Authorized teams ship letter to Staunton Metropolis Council relating to distant participation in conferences

STAUNTON, Virginia (WHSV) – Staunton City Council voted 4-3 last month to repeal an emergency ordinance, and that move also ended the public’s ability to register to attend council meetings.

This decision has resulted in some setbacks from community members and has also attracted the attention of some stakeholders in the state. Several groups recently sent a letter to the mayor and city council asking them to reconsider their decision to stop attending city council meetings remotely.

In a joint effort, the American Civil Liberties Union, the DisAbility Law Center, and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection wrote to the City Council to share their concerns about this decision and its potential impact on people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities are at significantly greater risk of death or serious illness when they contract COVID, and we are certainly not through with the pandemic,” said Mary McCord, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

The letter cited the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, which require governments to make changes as needed to allow people with disabilities to fully participate in government programs.

“The city put the call-in option on it, and by cutting it off, there are people whose rights are then cut off,” said McCord.

However, Staunton Mayor Andrea Oakes said the council already plans to discuss all council procedures at a meeting in May, including the possibility for the public to come forward.

“This is an issue that we certainly haven’t overlooked or forgotten. It’s just about having it on the agenda and talking about it,” said Oakes.

With the end of remote participation, there were also concerns about the first change. The letter reads: “A member of the city council recently suggested that the abolition of telephone participation was based on a constitutionally impermissible desire to silence dissenting views.”

But Mayor Oakes said that was not true.

“We want to hear from everyone. The good the bad the ugly. We want to hear the negative comments, we want to hear the positive comments, we keep this door open for everyone, ”Oakes said. “This is your first right to amend, and we definitely respect the first change.”

McCord said the letter was not intended to be threatening but rather to draw attention to the problem and provide advice when needed.

“This is trying to get their attention, this is a serious problem and the pandemic is not over yet and people are being excluded from their rights and not placed under the ADA,” McCord said.

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