HUDSON — Second Ward Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga is unable to attend Common Council meetings and represent her constituents because of a lack of wheelchair access to City Hall, she said Friday.
Garriga, who has needed a wheelchair since May 17 after suffering an injury to her left leg, is a member of the Department of Public Works and Legal committees and chairs the Housing and Transportation committees of the Common Council. Garriga is also a member of the Industrial Development Agency.
Garriga, who was first elected to the Common Council in November 2013, cited a lack of wheelchair access to City Hall, which is more than 100 years old, and where city meetings are typically held.
Garriga declined on Friday to elaborate on what caused her injury.
Since she was injured, Garriga has missed four meetings — two regular and two informal — in June and July and a special meeting about the Youth Department budget held in June.
Garriga was absent from several committee meetings since her injury. The Housing and Transportation Committee meetings in June and July were canceled.
With assistance, Garriga attended the Columbia County Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee meeting at 401 State St. on June 20 and attended the Hudson City Police Committee meeting at City Hall on June 25 in response to public outcry about police raids in the city.
But relying on people to help her up and down stairs in a wheelchair is dangerous, Garriga said.
“It is not just about me,” Garriga said Friday. “It is about other people about disabilities. But I need to have access to City Hall so I can vote.”
As a result of her request last week, the Common Council meeting scheduled to be held at 7 p.m. today was moved to the Chamber of Commerce building at 1 N. Front St. The first floor of the building is wheelchair-accessible.
“I am thankful that the Common Council President [Thomas DePietro] has changed the location of the informal meeting,” Garriga said. “Sometimes people with disabilities are forgotten about. It is one of the main reasons I am pushing for a ramp at Promenade Hill Park. A ramp in City Hall for people with disabilities is long overdue.”
The Industrial Development Agency announced it was moving its Aug. 22 meeting to the Chamber of Commerce meeting room to accommodate one of its members. The monthly meeting of the Common Council’s Legal Committee on Wednesday was moved to the Chamber of Commerce building but was later canceled.
Garriga was not mentioned by name at Aug. 13 Common Council meeting, but DePietro talked about what accommodations would be available if someone was physically unable to attend a city meeting.
The conversation began when 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael Chameides, who serves on the city’s Housing and Transportation Committee with Garriga, asked as an audience member what accommodations could be made for people in wheelchairs and what plans are in the works to make City Hall more accessible.
DePietro said that, except for the formal Common Council meeting, offers were made to hold meetings offsite.
“We have offered to have all our meetings offsite to accommodate people who can’t get in the meeting,” DePietro said. “So it has really been a choice in that case.”
DePietro did not elaborate on the people he was referring to.
Mayor Rick Rector is working with an engineer to determine how to make City Hall accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rector said at the Common Council meeting last week.
No previous offers were made by fellow officials to move the meetings, Garriga said Friday.
“I am firmly committed that the city needs to become compliant and designate an ADA coordinator to handle grievances and to have a streamlined process to handle ADA access to city government programs and meetings,” 5th Ward Alderman Dominic Merante said Friday.
Merante has been in talks with Rector about appointing a city employee as ADA coordinator. Under the ADA, public entities with 50 or more employees must designate an employee to coordinate compliance.
“In the short-term, for 2nd Ward Alderwoman Garriga, as an elected official and city employee, when unable to perform her duties due to access, she had the right to submit a “reasonable accommodation” letter to request any accommodation to do her job,” Merante said. “It is not a choice to become disabled. This does not diminish the right to participate in life as you choose including participating in community and government programs and meetings.”
In addition to making City Hall accessible under ADA guidelines, Garriga said she would be in favor of moving out of City Hall altogether. The Common Council will vote today on whether to conduct a study with the county to determine the feasibility of moving city and county municipal offices into the former John L. Edwards Primary School, 360 State St.
“I would be in favor of moving out of City Hall if we have a location where everyone had access,” she said.