Below is the transcript from the October 8th Candidate Forum on Disability Issues!
Candidate Forum on Disability Issues
October 8, 2019
6:00 p.m. ET
Services provided by:
Caption First, Inc.
Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.
Ericka Jones: Thank you very much. Were you to be chosen for office, what would you do so ensure the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws by landlords and orders against tenant with section eight vouchers.
Karen Bailey Turner: In county court, I don’t really have ‑‑ but as to making sure the laws are ‑‑ across the board, as a judge, that would be the duty. So to the extent that I’d be handling the matters ‑‑ should be enforced.
Ericka Jones: Thank you. I’d like to open up to the audience if you have any questions. This would be your time. Just raise your hand. We’ll get you a mic.
Katy: Thanks. My name is Katy. So, as you acknowledged, there are tremendous barriers to just being disabled regardless. I was wondering, in your experience, what kind of specific barriers have you seen your clients face?
Karen Bailey Turner: A lot of ‑‑ well, in terms of the mentally ill, a lot of the barriers are just an understanding of what mental illness is, and the stigma people face, a lack of understanding of the symptoms someone else may have different symptoms from someone who is schizophrenic. So in a mental health context, that’s something that I definitely see. A lot of that is addressed by educating myself. So that’s ‑‑ a long time in trials and hearings in courts ‑‑ several issues. And I know ‑‑ a lot of questions about accommodating members of the Deaf community, and how courts do that.
And there’s several ways. First of all, what I really discovered is sometimes people will say oh, the Deaf community ‑‑ and they think okay, well, there’s one type of person, one type of way of being deaf. And what I’ve realized is that there are different ways. You have to really ask people what helps them and find out a bit more about them. I’ll give you a couple of examples. In jury selection, we encounter people who may say, I read lips so that will be fine. I’ll just read from the stand. That’s okay. And from the attorney’s perspective, you’re wondering, yeah, you read lips, but some people speak faster and some people speak slower.
And might you miss something that might be relevant to making a decision regarding this client? So what we do is, of course, ask people, you know, can we put you closer. Can we do anything else that might be helpful. In terms of someone who actually needs sound amplified, that’s another way of accommodating people who are deaf. And the courts have these little mics like we have now. And that type of person can be accommodated that way. What I’ve seen, particularly in the refugee communities, when you have people who are deaf, is sometimes we’ve really had to look into ways to address these issues, because people ‑‑ and the refugee settlement agency has been helpful to us.
You have people who come here and you think, let’s get an interpreter who speaks the initial language, and then ASL can interpret that. But then you have people who are refugees who may have come from two or three different countries and may not necessarily know the initial language. And also, may have never learned it, right. And I think one of the issues that those of us who are hearing have to really understand is that being deaf is more than the absence of sound. There’s a whole different socialization as well. You can’t say maybe if I draw something this person will understand.
What we’ve done in some of the cases I talk about is we have two interpreters. And in those situations, as well as situations where we have deaf people who are challenged ‑‑ we have an ASL interpreter sometimes come in. And then that ASL interpreter who is also deaf will interpret, additionally, for that person. So that’s one way of addressing those issues. But at the end of the day it’s about sensitivity. It’s about being aware of your own implicit bias, and being willing to put your understanding and what you think you know aside and being open to really understand and find a way to accommodate individuals.
JONATHAN: Hello. My name is Jonathan Dollhopf. And I’m a Deaf Systems Advocate. Thank you for introduction so far. I’d like to ask about access specifically for members of the Deaf community. And as you know, accessibility for Deaf people in terms of getting interpreters is not great. And I have been meeting with members of the district, specifically one judge, about the need to improve services and about how to make sure that the appropriate interpreters are assigned. And right now, there are language interpreters, people in that group. And they are assigning interpreters for deaf people and they think one interpreter can sign for any deaf person ‑‑ four cases ‑‑ that is a loss of money and time.
And it causes these court cases to go longer than they should. I’ve been working on this for four or five years now and I’ve not seen any progress on it. So if you were elected as the judge, and you see some of these issues with interpreters and services, what would you do to solve that problem?
Karen Bailey Turner: Well, as a judicial candidate, I can’t speak specifically as to what I would do for classes of litigants for each specific problem. But I can tell you first of all that if you’re talking and you are communicating already with a justice, then that would be my boss. And he’s head of the seventh judicial district, which is eight counties. So that’s the person to be communicating with. And if you find that communication has not been satisfactory, then that’s certainly a need for another sit‑down, bringing it to the attention of the community. And I can tell you, I just finished a course for the Seventh Judicial District yesterday and I know that access to the courts is something that’s very important to our judges, and to our community.
We have an absolute right no matter who we are to have our courts accommodate us in the federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to our courts, and regarding the Deaf community, there are additional New York State laws I mentioned in the question that apply. So I would not be the head judge. I would not be the one making a decision. But certainly on the bench, if it becomes clear to me that there are issues, I certainly would address that with the court. I have no problem asking the Justice or bringing something to their attention. I’ve done it as an attorney. Even better to do it as a judge.
Jonathan: Thank you.
Karen Bailey Turner: Thank you all for the opportunity.
Katy: Sure. And if I could clarify? The laws in New York State relating to access for deaf individuals are not clear. They need to be revisited. And potentially we could create a committee, share some ideas on how to improve it. Because right now the law, accessibility for deaf people is not there.
Karen Bailey Turner: And it sounds like based on your experience and your knowledge, you certainly have more information than me as to the ways that the law is not clear. And I think that’s something that needs to happen. You know, the courts can have the best goals. We have all these things that we want as people in the legal community. But unless we know from the community what’s needed and how to get from the idea to executing it, then we’re just going to always think we’re working on the deaf community issue. And apparently we’re not doing a good job. Then you need to let us know.
I can tell you ‑‑ department ‑‑ it’s an appellate division. And the head judge ‑‑ the court of appeals ‑‑ justice ‑‑ and in the court system, by the way, we have what we call an excellence initiative. The chief judge has an excellence initiative. You can go online. And if you have suggestions ‑‑ specific suggestions about things that need to be improved in our court system and ways to do that, then that judge and the head of our system is always interested. All right? So, thank you so much for your time and for bringing that to my attention. I think the next time I see the Justice I will mention that as well.
Ericka Jones: Thank you, Judge. All right. I want to take a moment to introduce Michael Dollinger for County Court Judge. So, just take a couple of minutes to introduce yourself. And then we will do a moderator question and open it up to the audience.
Michael Dollinger: Thank you very much, Ericka. I’m Michael, I’m one of the other candidates for Monroe County Court Judge. A little background about me, I’m a local guy. I was born and raised here. I did my time at university and law school. And I came back after graduating from law school to work as a prosecutor in the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office. I worked there for nine years, prosecuting cases starting with misdemeanors, working my way up to prosecuting nonviolent felonies, violent felonies, homicides, gun cases, basically all kinds of cases that come before a Monroe County Court judge. In my time as prosecutor, I left to work with Judge Christopher, and I have worked for him for the last three years. So I’m very excited about the opportunity to be the next County Court Judge, and look forward to questions.
Katy: Hi, a question I have for you is, so, the judge obviously announced a proposal to basically restructure courts across the state. And I was wondering, do you have any feelings about the proposal? Do you think the plan would better serve individuals with disabilities through our court system for whatever reason?
