The July meeting of the Salem Commission on Disabilities came to order at 4:10 PM. In attendance: Jack Harris, chair, David Martel, Michael Taylor, Charlie Reardon, co-chair, David Moisan, Jean Harris, Debra Lobsitz and David Tracht.
Andy LaPointe’s mother passed away, so he wasn’t present. Jean Levesque was not present.
New Business: Jack Harris: Agendas will now be posted on the city’s website.
There were two site visits this month: 4 First St., Apt. 702, was the first. We’d gotten a call from a gentleman about a curb cut. There is a HP spot with an access aisle, but there’s no curb cut. Tom St. Pierre came out with us to the site and verified that there was a problem there. The tenant had tried to get this resolved himself but was unable to. It seems like a simple fix for the landlord to do. We will monitor this.
19 Cushing St., in North Salem. Four trees were planted which encroach on the sidewalk and impede wheelchair travel. I was sent an email on this which I will forward to Jason Silva. I visited with Jean Levesque and Rick Rennard and verified the situation there. The developers were to put brick pavers down at the sidewalk but nothing yet.
People are making us aware of these situations and we work with the developers each time.
Fourth of July: We [Jack and his family] were there. Charlie and I had an idea that we put forth with Jason and Ellen [Talkowski]. On the lawn where people sit for the concert, there should be a path set out so that people with wheelchairs and people with carts can pass. Jason suggested putting in a special section for people in wheelchairs, but I thought this would be a better solution for the crowd in general.
David Martel: It was a very nice, but very crowded concert.
Jack Harris: The only downside is, I have two girls in wheelchairs and it was a nightmare getting them out of there. People were disregarding our presence. I’m wondering if the Commission can do something to educate people.
David Moisan: Wise ass suggestion: Why not use flashlights? I used mine to shine a clear area in front of me and people followed the light.
Jack Harris: We did have flashlights!
Jean Harris: People may not know what the path is for.
Charlie Reardon & David Martel: It gives them a boundary. Whether they respect it or not…
Jean Harris: Volunteers could set this up.
Charlie: People would appreciate the path since they could go to the restroom [at the National Park Service center] and get something to eat at a vendor without much hassle.
Jack Harris: I talked to Ellen about the porta-potties; none of them were the accessible type. She told me, when the city rents porta-potties, the accessible ones are twice as expensive to rent as regular ones. The accessible potties “fill up” faster and need more frequent service.
Charlie Reardon: Haunted Happenings does have these.
Jack Harris: Yes they do, Ellen does get several to put around the city. I’m saying to myself, “who’s making the money?” We have to talk with the rental firms or manufacturers to find out why this is.
David Tracht: Ellen who?
Dave M. & Jack: Ellen Talkowski, director of special projects for the city.
David Tracht: Does Ellen or the city promote itself to disabled people?
Jack: I don’t know for sure, but I’ve seen more and more disabled people in the streets of Salem.
I talked with Jeff Dugan, one of the deputy directors of the Mass. Office of Disability. They had a real problem with disability seating at the Hatch Shell; at the recent July Fourth, the event organizers had a special section for disability seating but were telling people there they couldn’t leave the event until everyone else had gone.
David Martel: I’d been to several summer concerts at the Hatch Shell and noticed the disabled seating.
For our viewing audience: The MBTA will discontinue commuter rail after 7 PM weekdays and no service on weekends which is a very big deal as we depend on the tourist traffic and people coming home late.
No bus service out of Lynn on weekends. Of concern to disabled people is that the 465 and 451 buses would be eliminated. The RIDE would be eliminated in Peabody and Beverly. There are big medical complexes in Peabody, Beverly and Danvers; Lahey Clinic by the Northshore Mall. Of all my doctors ,only one is in Salem; everyone else is in Peabody.
The T has a public workshop planned for August 17th, 6 to 8 PM at 120 Washington St. to discuss these cuts.
My other item, also transportation-related, concerns Bridge St. The 75% design meeting for the Bridge St. reconstruction is also on August 17th, 7 PM at the Carlton School. I can’t cover both these meetings for TV so if someone can come to the Bridge St. meeting I would appreciate it.
I want to see audible talking signals on Bridge St. just as we have on North St. The presentation materials will hopefully be online at salem.com.
Charlie Reardon: I’ll be at that meeting. I was at the first meeting for the Marlborough Road reconstruction project, and for the final meeting. They reassured us there would be access to wheelchairs, but we found poles in the sidewalk blocking access.
David Martel: Leggs Hill Road YMCA road. The sidewalks are incomplete. Jack: The Salem planning department is on top of things, or so they tell me.
Charlie Reardon: One cannot go up the hill in the winter in a wheelchair, it’s too steep.
Jack Harris: There are 90 spaces at that lot. I’m thrilled that the facility is being used, but it seems to be overflowing. We are keeping an eye on that as always.
My last new item: We were to have a guest from Massachusetts MENTOR this month, but he couldn’t attend. Massachusetts MENTOR is a program that provides specialized support—the Shared Living Program—to severely disabled individuals who need a kind of “foster care”. I don’t know much about the agency; they are not only based here but also in many other states. I’ve passed a letter around to the commissioners.
Mike Taylor: This program is for those severely disabled people who cannot be completely independent. It’s a good program.
Jack: It’s a population we don’t hear much about. I will try to get them here in September or October.
