A Little Stroll Down Monte Memory Lane

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Time for a little stroll down memory lane. This post was originally published October 10, 2014 under the title: Montesano Marisa and Club Chihuahua: ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8…!’

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It): Montesano Council Member Marisa Salzer didn’t resign over ‘discrimination.’ She chose to give up her seat rather than fully comply with a public records request.  Kinda makes you wonder what was in those still-undisclosed records, doesn’t it?

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Those big meanies over at Montesano City Hall just don’t get it. Deaf council member Marisa Salzer must have a reasonable accommodation of her disability.

Okay. But what constitutes “reasonable”? And what kind of bill can Montesano taxpayers expect to foot in the process?

Conservelocity has learned via public records request that providing interpretive services for Marisa Salzer is costing the city a mint. A City of Montesano Transaction Journal (see slideshow below) shows that interpreter-related expenses from January 01, 2014 to date includes fees paid to both ASL Professionals and the individual interpreter, Brenda House, of Elma. House charges $60.00 an hour. ASL Professionals charge anywhere from about $172 per meeting to about $225 per meeting. Expenses cover council meetings, workshops and mileage.

The earliest invoice from Brenda House is dated December 10, 2013. She bills for two hours for a total of $120. Additional House bills include $120 each for January 14, 2014, January 28, February 11, February 25, March 11, March 25, April 22, May 13, June 24 (two interpreters: $240), July 22 and September 9.

A bill for a “second interpreter” from House does not show up until June, with this asterisk: “I had requested a team on 06/23/2014 through Kristy Powell. I was told that the meeting would only be one hour and didn’t need a team interpreter.” The total for two interpreters is $240. The total to Montesano taxpayers for December 2013 to present is $1,560.

ASL Professionals bills for services and mileage include:

  • An invoice for a February 03, 2014 “city council workshop for Marisa Salzer” at $216.80.
  • Invoice for a February 04, 2014 “city council meeting for Marisa Salzer” at $172.56.
  • Invoice for a May 27, 2014 “city council workshop for Marisa Salzer – evening hours” at $227.36.
  • Invoice for July 22, 2014 “city council workshop for Marisa Salzer” at $226.80.
  • Invoice for September 09, 2014 “city council meeting/workshop for Marisa Salzer” at $262.36.

The total to date is $1,105.88.

Total ASL Professionals + Brenda House billing to date: $2,665.88.

The first mention of the need for a “team interpreter” (two) shows up in a June 23, 2014 email from Salzer to House. 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.”

If the sky will fall unless two interpreters are present at every city council meeting, why does Salzer not note this until June 2014? The rationale is that interpreters wear out after an hour or so, and lengthier meetings require two. A review of city council meeting minutes from January 2014 to June 2014 obtained via public record request shows:

January 14, 2014 meeting adjourned at 9:00 p.m.

January 28 meeting adjourned at 8:10 p.m.

February 11 meeting adjourned at 8:50 p.m.

February 25 meeting adjourned at 8:55 p.m.

March 11 meeting adjourned at 8:17 p.m.

March 25 meeting adjourned at 7:23 p.m.

And so on. Meetings are convened at 7:00 p.m. Some included Executive Sessions or workshops. Note the number of meetings prior to June that went over an hour.

A little fourth grade math here. At two city council meetings per month during the school year and one city council meeting per month during summers, that’s roughly 21 council meetings per year. Not including special or extra meetings or workshops and the like.

At about $120 per meeting for one interpreter plus roughly $225 per meeting for ASL Professionals, taxpayers can expect to shell out about $7,245 per year for that portion of the “accommodation.” Plus mileage. Those invoices, obtained via public record request, show mileage costs averaging roughly $85 per monthly bill. At around 21 meetings per year, the cost to taxpayers is about $1,785 a year. Maybe more. Total annual for two interpreters, ASL Professionals fees and mileage? Around $9,030.

Multiply those rough figures by four years, the usual term for a city council member. The bill to taxpayers is over $36K. Not including special, extra or other public meetings or workshops.