Michael Dollinger: I got that question at an event we had last week. And I’ll give you just about the same answer I gave them. And the answer is, being completely honest, I haven’t had a chance to look in‑depth at the proposal. I know the outline of it. But I’m hesitant to give an answer because I don’t think I have full understanding of the proposal. I don’t want to give an answer that doesn’t intelligently discuss it. And especially in terms of its effect on accessibility. What I know about it is it will eliminate most of the countywide judicial positions and make all of them Supreme Court judicial positions. And that’s really the extent of what I’ve learned about it so far.
Ericka Jones: So, your opponent was asked a question, and I want to give an opportunity for you to answer it as well. So, Jonathan, if you wanted to ask your question again, you’re welcome to.
Jonathan: If I can remember the question.
Ericka Jones: You can improvise.
Jonathan: Sure. So, as I mentioned previously, accessibility for members of the Deaf community in the county isn’t great. And I’ve been working on this issue for about four years. I’ve tried a number of different ways working with Monroe County’s court system, working with a judge, many meetings along the way. And my understanding is that Judge Doran ‑‑ my understanding is that he cannot change the court system alone. It falls on New York State’s court system to make those changes, which is understandable. But as a judge, if you were to be elected, if you see Deaf people in court with only one interpreter, for example, having two deaf clients with one interpreter, is that an appropriate situation, or should we have two different interpreters? I’m curious how much you know about the ADA specifically in terms of interpreting services and access for members of the Deaf community.
Michael Dollinger: So, I confess, I don’t know a lot about the ADA and what it requires, but I can tell you after listening to the question, if it were me, I would require that there were two interpreters, one for each person. And to me, it really comes down to the judge being willing to make accommodations so that everybody feels comfortable in court. And that’s something that I would definitely strive to ensure. In terms of the structural changes regarding your question, that’s something that would really need to be handled by the Office of Court Administration, which is the body that governs the New York City Court System.
Jonathan: Yes. And yesterday I was advocating for three Deaf individuals who were called to court there. The judge’s attitude towards Deaf people was not great. He asked why we had an interpreter, why we had a Certified Deaf Interpreter. It was a very negative experience and a very negative perception from that judge. And that did not make us feel comfortable in the courtroom. Having the judge make comments along those lines of what do we need interpreters for, what do we need two interpreters for? That type of attitude is not necessary.
Michael Dollinger: I agree. I’m sorry that you had to experience that. It seems unacceptable to me.
Gregg: Hi, my name is Gregg. You just said that you don’t know much about the ADA. I don’t know how this is going to go.
Gregg: But, judges play a huge role in the experience of disabled inmates when they go to prison. And the majority of our prisons and jails are rather ADA non-compliant. And I understand your answer before. But I’m wondering if you could talk a bit about your understanding of what a reasonable accommodation in prison would amount to given the ADA ‑‑ or do you think the ADA doesn’t apply to prisons?
Michael Dollinger: No, I do not think that it doesn’t.
Michael Dollinger: We had a pair of judges say that. So I understand that ‑‑ at least my understanding is that it does, yes. And are you talking about people who are deaf, who are blind, or wheelchair bound?
Gregg: I mean, there are all range of disabled people in the prison system requiring a range of accommodations. We have had people denied access to wheelchairs. We’ve had people told that they had to use other inmates as pushers to get around. We have been told that they had to forgo communication. They could not sign with each other. We have been told that most things that we would normally consider very reasonable accommodations are not required in prison. So I’m curious ‑‑ I don’t know if she is still here but I did want to ask this of the other judge that was up here.
Ericka Jones: She’s right behind you.
Gregg: Maybe you can answer as well. But I’m trying to understand what your philosophy will be in approaching cases when you sentence people, when you are navigating the very difficult process of sending someone to a prison that is generally opposed to their accommodation.
Michael Dollinger: Well, first of all, I’m a bit shocked to hear you say that. I would ‑‑ I guess, maybe a little naively, I’m surprised to hear that they’re facing these sorts of situations. That being said, the prisons obviously are run by the Department of Correctional Services. That organization traditionally has interesting relationships with judges. They sometimes follow what judges say. And they sometimes do their own thing despite what judges say. That being said, in terms of being a county court judge and sentencing somebody, there’s really not all that much you can do once they’re sent to the Department of Corrections. However, if people are having those experiences, those sound like violations of the law to me, based on what you’re telling me. So my suggestion, their recourse would be through the courts. That may be a situation where it comes full circle back to the judge. And then I can’t tell you how I would rule on those kind of things, but if people are facing those situations, that seems to be in violation of the ADA. So I think the remedy there would be a lawsuit to remedy those wrongs, those injustices.
Gregg: So there’s no way to address it presentencing?
Michael Dollinger: Not really. In terms of ‑‑ you sentence somebody and the department of corrections classifies them based on all sorts of background information. And I know the judge can’t order a convicted person to go to a certain prison. You sentence them, they go down and are classified, and they’re sent to whatever prison, destination.
Ericka Jones: I want to give an opportunity for you to respond. Did you want to?
Karen Bailey Turner: I know there are other candidates. I don’t want to take too much time. But as I mentioned earlier in the civil rights issue ‑‑ dealing with the Department of Corrections is different. As Mike mentioned, the appropriate way to handle that is really by a lawsuit. I can’t talk about my representation. But I’ve seen a legal society down in Syracuse do a phenomenal job regarding a client who was wheelchair‑bound and had Cerebral Palsy. And he had his own wheelchair which was prescribed and specific for him. The prison took that wheelchair away and had that stored for years as he went through the system. And as a result, his condition got worse. And he had to litigate getting back his wheelchair which was stored. They felt that he should have pushers. You have prisoners who actually are trained. And their jobs are to push. But it’s different to have a pusher than to have a specific wheelchair which was designed and prescribed for you to assist your condition. So his condition deteriorated over years. And the Legal Society did a phenomenal job for him. As Mike indicated, you do via lawsuit. That’s how that situation was addressed. Absolutely, you know, prisoners also are subject to protections, you know, from those who would act under law to deprive prisoners of their civil rights. So that exists, but there’s a disciplinary scheme. There’s so many schemes in prison that make it difficult. So I think the answer is litigation. Sometimes they just have ‑‑ you don’t lose all your civil rights in the prison. You do lose some of them.
Ericka Jones: All right. Thank you very much to you both. I would invite Shani Mitchell up if she’s here.
Ericka Jones: Shani Mitchell for District attorney.
Shani Mitchell: Thank you. Hi, I’m Shani Mitchell and I am the candidate for District Attorney. Just briefly, I was born and raised here in Rochester, New York. High school. And I practiced law for 13 years as a prosecutor between here, this office, and eight years in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been a professor of criminal justice. I have a master’s degree from Boston University. And the reason I went back to law school for my master’s ‑‑ to get my graduate degree ‑‑ is because I absolutely love the system, but it is broken. And I’d like to make it better. And one of the ways I feel it’s broken is how our inability to address people with disabilities in the system. And I think my eyes have been most opened on this campaign trail as I’ve met individuals tell me their stories about how we have been inadequate in the district attorney’s office in addressing them properly, especially as victims. And speaking with members of the Deaf community, the Deaf festival, had some conversations. And we are talking about simple victim contact, inability to properly communicate with victims. Also with the visually impaired. We don’t have Braille contact forms in our office. We just do a poor job communicating with our victims, and providing access so they know what’s going on with their cases. So I have to apologize. We do a very poor job. And that definitely will change under my administration. To make sure that our office adequately, effectively addresses and embraces all people in the Monroe County community.
Ericka Jones: Your moderator question is… please share one thing about disability and disabled people you think you need to know more about.
