Much of the discussion and reportage on Marisa Salzer and the Montesano City Meanies has been a wee bit lopsided. No more.
In the latest twist in this ongoing saga, ASL Professionals decided it doesn’t want to provide interpreter services for deaf Montesano council member Marisa Salzer. As usual, Club Chihuahua’s Neverland narrative tries to pin blame on Mayor Ken Estes, City Administrator Kristy Powell, Wendy and Peter, and anyone else who dares question their J.M. Barrie version of just about anything.
A review of the full text (not select portions) of the ASL Professionals’ sayonara email and others paints a somewhat different picture. Obtained via public records request, email exchanges suggest that Salzer herself may have played a role in ASL Professionals’ decision to bail. That decision was preceded by several back and forth communiques between Salzer and the owner of the sign language interpreter firm.
The text of the email from the owner of ASL Professionals dated October 07, 2014 reads en toto:
I have thought long and hard about this… (ellipses in original) and spoke with (interpreter) quite a bit over this assignment. I regret to inform you that ASL Professionals will no longer be providing Sign Language Interpreters for any Council meetings. Like I expressed when we spoke on the phone, (interpreter) as well as I, feel ‘stuck’ in the middle of a very sticky situation. I don’t like the position it is putting ASL Professionals, or my interpreters in. I have asked (interpreter) to remove any council meetings from her schedule effective immediately. I apologize for any bind this may put you in but at this time and with the situation it just doesn’t feel right. I encourage you to seek out interpreters to fill this assignment by going to http://www.rid.org . You will find a list of freelance interpreters there.
No rock chucking. No fingers pointed at city hall. In a “sticky situation” like this, as me olde Dad used to say, “It takes two to tango.”
A little stroll down memory lane via public records request:
Council Member Marisa Salzer was sworn in to office last December. It appears that the first mention of the “team interpreter” (two) mantra shows up months later, in either March or June. Interpreter fatigue after about an hour is at issue. Kind of. In a June 23, 2014 email from Salzer to Brenda House, a sign language interpreter from Elma, Salzer says:
“I just wanted to give you a heads up in case the city hasn’t done so. Tomorrow night’s meeting may be a packed house and then some due to the recent stuff that has been going on with the city. The meeting may take a little longer than expected. I can send you the agenda as well.”
House responds on June 23, “Thanks for the information. With a full agenda and packed house, I will need a team interpreter. It will benefit everyone to have a team.”
What may have started out as a miscommunication went nuclear when Salzer filed a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission in July. The complaint alleges discrimination. According to a Daily World report, Salzer is quoted as saying: “The discrimination complaint is based on a repeated cycle of what I assumed to be at the time ignorance and uneducated responses to my repeated request for accommodations.”
Salzer emails suggest she may have been looking to file suit since July. A July 28 email from Ariele Belo, Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service of the Hearing, Speech and Deafness Center (HSDC), in response to Salzer notes that the council member has “filed complaint with WA Human Rights Commission.” Belo says, “they will do a formal investigation.” Belo continues, “After getting the official letter from them that you are discriminated (sic), then get a lawyer to file a lawsuit against the city.”
Does looking to sue the city and sticking it to taxpayers in the process seem like an odd way to serve taxpayers?
The matter seems to be settled a few weeks later. An August 27 email from Andreta Armstrong of the Washington State Human Rights Commission to Salzer says:
Per our telephone discussion regarding your discrimination charge against the above referenced Respondent being resolved, I attach a withdrawal form for your signature and date (on both lines). … When I receive the original document, I will begin the closure process for your case.
Per the October 2014 City of Montesano Monthly Newsletter From the Office of the Mayor (Vol. 3, Issue 9) under “Council September 9”:
The Council returned to twice-monthly meetings – on the second and fourth Tuesdays in Council chambers. This meeting was prefaced by an ADA training class done by the Human Rights Commission, brought about to settle a complaint lodged against the City Attorney, the City Administrator and the Mayor regarding ADA accommodations, The public is always welcome at our Council meetings. We provide sign translator service and hear-aid sound coils for deaf and hearing impaired, as well as other ADA facilities.
The meeting was a short one, lasting less than 25 minutes dealing mostly with housekeeping matters. (Emphasis in original.)
Salzer re-opens her complaint with the Human Rights Commission in an email to Andreta Armstrong dated September 28. She says, “the very immediate next meeting after the training session that you provided, I had issues with my accommodations again. I know that I already sent in a signed agreement, but is there anything I can possibly do? … I am feeling divided from administration and not part of the council team.”
Gee. Ever wonder why?
Armstrong responds on September 29 that Salzer’s request “to withdraw your claim was already accepted by the Commission.” But if Salzer believes “the Respondent is discriminating against you, you have the right to file another claim.” Armstrong cautions, “Please keep in mind the determination of whether or not a Respondent has discriminated against a Complainant is decided only after an investigation.”
Armstrong further notes that investigations “often take 2-3 months to complete after a claim is filed” and says, “it is wise for the parties to sit down together to resolve the matter (if possible).”
Wow. What a concept.
