DOJ contacts Bend about ADA settlement

City attorney says email is related to litigation

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin / @hborrud

For years, it has been unclear what would happen when the city of Bend reached the deadline of a 2004 federal settlement for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Bend spent millions of dollars over the past decade to fix problems with bus stops, sidewalk curb ramps, city buildings and other infrastructure, all of which were built since the 1992 law and did not meet accessibility standards. City officials have repeatedly said they expect to miss the March 2015 deadline to complete the work they agreed to nearly 10 years ago, but the U.S. Department of Justice had not told the city what would happen in that situation.

That is, until July 7, when the city received an email from the DOJ that could help illuminate for the public how the federal agency plans to handle the missed deadline. City Attorney Mary Winters confirmed Monday the city received the email a week ago.

City Accessibility Manager Karin Morris said Monday that someone at the Department of Justice emailed the city to request an address where the agency could send a letter regarding the settlement. “We have not received anything from DOJ as an official response regarding the DOJ settlement,” Morris said, adding that the city will move ahead with the work it outlined in its latest plan to comply with the settlement. “We’ll be going forward with that regardless of any action or determination.”

Morris said she did not know exactly when the city might receive the letter from DOJ regarding the city’s latest plan, which outlines work that will continue past the 2015 deadline. But when the city does receive the letter, Morris said, the city will provide it to the public. “I’m hoping we’d get it this week,” Morris said.

The Bulletin requested the email last week, but city officials have so far refused to release it. As of Monday, they had not provided a reason the email could not be released under Oregon public records law.

Separately, the city provided more than two years of its correspondence with the DOJ to The Bulletin in response to a public records request in June. That correspondence did not include any discussion of how the DOJ would proceed if the city failed to meet the deadline.

The DOJ Civil Rights Division did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline Monday. Mayor Jim Clinton and Mayor Pro Tem Jodie Barram also did not return calls for comment Monday. City Manager Eric King did not respond to a request for comment, but Winters wrote in an email Monday afternoon that the city is still reviewing whether it can legally withhold the email from the public under Oregon public records law, under an exemption for records that deal with litigation.

“We have received no official correspondence from DOJ, which we would provide,” Winters wrote. “We have tried to reach the Department of Justice by phone but so far have been unsuccessful. I hope to get back to you as soon as possible.”

Last week, Winters said legal analysis is not the only reason the city has not released the DOJ email. “We have not shared it with (City) Council, which is our biggest concern,” Winters wrote in an email on Thursday.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, hborrud@bendbulletin.com