Shani Mitchell: That’s a great question. I guess as it relates to the criminal justice system, as victims, what do you need from us, and how can we best support you? And that’s really what I need to learn more about. I’ve had real conversations, because ‑‑ training in the office. Because I don’t believe that our advocates are trained appropriately to address the needs, because we haven’t had those real conversations. In addition, the district attorneys are not trained well. So we have to retrain our staff to adequately address the needs of people with disabilities. So we need to have better and more productive conversations in order to be more effective district attorneys.
Ericka Jones: I would like to open up the floor to the audience. If anyone has any questions, just raise your hand. Sophie will bring the mic.
Justin: Thanks. So, thank you for your remarks. If elected to the office of District Attorney, first, do you think that disabled parents have the right to be parents and not have their children taken away from them? And if so, what would you do to ensure that this stops in Monroe County?
Shani Mitchell: Well, unfortunately that happens in family court and the district attorney doesn’t handle that. But personally I’ve met along this trail some people who didn’t handle situations with disability well. There is a family court judge who did not – who felt that because the mother was visually impaired that she should be able to parent her child after the child was walking. And so she shared that pain with me. And I felt that. I’m a mother. And I know that just because of my disability, for someone to tell me that I could not parent my child. I know that unfortunately, I can’t personally do anything about that. But I definitely would ensure that we respect all family court. But I personally believe that every parent, regardless of disability should have the right to parent their child.
Gregg: So, we just had a question about accessible prisons. So what would you do as district attorney to make sure that prisons are accessible, and are ADA compliant?
Shani Mitchell: Well, unfortunately I know that I can’t, as district attorney, that isn’t necessarily my goal. However, we as a community can make sure that we stand together to ensure that our legislators are enforcing the laws that require prisons to be accessible to all disabilities. This is not just the fight for people with disabilities, this is a human issue. Me as a citizen, me enrolled as district attorney, I can fight and stand with you to ensure that all places, including prisons, are accessible.
Jonathan: So, under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, local governments, including the judicial system, are required to provide accommodation. Now, when the court assigns a deaf person ‑‑ often they run into challenges communicating. And historically, they have almost never assigned an interpreter or public defender for their clients who are deaf. That almost never happens. However, under penalty of the ADA they are required to provide that accommodation. So, how will you fix that?
Shani Mitchell: So, as District Attorney, I’m on the other side. So the district attorney’s role is that we are responsible for deciding how cases are prosecuted ‑‑ so, when police make arrests, we then decide, okay, a case is going to ‑‑ a defendant is going ‑‑ the person ‑‑ plea ‑‑ trial. Okay. So, the public defender then represents – (captioner could not hear)
Jonathan: Sure. I’m just wondering if you see a Deaf person with a public defender, would you think that it’s not your problem, or would you take measures to see if they need an interpreter and find ways to provide an interpreter?
Shani Mitchell: What will happen is our assistant district attorneys would instruct the judge to ensure that everyone is able to communicate properly. Also, the public defenders who are wonderful attorneys also need to communicate effectively with their clients in order to protect their constitutional rights through this process. So I am sure that they would need to ensure that the court provides such an interpreter. But as an assistant district attorney, I would ensure that my staff would then say hey, judge, we’re lacking interpreters here in court and we need to ensure that that happens. I would just say I was trying to explain that that’s not necessarily ‑‑ I’m not a public defender, I was just explaining my role. But, absolutely. Justice doesn’t occur when people are not adequately represented.
Ericka Jones: Thank you. One more question. We will just have the one question because we do have up next Rochester City Council East District, which is David Sutliff-Atias and Mary Lupien. So after the one question, we’ll invite both of you up.
Katy: Thanks so much. My name is Katy. And in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, is there anything that you think that you could do to help people with disabilities across the board face barriers in finding employment. Is there anything that you think that you can do to make finding a job at the DA’s office more accessible to people with disabilities, including disabled attorneys?
Shani Mitchell: That’s a great question. One is to actively seek people with disabilities for my office. I don’t believe that our office does a good job period with diversifying the office, meaning people of color, people with disabilities, creating an environment to be there. I know the building in which we work in ‑‑ the county has to make it compliant. But we would definitely ensure that whatever would make it more comfortable for anyone with disabilities, I would do. But one thing is to recruit. And recruit for individuals with disabilities and make it an environment in which they would want to be, accessible and comfortable. But that is something that I hope to bring to the District Attorney’s office. I hope I answered that.
Shani Mitchell: Thank you so much. I appreciate your time.
Ericka Jones: Thank you very much. The candidates running for East District, David Sutliff-Atias and Mary Lupien.
Mary Lupien: Hi, everybody, I’m Mary, running for city council. I am an activist and a teacher. And I got involved in politics after years of activism, being frustrated at people in power not doing what people are asking them. So I got really involved in a campaign and the message is if you want social change, you have to stand up. I’ve been really lucky to meet so many people that have helped me further understand the issues that are in Rochester. And ‑‑ focus my campaign on affordable housing, police accountability, and transportation. And all three of those issues tie really importantly to people in the disability community. Safe, quality and affordable housing is something we lack across the board, but even more in the disability community. Something like 1% of affordable units are accessible for people with disabilities. And transportation is also a huge issue in Rochester. So, I look forward to answering your questions.
Dave Sutliff-Atias: Hi. My name is Dave and I’m running for city council in the East District. And I was born and raised in Rochester. I’ve been working on various issues in Rochester for decades. I stumbled into the disability community when I met Chris Hildebrand, for those who know him, in a political meeting. And he was exploring the green party and decided he wanted to run for legislature. And he asked me to run his campaign. And that’s when my eyes were opened in terms of disability issues and disability rights, not just because of the things Chris was doing in his campaign, but having to run his campaign and issues of accessibility for a candidate who uses a wheelchair. And from there I ended up working at the Center for Disability Rights and I’ve been (captioner could not hear) activism, running for office, continue to fight for disability rights whether it’s as an educator or just in my own way as an activist.
Ericka Jones: Thank you both very much. The question for you is, what is the greatest contribution to quality of life for people with disabilities you believe that you can make if you are elected to office?
Mary Lupien: Housing is something that I’m passionate about – neighborhoods are being gentrified and there are fewer and fewer houses every day that are affordable. Our housing stock is very old. It hasn’t been adapted to people with disabilities. And much of the housing that is being built that is accessible is not accessible because of cost. So we really have an affordable housing crisis in Rochester. There’s many things that we can do to address it. And that’s what I would definitely focus on to make the biggest difference. But I’m welcome to hearing other things that could make it better.
Dave Sutliff-Atias: I would do the same in terms of I would focus on housing. That’s one someone on the city council could have the most effect on. I would do two things. One is the same thing I was advocating for as a disability advocate at CDR, and that’s using more public money to retrofit housing to make it accessible. Then something I wanted to advocate for when I was in that role, but I really wasn’t able to, I’d love to do it while sitting on the city council. I know developers would go crazy. But I don’t care. I would do this anyway. So, I would like to make it a law to have every house, whether it’s one unit, one‑family house or a huge high-rise, these wonderful awesome condos that they like building now. I would like to make it mandated ‑‑ one that they be used with completely carbon neutral material, environmental. That’s part of the law. But the other part I would want to mandate to use universal design. And I don’t mean just on the housing. I want every single piece of housing built no matter how big or small ‑‑ I don’t care if you’re building a shed, I want this thing using universal design. And probably most folks in the room, we know that as people age in place, no matter what kind of medical breakthroughs we have, there’s going to be people with disabilities and there’s going to be people who develop disabilities forever and ever as long as there are people. We need to start literally transforming our society and communities to be 100% accessible. The only way to do that is to mandate universal design and that’s what I want to do.