A July 9 email shows Mayor Estes taking the lead, inviting Salzer to meet him in his office “today until 4 pm and tomorrow from 10-4 p.” Salzer begs off, saying she’s “completely swamped with work and other things, and will be unable to meet with you tomorrow.” She adds, “I am open to listening to anything you have to say in the meantime by email.”
Elsewhere, Salzer repeatedly cites Mayor Estes’ alleged “promise” or “pledge” to have “two interpreters” at every council meeting. She may be referring to a July 10 email from Mayor Estes. What the mayor actually said is this:
“At this time I have directed (emphasis mine) two interpreters be at every council meeting this year and will see to it funds are in the 2015 budget.”
Mayor Estes closes with, “I hold out the olive branch in one hand and in the other my apology.” He adds, “I would like to return to a positive working relationship.” (Emphasis in original.)
Can the same be said of Salzer?
Fast forward to September. In an email to Salzer dated September 25 obtained via public records request, City Administrator Kristy Powell indicates that the interpreter told the ASL Professionals owner “that she could work for two hours without a break.” Powell writes:
Because she was confident of this, I did not see any reason to doubt her ability. After the council meeting I asked her if she was okay. She said she was tired but that she would like to try it again next council meeting.
The ASL Professional manager called (senior deputy clerk) this morning and told her that (interpreter) is more than willing to do it alone next meeting. She feels that she is perfectly capable but after reading your email she is hesitant to get in the middle of a problem. We have assured her that there is not a problem and so (interpreter) will be here at the next council meeting. If she finds it too taxing we will make different arrangements.
Oh, I dunno. Sounds kinda “accommodating,” doesn’t it? Darn. There go those flaming headlines again.
A September 26 post by the city on the Club Chihuahua Facebook page explains:
The city provided an interpreter for the September 23rd meeting that indicated she could work for 2 hours without a break. The meeting went for 1.5 hours. After the meeting she assured us she was tired but that she would like to try again next meeting. She said she would need help for the budget workshops. The City will continue to provide an interpreter. We are also looking at electronic solutions to provide the service.
Don’t look now, but that sounds both reasonable and responsive.
Naw. Not really. Our heroine says: “You promised me 2 interpreters. No change from that commitment was discussed with me.” She continues, “And lastly, why are you discussing any change to my accommodations on social media? Especially when it is such a private thing and has not been discussed with me.”
If the topic is “such a private thing,” why is she splashing it all over Facebook? And forwarding email on the matter to the press/blogosphere and other entities? (Conservelocity has those emails, too, also via public records request.)
A little further down the September 26 Facebook thread Salzer says: “Correction, she said ‘there is no way (interpreter) would do this solo for 2 hours.” The “she” Salzer refers to is the owner of ASL Professionals, the sign language interpreters.
Conservelocity obtained the email from which that line is pulled. It’s addressed to Salzer and dated September 24, 2014. Here’s the broader context:
“There is no way (interpreter) would do this solo for 2 hours. The meetings, that I have sent interpreters for have been right at the 1 or 1.25 hr mark, thus being sufficient only having one interpreter. Until the situation arises that it’s a horribly taxing council meeting I don’t feel justified going off the ‘what if’s.’
I feel like I am stuck in the middle, my interpreters too, of a very sticky situation. You have to understand going into this I had no idea about all the things that had transpired regarding interpreters.
Does “all the things” include miscommunications? Probably. Misunderstandings? Ditto. But active, intentional “discrimination” by the city?
Keep an eye out for Tiger Lily and Smee.
Hate to rain on your kibble, Chihuahans, but there no stones thrown at city hall here, either. Inferring that ASL Professionals decided to jump ship due to the city’s behavior alone may further the Bow-Wow agenda, but it doesn’t pass the Tinkerbell straight-face test. Can you say, “hogwash”? Or something more colorful?
Meanwhile, the city is busting its keyster trying to “reasonably accommodate” the council member while she seems more interested in … not. Note this gem – and the attitude behind it – from The Daily World. Posted on July 14, 2014, Salzer is quoted as saying: “To be clear, when someone requests accommodations via the American Disabilities Act, once that request is made and deemed reasonable, the requester should not need to do anything further to ensure accommodation.”
Way to play team ball!
Even after all this, those big, unreasonable meanies at city hall still secured an interpreter for the October 14 city council meeting anyway. And while the city is looking at technological upgrades and other options to meet her needs, Salzer says she “didn’t request the use of technology to accommodate her needs.”
Newsflash: Most grown-ups realize that they don’t always get everything they want. Sometimes they have to settle for what’s available and affordable.
Of course those with disabilities need and deserve reasonable accommodation to meet their needs. But after reviewing more than 150 pages of documentation on the subject, plus meetings, media, and other sources, Conservelocity observes that one side of this kerfuffle is making a sincere, good-faith effort toward solutions and resolution. The other side seems more interested in barking, chasing headlines, and chewing up the integrity of city officials.
And yes, there’s more!
Say, that’s it! You think of a wonderful thought… toys at Christmas, sleigh bells, snow… It’s easier ‘n pie! Now you try:
Bow Wow Alert
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Photo credit: Public domain