Staunton residents demand transparency, accessibility, & accountability from City Council

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Staunton City residents demand greater transparency, accessibility, and accountability from Staunton City Council. 

We, the undersigned, are disheartened by the decision of City Council on 4/8/21 to disenfranchise citizens who had come to depend on the ability to engage remotely during Matters From the Public at City Council meetings and were expecting a full spectrum of increased accessibility to be implemented. The City led the public to believe, in their own press release dated 2/4/21, that increased accessibility and modernization would be a long term investment. In addition, Title II of the ADA states that “governmental entities must ensure effective communication -- including the provision of necessary auxiliary aids and services -- so that individuals with disabilities can participate in civic life.”

We know the following to be true:

Whereas, accessibility is the degree to which a product, device, service, environment, or facility is usable by as many people as possible, including by persons with disabilities, achieving accessibility requires knowledge of accessibility standards, being aware of the needs of people with disabilities, and addressing barriers to access for individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, increased modernization and accessibility also benefit community members without disabilities, including those with illness, those with barriers to transportation, those with barriers to affordable childcare, those with non-traditional work schedules, etc.

Whereas, according to the Offices for Civil Rights (OCR) for both the DOJ and DOE: "Accessible" means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. The person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally and independently as a person without a disability.

Whereas, Title II of the ADA extends not only to physical access at government facilities, programs, and events -- but also to policy changes that governmental entities must make to ensure that all people with disabilities can take part in, and benefit from, the programs and services of State and local governments.  

Whereas, The City of Staunton issued a press release dated 2/4/21 that stated “city staff began a process to invest in a robust and permanent modernization program to significantly upgrade the city’s video/live meeting arrangements for the long term . . . The modernization of Council Chambers and Caucus Room technology will mean appropriate and high-quality connection to public meetings, not just during this time of disruption but going forward to meet future needs as well. Using CARES Act funds for this project allows the city to implement the project with no fiscal impact, improve the efficiency of meetings and take advantage of advancements in virtual meeting technology.”

Now, therefore, we demand the following:

- Full usage of, and transparent accounting for, the $200,000 CARES Act funding that the City allotted for Council chambers modernization.

- Allow citizens to engage in Public Hearings and/or Matters From the Public at all City meetings through the use of telephone and/or other remote technology so that citizens can be heard not only by Council/Board members, but by the community at large.

- Allow citizens to view livestream video and audio, as well as all presentations/materials shown in Council/meeting chambers, including closed captions.

- Honor the First Amendment rights of citizens and reject any attempts to obstruct dissenting voices. 

- Foster inclusive civic engagement through government processes, practices, and decisions that are more responsive to community priorities, welcome relationships and effective communication with citizens, and engage with all of the diverse voices that make up our Staunton community.