Ericka Jones: Thank you very much. We will open it up for the audience.
Jonathan: All right. I have a question for both of you. As you know, Rochester has the largest Deaf community in the world. And ‑‑ the Deaf community is left out of emergency announcements or any public announcements. It’s important that we have an interpreter on the screen so that it’s accessible. For example, February 23rd, if you remember, Governor Cuomo was here, as well as a Senator and the Mayor, as well as the County Executive, Cheryl Dinolfo, held a press conference about an emergency announcement that was happening during one of the severe storms that we had. And that announcement there was no captioning and there was no interpreter. And that is huge for Deaf people. We didn’t know if we should leave our houses, evacuate, shelter in place. We had friends who didn’t know what to do. None of us knew what to do because that announcement was not accessible. For the last several years I’ve been reaching out to the Monroe County Legislature and City Council to mandate having an interpreter at any government announcement and haven’t had any progress with that. If you were elected to City Council, how would you address that issue?
Mary Lupien: Sure. So the way City Council works is that you have to bring something to a committee. And you have to have that committee share a vote. There are nine council members and you have to get four other people to agree with you. The first step is bringing it to the table. So apart from that process, what really matters is public advocacy. When there’s things that seem like they’re on the back burner that are a priority, what makes them a priority is when people come out and MAKE them a priority. And my background as an activist is something I’m excited about ‑‑ to really galvanize public support, knowing what we know on the back end, to be able to use those together to push things through that are important. And that is certainly one of them. It’s an issue of public safety and of accessibility. It goes a long way to making our Deaf community members feel like they’re part of our community. So it’s very important to me.
Dave Sutliff-Atias: I’m not trying to take away any business from CDR, interpreting jobs, interpreters anyway. We have more than enough money at the city level to pay for this. I would like to see interpreters on staff at city hall so that anything that happens, there’s always at least one or two interpreters. Now, again, if there’s interpreters with nothing to do, then the city can then let them do other gigs. That’s totally fine, like CDR does. And I don’t believe this would take business away from CDR. There’s more than enough jobs. There’s more than enough things going on that need interpreters. But we have plenty of money. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. It’s spelled out where all the money is that we’re misspending. And we have plenty to be able to spend to hire two interpreters on staff. We should always have somebody on. And then have a plan for emergency announcements because there’s money.
Justin: If elected to City Council, what would you do to ensure that disabled workers have a fair and equal wage?
Mary Lupien: I know that some minimum wage comes from federal law. I would continue to advocate for the elimination of sub-minimum wages, but do it as a city council member. I think that would carry a little bit of weight. We get told that that’s not allowed in the city limits. I don’t know how legal that is because this comes under federal law but I’d love to see it in court to expose it a little bit more. and I would start looking into a citywide living wage ordinance, not just for people who work or do business for the city. I’d love to see a citywide mandate. And that would include people with disabilities.
Dave Sutliff-Atias: Absolutely. The minimum wage for the city is $15 an hour. We need to make that citywide. I don’t necessarily agree with the assessment, but the mayor says instead of a housing crisis we have a wage crisis. I think we have both. I see some willingness on her part to move this forward. But in terms of discrimination, we have to fight against discrimination in wages and housing across the board. And there isn’t really an enforcement agency. And that’s something we need to work on. In terms of how city council would effect that, I’m not sure. But in terms of the citywide minimum wage, that’s something.
Sophie: So within the city of Rochester, we have the bus system, which is currently seeing some re‑imagination. We have no accessible taxis and ride sharing isn’t an option because there’s nothing saying they have to be accessible, so in turn, we don’t have accessible ride sharing. So, how am I supposed to go out on a Saturday night with my other friends if we can’t get there?
Mary Lupien: Transportation is a huge deficit we have in Rochester across the board, but we also have communities that struggle to access transportation. We as a city, we can decide regulations for the city limits. So, requiring that they be accessible is something that we have in our power. I would think that we could require a certain amount of percentage that need to be accessible. There’s a balance there to be had with making sure that our residents can drive. I do know that ‑‑ people – car (Captioner could not make out). So if they were to think about having an accessible vehicle when they’re doing that, if there was incentive, it would be amazing. As for the bus system, the city council gets to elect who gets to appoint one person to the board. So, we have a little bit of power there. But the real power comes with advocacy and being a person at the table when they’re designing their services and advocating for more accessible buses and transit lines. You come up to a city like Denver that has an amazing system, 24 hours a day, door to door. Oh, there’s no limits. So I think that’s a model for us to look towards.
Dave Sutliff-Atias: As someone who has professionally advocated for transportation with RGRTA for a while ‑‑ a number of years ‑ It’s my opinion that this is a heavy lift. This would take a lot of state involvement. We basically need to tear it down and start over again. And if that means we add just city‑run transportation authority, that’s fine. The amount of power RGRTA has versus the members of the disability community have, is just ridiculous. We need to just get rid of it and start over. And that’s going to take a while. That’s not going to be something we can do – (captioner could not understand) ‑‑ is this. I want to use that money, corporate welfare and all this other stuff. I want to take that and I want to start creating ‑‑ run businesses in which people own and run their own business together. And at least one of the businesses I would like to see is a community‑owned ride share service. And we can incorporate that into this. Either way I’m fine. You want to do two different ride share companies, but it would be all owned by us if you want two, one that just focuses on paratransit, fine, or incorporate it to make one larger one, that’s great too. What that will do ‑‑ if it’s run by the workers, and particularly people who have disabilities, they’re not going to gouge you on cost. But because the people who own it and co‑run it are going to share the profits equally, so that’s going to be creating jobs as well. So it’s really kind of an intersectionality. You’re dealing with a lot of different issues with one solution. That’s something that I have in my economic plan, specifically a ride sharing company co‑run by people in the community. It can be two different ones, that’s fine. We have the money to do it.
Ericka Jones: There was a question in regards to disability if elected to city council. What would be your greatest challenge in terms of disability in city council?
Dave Sutliff- Atias: In getting things done?
Ericka Jones: Yeah.
Mary Lupien: I think one of the greatest challenges is getting other people to agree. The council is split right now. There’s all kinds of power struggles behind the scenes that ‑‑ largely are a political kind of thing. But it’s very difficult to cross the lines there. But issues that affect everyone have a greater chance of getting through. It’s really about one of our priorities as a city is making sure that people with disabilities are heard and again, as I said to have issues pushed on top of the pile, it takes public advocacy. I know you guys are amazing at that. But it’s about repositioning priorities. And it’s hard to have a passive ally, because you can’t fight them because they say they’re with you but they’re not actually doing what we need sometimes. But it takes sustained advocacy. So I see getting them to agree with me as a big challenge.
Dave Sutliff-Atias: Yes. What you’re saying. But I’m going to go a little bit deeper and connect something that most people who have been advocating for disability rights know about. And that you also have to deal with money. At the federal and state levels, you get nursing home and things like that. You still have people giving money to parties ‑‑ not the Greens obviously –
But like the Republican party. Giving money to candidates and parties to get decisions made in a certain way. So my idea in terms of changing zoning so that everything’s built with universal design, you’re going to have developers giving contributions to candidates and parties to not have something like that. We’ve been dealing with that for years at all levels of government. Mary is right. Those divisions within city council, a lot of them exist because of who’s getting money. And that’s shameful.
