Steamboat Springs An attorney for the city of Steamboat Springs and the city's transit director expect the U.S. Justice Department to offer the city a settlement package in its recent investigation of a possible violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The package, called a "consent decree," would be offered to the city on Sept. 20 at a settlement and status conference, said Attorney David Brougham of Hall & Evans in Denver. Brougham is representing the city's insurance company, the Colorado Integrated Risk Sharing Agency.
The consent decree also could pave the way to ending a civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver last July by two Steamboat residents, Timothy Richardson and Jonathan Steele.
Richardson and Steele claim that they were denied service on Steamboat Springs Transit due primarily to the lack of wheelchair lifts on a number of used buses purchased by the city. Richardson said he had been forced to sit out in the freezing cold for as long as an hour before getting picked up by a bus. Their lawyer, Michael Breeskin of Fox & Robertson in Denver, said that the plaintiffs are hoping to enter settlement talks with the city by the end of this week.
If the Justice Department offers the city a consent decree, the city would then be able to decide whether or not it could meet the conditions of the decree. If so, the federal investigation would be withdrawn.
The federal government's actions would not necessarily impact the civil lawsuit. However, because the plaintiffs are seeking to have their complaints remedied partially through the city's compliance with ADA regulations, the settlement of the civil case is likely to be inextricably linked to the Justice Department's actions.
Officials from the Justice Department were in Steamboat between Aug. 14 and Aug. 16 to investigate the city's transit system and wheelchair accessibility. Attorney Harold Jackson brought along a legal aid and a consultant, Clarence Giuliani, on his fact-finding mission.
Both Brougham and city transit department Director George Krawzoff believe that the Justice Department's investigation went well. Brougham said that it probably helped the city's case.
"Seeing the system, seeing how well it's run, I think they were pleased," Brougham said. "I don't think that they're concerned about it."
"I hope they left with a much better sense of what we had done," Krawzoff said.
Jackson was unable to comment on the results of the investigation.
Krawzoff asserts that the transit department's bus system has been upgraded since the time of the lawsuit, though not merely in response to the lawsuit.
"We have spent $2.2 million altogether in acquiring accessible vehicles," he said. "It didn't require a lawsuit to start that."
Of the 22 vehicles at the city's disposal, half are currently wheelchair accessible. Six new vehicles that the city is purchasing in the next year will be accessible, Brougham said. Some of the money for the vehicles came from a federal grant.
All buses driving regularly scheduled routes this winter will be wheelchair accessible, Krawzoff said. The only buses which may not be accessible are older buses pressed into duty to handle overflow. In addition, handicapped residents interested in getting a van to pick them up within a reasonable distance from the regular stops can call the transit department to arrange that, Krawzoff said.
In terms of the civil lawsuit, Breeskin was unable to discuss the role of the Justice Department's investigation in the plaintiff's case.
"The Justice Department's role in this case is to vindicate public interest rather than to vindicate the interests of the particular plaintiffs," he said.
The city, however, is optimistic that the federal investigation will soon come to an end.
"What I expect to occur in the next month will be that the Department of Justice will draft a consent decree that will describe under which conditions they will drop the lawsuit," Krawzoff said. "I hope the actions that are requested will consist by and large of what the city was in the process of doing and what we planned to do, which is to replace our older vehicles with newer accessible vehicles as quickly as possible."
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