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So, which city employee loses their job so the former Vidette reporter’s “two interpreters” demand is met? Which city services get reduced?

Instead of having two people physically interpret city council and related meetings, why not explore more efficient, cost-effective options? What’s with the incessant, insistent demands that the one and only way to accommodate this council member’s disability is to hire to two interpreters for every meeting?

Is that “reasonable”?

More fun: As reported in the Vidette on September 26 (updated September 30), Salzer “made the decision with a saddened heart to obtain legal representation.” Most people don’t obtain legal counsel to play pinochle. The threat of a lawsuit looms. If it materializes, how much more will this “brouhaha” cost Monte taxpayers?

What’s that again about “reasonable”?

Some additional information regarding “reasonable accommodation per the Americans with Disability Act from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission includes:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, unless it would cause undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way a job is performed that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. There are three categories of “reasonable accommodations”:

  1. changes to a job application process
  2. changes to the work environment, or to the way a job is usually done
  3. changes that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment (such as access to training).

Read more under the EEOC’s “General Principles” related to “reasonable accommodation.” That section includes:

A modification or adjustment is “reasonable” if it “seems reasonable on its face, i.e., ordinarily or in the run of cases;”(8) this means it is “reasonable” if it appears to be “feasible” or “plausible.”(9)An accommodation also must be effective in meeting the needs of the individual.(10) In the context of job performance, this means that a reasonable accommodation enables the individual to perform the essential functions of the position. Similarly, a reasonable accommodation enables an applicant with a disability to have an equal opportunity to participate in the application process and to be considered for a job. Finally, a reasonable accommodation allows an employee with a disability an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment that employees without disabilities enjoy.

Also note the section on Undue Hardship:

The only statutory limitation on an employer’s obligation to provide “reasonable accommodation” is that no such change or modification is required if it would cause “undue hardship” to the employer.(16) “Undue hardship” means significant difficulty or expense and focuses on the resources and circumstances of the particular employer in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation. Undue hardship refers not only to financial difficulty, but to reasonable accommodations that are unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business.(17) An employer must assess on a case-by-case basis whether a particular reasonable accommodation would cause undue hardship.

Kindly read that again. (That’s okay. I’ll wait. If you’re short on Sominex, you can read the whole thing here. And here are the updates.)

Let’s all simmer down and lose the pitch forks for a minute. Breathe. Now, ask: Does $$11,550 or more a year constitute an “undue hardship” for a small city with a limited budget? Are more cost-effective options available? What about “unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business”? 

Some have asked if Saint Salzer is being manipulated by another entity that’s still peeved over paint. Shocker: The Bow-Wow Brigade launched an on-line petition in July, Accommodate Councilor Marisa Salzer, that obviously didn’t go through spell check. The petition demands “accommodation of Councilor Salzer’s reasonable request for sufficient interpreter services to provide quality interpretation at all times of public meetings.” The petition gained 54 signatures as of this date. Connect those dots. (I’ll still wait.)

Conservelocity is aware that alternative accommodations are being explored, including an electronic reader board-type arrangement and/or voice recognition equipment. Both are a fraction of the cost of human interpreters. These options represent a win-win-win for the council member, taxpayers, and any other audience members who have trouble hearing what’s going on at city hall meetings. Ditto the press. Other council members. Those seated or standing a distance from the mics.

The initial outlay for an electronic reader board is significant. Amortize the expense over a four-year city council term, however, and the cost is estimated at about one-fifth of the dual interpreters gig.

Such simple, cost-effective alternatives aren’t making headlines. Since Salzer insists that two interpreters are the only manner in which her disability can be accommodated and she is so dissatisfied with the city’s attempts at same thus far, why not make the arrangements herself and bill the city accordingly? Because that won’t make headlines, either. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Besides, if an epidemic of common sense breaks out regarding the reasonableness of “reasonable,” Club Chihuahua won’t have anything to yip about for at least a nano-second. And we can’t have that now, can we? (Stay tuned.)

Hark! It’s another Club Chihuahua sighting…. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8….:

 

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Photo credit: Chihuahua Yawning by elbambolo bambolinaPublic domain

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