Marcus Williams: Hello, Marcus C. Williams. I know I am actually running in an election, but this is a question with my business owner hat on. I’m a small business owner. I’ve got a couple different businesses. But my primary business is retail. And with the continued wage rise, it’s difficult for me to hire employees. Also, I’m in a segment that has extremely high turnover. Now, you’re propositioning $15 an hour being a livable wage, but at $15 an hour being in my specific industry I will have to shut down my business. It’ll be too difficult for me to pay overhead and pay my employees at that. Are you saying because of that, my business should not exist? Or how do we go about that for small business owners and independent business owners that are not able to afford that level of overhead expense?
Mary Lupien: If your business model includes taking advantage of workers and paying them low wages then yeah, you shouldn’t exist.
Dave Sutliff-Atias: I also agree that if you run a business on the backs of people who are making less than minimum wage then that’s not a reason to continue that business. That said, small businesses are very important to our community. And so I think it’s important that we find ways to ‑‑ a huge business tax that people are being taxed. That’s a huge expense, insurance. What are the other things that we can lower the overhead without having to screw workers. And when you get up here, you can cite studies that show the rise in wages has minimal cost.
Marcus Williams: Follow-up question on that. So, there are many businesses in the retail industry, as you know, it’s a struggling industry. That’s not my only business. I’ve got other businesses that can handle that level of impact. However, are you saying that those type of jobs, which are easy for anybody to get and would serve almost anybody who doesn’t have necessarily additional education are something that should not exist? Because in our current economy, the way that expenses are, especially as you guys know, business expenses like actual business facilities, telecommunications, payroll, all of those expenses are pretty large. And in New York State we’re one of the heaviest impacted ones when it comes to small businesses. And I don’t mean like $500,000 with 25 employees. That to me is not a small business. I’m talking two to three employees, maybe four or five. And owned by an owner‑operator.
Mary Lupien: My husband owns a small business. He’s able to pay his people a living wage. He pays 15 to 25 an hour. He suffers with what he takes home. He’s created six jobs and he’s building something. Owning a small business ‑‑ people getting into that know that. So, we should support small businesses and there’s lots of ways to do that that doesn’t include keeping wages stagnant.
Dave Sutliff- Atias: You just summarized the problem with capitalism. That’s why I’m pushing for cooperatives.
Ericka Jones: So, we’re getting into the time for the next candidates. Before we jump to that, do we have Chris Edes here? Okay. Then we’ll go on. If we could please have the candidates for South District please.
Marcus Williams: Hello, my name is Marcus C. Williams, running for South City Council. I’ve grown up in the South District. Our city is very important to me. I realize and recognize how many voices in our city are unheard. And where people are underrepresented in our actual city government. It’s as though they don’t come out, they don’t come to events. A lot of candidates are not here. You feel unheard. I understand. I felt unheard. And it’s difficult when we face different realities from people that are in other walks of life. I’d like to cross that threshold and I’d like to be able to come out more and interact with people in our community that have different questions. I want to be able to be very receptive and responsive. I want to be that councilperson that you can come to and say hey, this is an issue. Transportation is an issue. Here’s how we can work on that. Access to food is an issue. I need help with that. Housing and everything else. All of these issues are very important to me. But the thing that’s most important to me is having somebody that’s going to listen to you as constituents. That’s the most important thing to me.
Alex White: Hi, everybody. My name is Alex White. And I’ve been up here before. I’ve run for office. I’ve run for mayor a couple times, run for city council before. I’m a business owner in Rochester. And I’m a member of the Green Party. And rather than saying what I believe, I’ll tell you what I’ve done. In the last couple years, I have worked hard with the school to provide jobs to adults without a high school diploma. And that program is going to close. And I helped save it. I helped get body cameras on police officers. I’ve wonder very hard to try to get a police accountability board. And I continue to work on issues like this. I have worked with multiple neighborhoods to try to help and shape the zoning in their area and to prevent development that they don’t want. And this is the sort of energy ‑‑ I’m there working on issues trying to help. And the first time I came here was 2011, the special election, spoken about issues. And it seems to me that you’re facing the exact same issues today you faced in 2011. And that was 21 years after they were mandated to be fixed by the ADA. And I don’t know what to say. This is a terrible situation we find ourselves in. I’ve been here a lot, I’ve listened a lot, and I’m here to help. Thank you.
Ericka Jones: Your moderator question is, what is the greatest contribution to the quality of life of disabled people you believe you can make in the office you’re seeking?
Marcus Williams: Wow. That’s a really tough question. Okay. That’s a really tough question. I’ve got so many solutions to so many situations that people face every day, including the disabilities community. Transportation is a big thing for me. Affordable housing and accessible housing, which I think to most people is really important. But the most impactful thing that I can do is be somebody they’ll actually listen to, and actually be responsive, and showing that I am willing to work on the issues that you have. And I believe that that’s a really lost thing that nobody does. They promise you stuff.
They come out and they say “oh, I want to help. Oh, I hear you.” And then nothing ever gets done. There’s nobody that comes back out. Nobody says hey, I tried to pass this initiative to get something done for you. I want to be the person that when you come to me with an issue, I’m able to present you with a solution and a timeframe and when I can get back to you so you guys can see that something is actually being put in motion for you instead of it being like “Alex said, 20 years later and nothing’s gotten done.” You can’t even see or remember the last time somebody (inaudible). That’s terrible.
You should have consistent updates for issues that you have that are facing you. Somebody should come out and say hey, this is what I’m working on for your particular community, for your particular concerns. And that’s what I want to bring to the table. Somebody that will be able to deliver results and actionable action so you can see that something got done, or at least something got started and pushed forward in your state. That’s what I’m here for.
Alex White: It’s housing. You know it’s housing and I know it’s housing. And whoever gets elected in any of the offices in the city, they’re going to be ‑‑ city councilmembers ‑‑ voting on new zoning when they get around to coming up with new zoning. And if you look at the 2034 vision plan, I’m sure you have noticed that it’s pretty short on suggestions and recommendations for housing for the disabled community. I want to come out and say why ‑‑ is there not requirements for housing in there? Why don’t they require a percentage? Tax breaks and money to all of these projects with no requirement. And why is there not a 20%? And why isn’t all senior housing required to be this way? And as a councilmember, you’re going to have the opportunity to help shape this zoning going forward. And we need people who not only understand and are willing to listen, but are willing to fight for that, because that is perhaps one of the biggest needs. And you know as well as I do ‑‑ been required to be this way. And they’re not. And the argument that there was a legal case forcing us to do this will be very strong if there’s someone on city council saying that. And I would like to be that person for you.
Ericka Jones: Thank you very much. I’m going to ask the first audience question. Taking off my moderator hat for a sec. Within Rochester, there are pockets of food deserts all over the city where people can’t access a grocery store, don’t have any kind of food source near them that is a reasonable distance for a disabled person to be able to get to. What would you do to address this issue?
Marcus Williams: That’s a wonderful question. Thank you for that question. It touches on one of my main action items, which will actually address that by ‑‑ okay. So, a large issue with our community is these vacant lots. Most of them are in areas where transportation is not always the easiest. My proposition is this ‑‑ that we turn some of those lots into advanced gardens. So we could use that through the initiative of arouponnics and aquaponics and we can produce higher yield fields as well as fish so that people in the community can actually buy them at a low cost and they will be more accessible because they will be in the communities mostly where they’ll be, you know. So, like that. And additionally, that would also create additional revenue options for the city, because any produce that’s unsold to the community could actually be distributed and sold to restaurants, or larger storefronts like that that sell produce. That is an option we have with the technology we have. And it’s inexpensive. It has a little bit of a startup cost, but there is definitely funding from both the federal government and the state government for these type of initiatives. I watch a lot of C‑SPAN. It is important to me. It’s not just something the city has to do itself. We can work with partners in the community that want to do this on a private or let’s say, a B corporation or a nonprofit corporation level.
