2015-03-19 / Opinion

Ups and Downs at City Hall

For years, comedians and others who just think they are funny have incorporated the terms “ups and downs” and “elevator” into their comedic (or, let’s face it, their less-than-funny) routines.

The temptation is great to use such language here—except for one thing. There is nothing funny about the delay of elevator construction at City Hall.

Rolling the calendar back six years to 2009, the Rhode Island Governor’s Commission on Disabilities found that Newport’s antiquated elevator and stairway lift (that, come to think of it, has rarely been used—but that’s another story) failed to meet minimum requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

That meant, of course, that many, if not most, disabled local citizens were probably unable to use the elevator and were, in effect, shut out of attending City Council meetings at City Hall.

After the city and the U.S. Department of Justice agreed in 2010 that these problems would be addressed, a video feed was set up at the accessible Newport police station.

Now flip the calendar forward to spring 2014—a little more than one year ago. There were still no visible signs of a new elevator being installed when the attorney general’s office ruled that public meetings at City Hall’s council chambers violated the state Open Meetings Law and would have to be relocated.

Between August and October of last year, the city awarded the Robinson Green Beretta firm two contracts worth a combined $134,000 to examine elevator options (an exterior plan has been selected) and for design, bidding and construction oversight. Full of optimism, city officials predicted then that work on the new elevator would be completed by July or August 2015.

Last November, Newport voters approved a $6 million bond referendum covering the cost of this elevator and other projects. But now, four months later, a construction contract has yet to be awarded, and word out of City Hall is that officials are working on updating the schedule.

Sounds to us as though July or August is out the window.

Meanwhile, municipal panels such as the City Council and Zoning and Planning boards, to name just a few, must comport themselves like vagabonds at schools and other venues.

Talk about ups and downs. It seems to us that this situation is pretty much all “downs”—as well as a full-fledged municipal procrastination. Let's hope this is not an indicator of how long it will take the council to tackle other pressing issues.

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