AAB Update: I don’t know if this had made the paper, but the St. Jean’s house, the “sober house”, has submitted a new variance request to the AAB. As I understand it, the court ruled that the owner of the property could no longer be involved with the development of this property. There’s a new name attached to the variance request; I talked to Tom St. Pierre and he asked us what to do and I suggested to Tom Watkins and the AAB that there should be a hearing on this. The AAB did agree with our suggestion of a meeting on the 27th at 1 Ashburton Place in Boston. We’ll see what happens. There are some who feel the project should go forward but at the same time it should be compliant under the AAB.
We should have more information very quickly.
Charlie Reardon: $3 million dollars of stimulus, was put forth recently for disability-related spending and granted to the Salem schools.
Jack Harris: This is a very wide range, from intervention in regular classrooms all the way up to out-of-district schooling. People want to compartmentalize one part of special ed against the other.
A lot of money comes from the federal government and not from the city’s school budget.
Remember that every parent can ask for special education.
Charlie Reardon: Unfortunately for us, Salem’s special ed is regarded as better than a lot of neighboring communities so people come to us. Jean Levesque has been talking about this for years.
David Martel: That’s bad when parents from other communities register their children under a false address.
Jack: There is a committee that’s trying to find out why there are so many Salem students in special ed; nothing reported yet. People are also trying to get kids back in the district and reducing the number of out-of-district placements.
On to Old Business.
Jack: All of you hopefully received the email from David Moisan about the city’s Sunshine Ordinance. I was very impressed by David’s letter. I passed this on to Jason Silva and Tom Watkins.
I think this bill needs to go forward and I was talking with some commissioners before the meeting today about how Walter Cronkite was trusted and credible to all. The sunshine ordinance isn’t just about getting the facts out, it’s about building trust.
There’s another meeting coming up. Dave, do you know?
Dave Moisan: It was a long meeting. A three hour meeting. The committee was not expecting the neighborhood associations to show up. Everybody showed up. Teasie Goggin showed up. It was a tough meeting because they had to go through each of the proposed changes. I did bring up a technical point: Did the notification of meetings had to be by email? I just know that sooner or later, someone’s going to ask why the mayor isn’t on Twitter.
Jerry Ryan asked me a question about SATV at the meeting: Does SATV put City Council meetings on the web? No, we don’t have the resources. This has been a sticking point. Sal [SATV’s Executive Director] and I have been talking about this.
Half of me thinks it’s a great idea. The other half thinks, why is SATV having to pay for it? The city’s web host has a video division for hosting government meetings.
Jack Harris: I had a conversation with Tom Watkins about the agenda. I asked him: What is the ability to put our meetings on the website? Answer: Not right now; there’s more cost involved. I told him: It’s good to have written minutes up there, but for the blind, it’s not much use.
The Commission has been trying to come up with an alternate solution. Whether it’s putting more money into Virtual Town Hall [Salem’s provider] or SATV. Tom told me there’s a committee meeting on this in the near future. I suggested having a representative from the Commission; that is not really a suggestion. We could be in trouble if someone needs audio and we don’t have it. Dave, how feasible is it?
Dave Moisan: I am personally conflicted: I gladly gave my time to the Commission, but I am not getting support from the City. Someone could ask: What about archives? The archives are in my possession but the city needs to take custody of them.
Jason Silva doesn’t seem to be interested and Cheryl’s department [the City Clerk’s office] is overworked. I was told an anecdote at the meeting: Certain meeting minutes are taking 18 months to be completed. I think the City Clerk’s office is scared of this, with good reason.
Jack Harris: Why we were not represented at the [website] committee, I’m not sure. We are ahead of the city in this. We can’t make the technical decisions for them but we can push them. I want to let Dave know he had a very good response and I appreciated his letter.
On to Outdoor seating. I’m passing around a letter Mayor Driscoll wrote to Ken Bonnachi. Ken was concerned about Tavern in the Square and their proposal to have outdoor seating at Derby & Washington.
I haven’t seen specific plans about how this is supposed to work. As some of you may know, there was a concern about their open dining area and whether it allowed flies in. The restaurant has since taken measures for this.
Charlie Reardon: Does the restaurant have to pay for using city property? What happens if someone sues?
David Moisan: Two restaurants in that chain are in Cambridge. They pay the city.
Jack Harris: Also at that restaurant, the steps into the entrance that people have been concerned about have been marked, and they are planning to remove the steps completely.
Our successes are small, but they are real nonetheless.
Jack Harris: I passed around another letter from Sail Salem. They tried to get a grant last year but weren’t able to. This letter goes into the reasons why they didn’t get it.
Puleo’s Ice Cream: They moved into the old Comcast office. There’s no access to wheelchairs from the front. There may or may not be access from the back entrance, nobody’s checked.
Jack Harris: They didn’t make major renovations.
David Moisan: My first thought; they didn’t tip the requirements [30% cost of renovation requires accessibility to current ADA code.])
Jack Harris: Sail Salem had their open house recently. I already know how to sail so…I want to get Andy there!
Jack: The Peabody St. Playground construction has restarted again after asbestos removal. This includes the harborwalk the city is building. Also: Beverly is redoing their harbor near the bridge. There is a connection to a similar project in Salem at the foot of the old bridge.
We do not meet in August.
Heritage Days is coming up. Lots of neat events, including a road race.
A complaint about the new women’s bathroom at the Willows: The toilet paper roll is too far away from the toilet. Can someone volunteer to check this out?
Jean Harris: Volunteered!
Jack: Andy and Jean should be back by then.
Next meeting is September 15th, 2009, 4 PM.