Because this is something that’s important. I live in the South District. We have the ‑‑ about this big. And we have a co‑op in the south. And that’s really roughly about it. And they just got here. They’ve only been here open for about two years now. It’s seriously, seriously an issue that faces and impacts so many people in our community. And it’s unaddressed. And this is one way ‑‑ just one out of many. I don’t want to take up all the time in the world ‑‑ that we could start to move forward out of that food desert situation that we find ourselves in. Thank you.
Alex White: If you want to solve problems like this, the city’s going to have to step in. And the city has this market‑driven cooperatives. And one of the problems is the city ‑‑ you look at Hart’s grocery store. The city gave them ‑‑ in the end$1.8 million of money. Sorry. I was going down. And that money was given to start a grocery store. Well, you know, Dave talked about co‑op businesses, you talked about it more. We need to identify these areas which are food deserts and we need to get people together in the area and provide funding, because many of the people in this area have had any savings destroyed through various government programs and other things. And we need to get them together with the money to form the businesses that will in that area solve the problem they have. And that we can give $1.5 million to David to build luxury houses, we can certainly come up with money to get people together to form a smaller urban‑type grocery store in areas where they’re desperately needed.
Ericka Jones: Any questions?
Justin: Hi. So, like I asked the other city council candidates, I’m curious in your opinion, what would you do to ensure that within the city limits we’re paying fair wages for workers with disabilities? Currently there’s seven states and two cities in the country that have outlawed this practice. I’m just curious to hear in your opinion what would you do to ensure that everyone in the city or the county can have a fair and equal wage.
Marcus Williams: Thank you for the question. And it’s a very important thing. So, here’s a big issue. The fact that it’s actually legal in our state for that to happen. And that’s not really something that is okay. We really need to push legislation forward that would outlaw that and make it at least what we have as minimum wage on a state level. That shouldn’t be an option for underpaying somebody because they’re different than you. Are there already laws in practice that say that you can’t pay somebody less because they’re different?
Marcus Williams: Is that an issue? Why? Why aren’t these laws, you know? It’s a problem. They should be. These are issues that people face every day. And being on city council it does have legislative options. I will push that in the city where everybody has to be paid at least the same minimum wage. And that’s something I think will be a good start.
Marcus Williams: But I also have a secondary thing, which is one of my action items. And that is the city‑funded free job website. Now, the job website itself will be free for business owners in and around the city to post on. Because if you’re a business owner and you want to post a job on Career Builder or Monster It’s like 3 to $500. A lot of businesses don’t post jobs because it’s so expensive, especially if you’re a small business. Now, certain disabilities are not a disability for certain jobs. But it’s hard to connect with people with these issues with the businesses that are more than willing to hire them.
So, in this job website, when we go on it, there will be certain sections that you can select and say, okay, well, this is a disability that is an issue for me. What jobs are willing to openly hire me? Because there are jobs out there that are more than willing to hire people with disabilities. And you can’t access them. The problem is lack of knowledge and lack of the ability to find a connection to those positions. This would solve the connection issue. You could go to one place and it would be accessible to people who are visually impaired or hearing impaired and all of that, because there’s laws that are out there that are like that. But it’s important so you can access these particular jobs. And that is a two‑fold solution.
Gregg: It sounded like you just said that you’d allow them to say what disabilities they would discriminate by.
Marcus Williams: No. I was saying which ones are not limitations for certain jobs.
Alex: Unfortunately, New York State law and labor does not give the cities and municipalities the right to set their own wage speculations other than for their own employees. And what we’re referring to, I think, is the sheltered workshops, which is federal law, which New York State can’t even override. At least I’m not certain they can. Boy, I wish they could. I don’t understand why slavery is still legal today. And I feel that the very least the city can do is publicize what is going on and refuse to do business in any way with any organization that is involved, and fight ‑‑ not‑for‑profit status if they are participating in this activity, the only reason to pay subminimum wage is for the purpose of making profit. That does not qualify you for not‑for‑profit. There is one other thing, though. And that’s that the City of Rochester has a living wage law that presently applies to nobody. And I would like to see that living wage law revisited, revised, and turned around so that it applies to everyone who in any way does contract business with the City of Rochester so that every employee that participates in a business that does any business with the City of Rochester whether it is through bidding or contract services, every employee has to make a living wage according to the city’s regulation. And that will help, but won’t really solve the issue.
Gregg: Just to say it can be done by state or locality. Vermont has done it. Texas. And the City of Seattle has done the same. And Reno.
Alex White: Those aren’t in New York.
Gregg: I know they’re not. Examples they can look up. Could easily follow the example of Vermont or the other states who have done it. New Hampshire.
Alex White: I don’t want to fight with you over this. I agree with you that New York could do it. But as a city council-member, we can’t. This requires a change at the New York State level, at the assembly. And as much as I’d love to advocate with you on this, we can’t change it at the city level.
Marcus Williams: I’m sorry, he just used the can’t word. That’s not a real thing. It just means that nobody has pushed hard enough for it to happen. And if we can get enough mobilization behind an initiative like that, we can actually make it happen. And that’s what needs to happen. That’s a true and serious concern. And you can work to help to get people mobilized. I’d be more than willing to throw some weight ‑‑ the little bit that I can, because it’s city council. So I can only do my best to advocate for you. But I would definitely support an initiative like that.
Ericka Jones: I’m going to ask my other question. What efforts would you put forward in regards to accessibility for domestic violence shelters and services that are currently pretty inaccessible? We keep creating different shelters and different homes for people to go when they’re in these situations. More recently we created one for trans youth that was not accessible. So how do you create initiative or push for more accessible services where it relates to domestic violence?
Marcus Williams: Wow. It’s kind of tough because it kind of ‑‑ the locations that are chosen. But I believe especially anything that operates within the city limits and is getting any type of city, federal, or state funding or anything that is ‑‑ even remotely looks like a tax break or tax initiative or anything like that should be mandated to have that within the city limits. I don’t know why there isn’t more enforcement on things like that. I guess that’s kind of what it boils down to, is enforcement. But I would definitely seek out some ‑‑ I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m responsible. It’s difficult for me to say we should start a new department to go police this issue. But I do know there are arms inside the city already that should be able to look into this, you know. I would think that network ‑‑ excuse me, what do you call it ‑‑ neighborhood service centers should be going out and appraising these places and saying hey, are they accessible? Yes, no, or whatever the case may be. And then we can work to fix that issue, especially ‑‑ I mean, okay. I’ve had issues in my childhood and my past of domestic abuse and stuff like that throughout my family history. It’s a serious issue. And it’s not even paying attention at all to the disabilities community. Like, people just don’t recognize that if you’re disabled, you may be more prone to experiencing domestic abuse. And maybe it comes to more identification that people don’t understand because they don’t see it. Maybe there needs to be some sort of initiative to go around to these operations and say hey, these are issues. Meet this person, they survived this. So they can get a better understanding of why this is important. And maybe that’s what it is, that they don’t know that it’s important because they don’t see it themselves or haven’t experienced those circumstances themselves. I don’t know. I don’t have all the solutions. But I am more than willing to listen and I am more than willing to take action.
