Last week, Mayor @JoeCurtatone retaliated against Somerville accessibility rights advocate Eileen Feldman after she blew the whistle on the City’s attempt to have the U.S. Surgeon General’s March 23rd health grant event held at the then-inaccessible Armory on Highland Ave. The mayor’s reprisal took the form of an op-ed by his Health Dept. Director, Paulette Renault-Caragianes, who expressed “deep disappointment with the unfair tactics, and untrue information” used by Ms. Feldman. She further mischaracterized Eileen’s efforts as “misleading and deceptive”, “regrettable and disappointing”, and finally “half truths that misinform.”
Paulette seemed most upset by Eileen’s claim that the entrance ramp and threshold to the
Arts at the Armory were excessively steep. Paulette inaccurately stated that the facility “was and is operating under a valid variance from the AAB (MA Architectural Access Board) for the grade of the ramp.” In fact, since Feb 2010, the AAB considered many violations including the steep ramp and granted to the Armory variances and extensions that each eventually were revoked or expired.
By last October’s AAB hearing, the ramp had still not been fixed because, as the Armory claimed (without written proof), its renovations were blocked by the City’s Historical Preservation Commission and the DPW. The AAB then voted to impose on the Armory a $500/day fine which was still accumulating on March 23rd. It also notified the MBTA that its November meeting could not be held there due to its inaccessibility.
Therefore, one wonders why the City even suggested the Armory in the first place? Paulette could have easily verified these facts with the AAB as suggested in Eileen’s letter to the state officials who followed her advice before deciding to move the grant event to the accessible Holiday Inn.
Paulette also accused Eileen of giving state officials short notice. However, the earliest public announcement appeared 3 days prior to the event in the Somerville Journal and never appeared on the City website. Therefore, Eileen’s letter the next day was in no way an 11th-hour trick.
Mayor Curtatone’s and Paulette’s retaliation against Eileen with lies and smears casts a chilling effect on civic rights activists across Somerville and should be alarming to all residents interested in a fair and honest government. Therefore, I call upon both of them to immediately issue public apologies to Eileen that retract this letter, acknowledge that it was retaliation, and recognize the importance of accessibility regulations.
[Note: My letter-to-the-editor appeared in this week's Somerville Journal (Letter: Somerville’s Armory actions have ‘chilling effect’) and was posted on its website today. See also Audi Guha's informative article State: Somerville Armory finally ADA compliant. Also, as a co-chair of the City's Human Rights Commission, I have added a discussion of Paulette's letter to the agenda of our upcoming accessible meeting this Monday 4/9, 6:30pm @ TAB Building on Holland Street. All are welcome!]