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know that applied to Greenwich, because after half a century, it’s still a struggle for some to cross streets, go to school, and enjoy a park.

Entrance to Old Greenwich School with a whole lot of stairs and no ramp.
File / Bob Luckey / Hearst Connecticut Media

Getting to class should not be the hardest subject

80 percent of Greenwich Public Schools do not meet ADA requirements, according to District Head of Facilities Dan Watson.

20 of 27 town athletic fields are not ADA compliant, according to consultants the town hired to evaluate our playing fields and make recommendations on improving them.

Our shameful portfolio of inaccessible facilities includes sidewalks, intersections, marinas and more. But why? 

A look at the record suggests the buck stops at the Republican-controlled Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), whose members have refused to allocate adequate funds to help people with disabilities go about their daily lives in our public spaces. 

It’s gotten so bad that concerned citizens have been forced to lodge complaints with federal authorities, and even sue. 

In 2020, a filing with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights prompted an investigation into ADA compliance at Old Greenwich School (OGS). The 120-year old building has no elevator, and its main entrance and gym entrance are not accessible, among other problems. Teachers have to carry children with crutches up and down the stairs.

In 2021 the Board of Education (BOE) reached a settlement in the case, providing a timeline for bringing the school system into compliance. But it’s not that the BOE didn’t know about these issues. Three years earlier, they detailed the maintenance and renovation needs for our aging stock of school buildings, including bringing the schools into compliance with ADA law. 

But the Republican-controlled BET hasn’t allocated the needed funding to meet ADA requirements in the timeline required by the consent decree.

Instead, in their efforts to spend the absolute minimum on our schools, Republican BET members have proposed bare bones fixes, like adding an elevator to OGS or Julian Curtiss. What they either ignore or remain inexcusably ignorant of is that simply adding an elevator doesn’t bring a building into ADA compliance.

It’s not a walk in the park

When the town of Greenwich learned that its playing fields weren’t accessible, the Parks and Rec department did not request funding from the BET to meet ADA requirements. Perhaps they knew that the Republican BET’s budget guidelines would not allow it.

Rejecting free money 

In 2022, Greenwich was awarded $2.8 million by the CT Department of Transportation to implement a municipal improvement plan for several Greenwich Avenue intersections to improve pedestrian safety. The plan would have decreased crossing times. Disability rights advocates applauded it. All Greenwich had to do was say “yes” to the money. 

And yet, a certain far-right contingency in the RTM flexed all of its political muscle to kill the plan, and they succeeded. First Selectman Camillo lamentedthat now any improvements on Greenwich Avenue “will come out of our pockets.”

Subsequently, when the Department of Public Works requested $450,000 for its ADA sidewalk accessibility program for this year’s budget, Republican BET budget committee chair Leslie Tarkington suggested that the request be slashed by 45 percent. 

Sue us

In January, the U.S. District Attorney intervened in response to a complaint about lack of access for people with disabilities at the Byram Marina. Ironically, the complaint was filed by the father of Greenwich’s appointed harbormaster, Paul Cappiali Jr., whose job it is to manage all aspects of boating safety.

Eventually, the town reached a settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and agreed to create five accessible boat slips at the marina, plus accessible routes to them. 

Is our Republican BET ignoring federal ADA laws to save money? Do they consider waiting to be sued a “cost of doing business”? If so, it is a cynical manipulation of its own disabled residents.

Greenwich deserves leaders with vision and responsibility. This November, vote for all six Democratic candidates for the BET. It’s not out of the question to think that if he were here today, George Bush might vote that way too.

Disability rights advocates Stephanie Cowie and Alan Gunzberg explain why they filed a complaint against Town of Greenwich for lack of accessibility downtown and for the Town’s refusal to make public its ADA transition plan.

Legislative Corner

Watch our very own Rep. Jim Himes talk UFO’s, the Jan. 6 insurrection, beekeping and what makes him hopeful with Stephen Colbert.

Congratulations to Connecticut’s 

Click on the map for more information

U.S. House and Senate delegation for achieving top scores in the League of Conservation Voters 2022 scorecard! The full delegation’s scores for 2022: 

Chris Murphy- 96%
Richard Blumenthal – 96%

John Larson – 95%
Joe Courtney- 95%
Jim Himes – 95%
Jahana Hayes – 95%
Rosa DeLauro – 95%

State Representative. Rachel Khanna testified in support of HB6745, a bill to require construction of noise barriers on certain highways. Greenwich is bisected by I-95, the Merritt Parkway and Route 1, and residents have been demanding relief from the noise for years.

Editorial that caught our eye

For Old Greenwich School, Ignoring Consent Decree from the Office of Civil Rights is a Very Risky Fiscal StrategySophie Koven, a Riverside School parent, writes, “As an attorney I was shocked to learn that the Town has a consent decree signed in April, 2021 from the Office of Civil Rights in regards to the lack of accessibility at the school, which called for renovations to begin in 2023. And yet the BET is continuing to postpone doing any pre-construction work at the school, let alone commencing construction as per the agreement. This is not only morally unconscionable, but for those who can feel comfortable knowingly having children educated in unsafe and illegal conditions in the name of fiscal prudence, I would also add that this is a very risky fiscal strategy.”

For your calendar

Seeking nominations for sustainability award

The Greenwich Sustainability Committee is pleased to request nominations for its newly established Sustainability Award to be presented in conjunction with the Town’s Earth Day Proclamation. The Sustainability Award has been created to celebrate Greenwich residents who embody the principles of the committee. Please send nominations to no later than March 17

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