Alex White: The city ‑‑ another million plus dollars to ‑‑ making the expenditure for this year $3 million. There is so much money out there. This falls under a building project. The city could easily earmark money every year to help agencies like this comply with the ADA laws, because it’s not even that expensive when you think about it, you know? If they can spend $3 million on that, they can certainly spend $100,000 on all of these shelters. And I think that would cover ‑‑ at least the ones I think you’re talking about, about $100,000 would easily cover them. And the answer is, we need someone to say we have the money, and we’re going to spend it. And, you know, I have spent ten years looking through city budget, finding money. A lot of what Dave has up on his page comes from me.
Alex White: He’s not going to deny it. And you know, if you’re looking for where there’s money, how we can find it, I’m the guy. We’ll find it. We’ll get it there. And we will fix the problem, because opening a shelter is so important. And it’s done on such a tight budget. They don’t have the money. So, the city needs to step in and say yeah, we’re there to help you make sure you comply with the ADA. The city is not going to say you can’t open because you’re not in compliance, which they should do under ADA. I think the solution is let’s fund it and fix it, because we can do that.
Ericka Jones: Alright. I’m going to wrap this up, but we did have one question sent in, a person who couldn’t attend. The question is, for Marcus. I guess you were on the Evan Dawson show “Connections” yesterday. The question was, what will you do going forward to get a better understanding of language in reference to the disability community? Because there was some concern about what was said yesterday.
MARCUS: Question. I’m not perfect. I’m not. And with all of the terminology that changes so frequently, it’s difficult not to be offensive. But when I said what I said, I meant it as a label that people are being labeled. And they should not be labeled with that label at all, you know. And that’s kind of what the issue is. A lot of people will look past that and were looking ‑‑ what I was saying. But I didn’t want anybody to take offense to it. I was pointing out that the term is used offensively for people in the city school district that are saying that this is what these people are. And that’s not even a real thing. But moving forward, because I can grow as an individual, I will be more conscious and conscientious about my use of language and word choice. And I am always actively looking to grow. So if anybody has any input, I’m more than welcome to hearing it. And please share it with me. I do not know everything, but if I could spend a lifetime in the library, I’d like to learn it all. Thank you.
Alex White: Never say that word again.
Alex White: That’s the advice I have for you. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever.
Ericka Jones: All right. Thank you both very much. Could we please have Adam Bello for County Executive come up? Just want to come over and introduce yourself.
Adam Bello: Sure. Good evening, everyone. Can you hear me? Cool. Well, good evening, everyone. Thank you for the invitation to come here and be here tonight. This is important to me. My name is Adam, I’m the County Clerk, running to be County Executive. And, you know, I approach government with one big basic principle. Government should work for everybody, regardless of who you are, who you know, what ZIP code you live in. And as your county clerk, I’ve had a great opportunity to work with the Center for Disability Rights to make some improvements in terms of access to make sure that all the services that we provide in the county clerk’s office, whether it be the violence center, are fully accessible to everybody.
One of the first initiatives that we undertook there was in relocating with the metro mobile location. We had a DMV location that was open part time for two days a week in a location that really wasn’t accessible to anyone who wouldn’t be able to navigate stairs and had to go up the stairs in the back of the building. It was not accessible. We closed it and moved it to an accessible location. We’re now located downtown on H Street, an accessible location on the ground floor, open five days a week from 9-5, accessible to everyone.
We also worked with the Center for Disability Rights on our reservation system to be able to open up all the different ways that we can help people who have disabilities and may need special accommodations when it comes to test‑taking or anything else when they come into the DMV, to be able to let us know in advance that there’s an accommodation that might need to be made. We worked very hard to do that. There’s still more work to be done. But I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate working with you on issues like this. And like I think one of the previous speakers just said, as a government official, I know we don’t always know everything.
And we sometimes make mistakes. But that’s why it’s important, I think, for us as leaders to come and be able to speak with you so we can learn about how we can do our jobs better. Because at the end of the day that’s what we’re supposed to do. Our jobs in government ‑‑ we’re not ‑‑ like this. We may not be able to solve everyone’s problems; we can’t do it alone. But we can play a meaningful role in impacting people’s lives. And that’s what this is all about. I’ll give you just one more quick thing about the county executive race in general. I get frustrated with this community because ‑‑ not with the community.
Because I feel like we do the same things over and over and over again and expect to have different results. Over the last five to ten years, our population has been relatively flat. Our GDP growth has been relatively flat. We keep spinning our wheels. The county spends resources and time. Whether the challenges are accessibility to our services, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s economic opportunities, the opioid crisis, public health issues, early intervention services for our children, who need occupational therapy and speech therapy, physical therapy before they reach school age, we have a responsibility for our community to help people.
That’s what government is supposed to do. It’s supposed to work collaboratively with nonprofits, with community leaders, engage our community to build people up and give everyone an opportunity to succeed. And that’s something that I just don’t think our county has stepped up to the plate and done very effectively. That’s what I’d like to change. I’d love to take some questions.
Ericka Jones: Your moderator question, because we often feel like an afterthought when it comes to the county, we would like to be more engaged. What specifically would you do to engage our community, to be more responsive to our issues?
Adam Bello: It comes in a couple different ways. It’s about being proactive. It’s about ‑‑ might not be doing things the right way. When it came to the location of the DMV — I’ll give you examples of where I’ve done it, what I’ve done, to show how I will do that. When it came to issues like the accessibility of our DMVs, that was not something that was immediately brought to my attention. It’s something Stephanie bought to my attention and said we have a long‑standing problem. When it came to accessibility problems in the DMV, Stephanie had that idea. When we built the downtown DMV, we had a conversation, building a government resource, how to make sure that office was fully accessible for anyone to come in.
I think there’s a proactive approach when we are creating new services, we’re building services and we’re building new office space that we have that conversation. The other thing that we can do is work as advocates for the community. When we see something that’s wrong or we see something that needs attention, we can be an ally and partner with that. That’s something the county executive ‑‑ it’s part of the county executive’s role. So when there’s a challenge that needs to be presented in Albany or Washington, there’s a challenge here locally, our challenge is to work with you to identify the challenges, but work together on a reasonable solution.
So I think what it is is, inviting you in. I always come to this forum every year I run for office. That’s why I wanted to be here and show that this is important to me.
Ericka Jones: Questions?
AUDIENCE: Up to ‑‑ a little ‑‑ living in a rural area, have an issue with people with disabilities, Hilton, the 106, the 104. What would you do as county executive to work with people with disabilities who live in rural areas? Because there are so many people, like a young lady I know very well worked with your daughter.
Adam Bello: Oh, okay. Sure. Yeah, I know her well.
AUDIENCE: With all the transportation that’s going to go down come next year, what would you do as county executive to work to get transportation areas resolved in the rural areas?
Adam Bello: That’s part of the thing ‑‑ what I would do is insist that you have a seat at the table, first of all. People with disabilities and mobility issues and transportation issues. You should have a seat at the table when these decisions are being made about bus routes and transportation. The other thing is, when it comes to that system, I have conversations with particularly ATU, the union. I know there’s a union of bus drivers out there, about what the routes look like to make sure that every part of the county has equitable access to transportation. I think that’s very important.
And so I’d like to work with you on that to see where these spots are. But I think that it’s incumbent upon us as an institution, you have a seat at the table, a role to make sure that your needs are being met. I know this was an issue when ‑‑ were coming to town. I know there’s not a lot of accessible options when it comes to that. And so I don’t have the magic answer for that. I’m hoping to be able to work with you on that. My goal would be ‑‑ open to working with you on that issue. I’m not sure your voices were being heard.
Jonathan: Hi, my name is Jonathan. I am excited and looking forward to voting for you.
Adam Bello: Thank you.
Jonathan: If you remember February 23rd, this past February 23rd, when Governor Cuomo as well as the County Executive gathered to deliver an emergency announcement live on TV because of a snowstorm and windstorm, I watched that emergency announcement and had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know if I should leave, if it was safe to drive, if I should stay home. Several of my Deaf friends and I discussed with each other that it was very concerning and we didn’t know what the appropriate reaction was. And I want to know who’s responsible for making sure that there’s captioning and an interpreter available for those emergency announcements, because without that we are at risk. It’s not fair to members of the Deaf community who don’t know what’s going on. People who can hear know what’s going on. Members of the Deaf community are left out. If you were elected, what would you do to solve that problem?
Adam Bello: I think responsibility for that is on the county executive and the county communications department. I do believe that you should have access to the same information, whether you’re hearing impaired or not. And so that is my commitment to you, that you would have access to that information through signage, captioning, sing language interpretation, whatever the most appropriate response to that would be. I can say the way I operate, when we put videos up on Facebook and social media, we caption our videos so you get the same information and can see that just like anyone else can. So we’re talking about issues like real ID and how to access services, we make that so it’s accessible for everyone. So I would put that, again, on the county communications department. That’s something we can do better.
A second question I have for you. For the last four years or so, I have been reaching out to Dinolfo to ask about possible legislation related to requiring an interpreter to be on stage next to whoever the official is giving the announcement for any public announcement or emergency announcement. And so far I’ve been ignored for four years. I have sent many emails. I have reached out many times and gotten no responses. I’ve even met her in person and she says sure, that’s great. One of her staff has given me business cards. I’ve emailed them and not received a response.
Since January I have been going to the Monroe County legislation meetings and presented, and asked them to set a policy. The reason for that is with the administration after an election, the new administration comes in. The old administration goes out. And at that point I don’t want to have to re-explain all of this and make sure that these procedures are followed again. And then again at the next election, you have to re‑advocate for those policies to be followed. I would like to have one piece of legislation that mandates this accessibility so that I don’t have to go back to every new administration and explain it to them over and over and over again every time a new person is elected to make sure they understand the procedures. I want a law that ensures I don’t have to do that. I want something hard in writing that will mandate all announcements will have an interpreter on screen as well as captions for any type of social media, Facebook, or live broadcast.
Adam Bello: You’re right. You shouldn’t have to go back to your government every time it changes hands and advocate for that. It’s interesting because you shouldn’t even have to legislate something that’s common sense. When there’s a threat to public safety, that information needs to be accessible to everyone. Again, no matter who you are, who you know, where you live, what your abilities are, and what challenges that you might face. So I would consider something like that. When it comes to ‑‑ particularly when it comes to matters of public safety and storm‑related information, even the wind storm that happened just a couple of years ago. There was a lot of information being disseminated from the county regarding emergency shelters, checking in on elderly and people who were ‑‑ populations that were particularly at risk. And so I think that that makes a lot of sense to do something like that, absolutely. So, we’ll work with you on that.
Ericka Jones: All right. Great. Any other questions? All right. Well, thank you very much for coming.
Adam Bello: Thank you. I appreciate ‑‑ thank you all very much.
Ericka Jones: And to wrap this up, I would love to have Nicole Morris for the city court judge.
Nicole Morris: Good evening, everybody. I’m Nicole. And I was born and raised in Rochester. I grew up in the city. My experience growing up here in the city, I understand these issues that impact our community. I grew up poor. My father was addicted to heroin. I’m intimately aware of the lasting impact that crime can have on not just victims and the defendant, but also their families. My brother was shot. He went to prison. And although my experience wasn’t uncommon in my community, I decided that I was going to dedicate my life to being an advocate. I graduated from John Marshall High School and attended Monroe Community College for two years before transferring to state college where I earned my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. From undergrad I went on to ‑‑ where I earned my JD. And then I began my legal career. I had the privilege to clerk ‑‑ position. I worked as a legal aid for the Legal Aid Society of Rochester, where I represented victims in domestic violence cases. I also worked at the Justice Center where I defended homeowners throughout Monroe County ‑‑ foreclosures. Currently I am Assistant Public Defender. I have been a Public Defender for the past 5 1/2 years. Although I primarily practice in Rochester City, I have represented thousands of individuals throughout Monroe County for arraignment and trial.
I’ve also handled felony matters. I’ve worked in treatment court. And if I can address Jonathan’s question from earlier today, in regard to the interpreters, the court is required to have interpreters in the courtroom to assist. However, assistant public defenders ‑‑ have access to interpreters, so we are able to schedule interpreters to come in and interpret for us so that we can communicate with our clients. I wanted to answer that question. Didn’t have access to interpreters. And if that didn’t happen in your case or anyone that you know, I do apologize.
Jonathan: I just want to follow up with that. The problem was, is that when ‑‑ the court assigned the public defender in the situation. Did the public defender know the certain ADA requirements for their client? It seemed that that individual didn’t. They kind of abstained from that responsibility. The court did say ‑‑ excuse me ‑‑ say that they needed to assign an interpreter. Perhaps you know that. But I would say that’s a something deficit that those individuals don’t know that. And they still haven’t resolved the situation, even after (inaudible).
Nicole Morris: I won’t make any excuses. I don’t know if that was a newer attorney. However, I am going to take your concern back to my office to make sure that everyone knows that we do have interpreters available for us to utilize.
Jonathan: I’m just worried that even if you do inform them of that, that that information is just going to go away, go by the wayside, you know. It’s just something they might throw in the back of their mind for a little bit. Just sharing mouth to mouth, that information eventually goes away. I feel like there needs to be something in place that’s more permanent than just that mouth to mouth word.
Nicole Morris: I agree. I’m not going to go and just share with my colleagues. I’m going to inform the public defender, Tim. Hopefully he can speak to the attorneys in our office to let them know what we have access to. Experience this and can come to our office to speak with him. The only thing I can do as assistant public defender is make this issue known to my office.
AUDIENCE: We’ll talk offline.
Ericka Jones: I’ve already asked this but I’m very curious as to what your answer is. Your moderator question is, I would love for you to share one thing about disability and disabled people that you think you need to know more about.
Nicole Morris: Could you repeat the question?
Ericka Jones: One thing that you think you need to know more about, regarding disabled community in our community.
Nicole Morris: I think I need to know more about what are your top concerns, what are your priorities. What’s a priority for you? I don’t know everything. And so for me, I want to know what your concerns are.
Ericka Jones: Great. I’ll pass it up to the audience now.
Gregg: Sorry. So, there was a question earlier about ADA accommodations for people in prison. So, can you tell me what you’re going to do in regards to that?
Nicole Morris: As a judge, I set the tone for my courtroom. I want everyone in my courtroom to respect equality. I will make sure that there are resources in court for the individuals in the court, whether it be an interpreter, whether and be special seating, whatever it may be. It’s my job to make sure that everyone is treated fairly. Any other questions? With that, I just want to thank you very much for coming. We really appreciate that the court is ‑‑ for some of us, a point of contention because of the treatment that we receive and lack of access. So having presence from all the people running for judge is incredibly important to us. So, the fact that you were here.
Nicole Morris: Thank you for having me. I’ll leave my card in the back. You can pick it up. Vote June 25th.
Ericka Jones: And that will complete our candidate forum. Thank you all very much for coming. Make sure you go out and vote.
(Session concluded at 7:56 p.m. ET)