Wellington Establishes Policy To Accommodate The Disabled

The Wellington Village Council agreed last week to try to make it easier for people with disabilities to request reasonable accommodations so they can participate in meetings and examine public records.

At the Sept. 23 meeting, Village Attorney Laurie Cohen explained that the ordinance was developed to provide accommodations to anyone who might need an exception to a particular village rule, policy or procedure.

She explained that the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Housing Administration require the village to provide reasonable accommodation if it is requested by a disabled person.

Cohen said there had been some discussion at the council’s agenda review meeting whether collecting records of persons with disabilities would trigger rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and she said the village is subject to HIPAA if it is a provider of healthcare (which it is not) or the sponsor of a healthcare plan (which it is).

“We are subject to HIPAA with respect to our employees and medical records that are provided to our healthcare coordinator, but with respect to reasonable accommodation in any medical documents that might support that, they are not subject to HIPAA because we are deemed a covered entity under the statute,” Cohen said.

She explained that there had also been discussion about privacy concerns, and pointed out that Florida’s public records law is pretty broad and that she couldn’t find any exceptions under Florida law so far with respect to those records. In looking at the HIPAA law, however, she found that whenever there is conflict with state law, HIPAA prevails.

“I think it’s a good procedure,” Cohen said. “It balances the needs of the disabled individual with the needs of the community.”

Mayor Bob Margolis pointed out that the village attempts to meet the needs of the hearing-impaired by providing listening devices. “We do have headsets available that they can just put on,” he said.

Cohen said the village should post notices about the availability of listening devices somewhere so individuals can take advantage of that.

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she was glad to see a policy being established. She pointed out that the proposed ordinance does not imply that the village did not already accommodate people with disabilities.

Cohen said the village actually did not have a formally adopted policy.

“We have given reasonable accommodations in the past,” she said. “We are required to do so, and this just kind of formalizes it and lays out the process so that it can be applied to anybody who comes in and requests that accommodation. We are comfortable with that policy.”

Councilman Howard Coates made a motion to approve preliminary reading of the ordinance, which carried 5-0.

In other business, the council approved a request to re-plat the 139-acre Valiente Polo property located in the northeast portion of the Wellington Polo Preserve, also known as Section 34.

The item was pulled from the consent agenda in order for Coates to recuse himself. Gerwig also ended up recusing herself, explaining that her engineering firm worked on the gates for the project.

Village Engineer Bill Riebe said the resolution to be adopted was a revision of an existing plat for the site, just east of 50th Street South and south of 120th Avenue South. The owners of the property are J-5 Wellington Preserve LLC.

“What this does is it creates a large tract of land,” Riebe said. “They do retain a lot of the lots in there, so they have the development rights. All of the easements, the rights-of-way and so on are all dedicated through various HOAs in there.”

Councilman Matt Willhite asked whether the resolution takes into account the setbacks established on the eastern portion of the property, as approved by the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board, and Riebe said it accounts for all legal easements, whether they are landscape buffers, easements or setbacks.

Vice Mayor John Greene asked about the process followed by the developer. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about how [this was] submitted,” Greene said.

“This is a big project,” Riebe said. “This is a very significant project down in what we commonly call Section 34… a beautiful development. The applicant is expending an enormous amount of money and resources.”

He complimented the developers, saying their staff has been professional despite having to work through the plans with the village.

“There are always issues as you work through on a project, but overall it has been a very good project, and I think it will be a very good thing for Wellington,” Riebe said.

Greene said he brought up the topic because he wanted to make it clear that the village has a cooperative staff.

“We have people who, when they do things the right way, they are able to come in, put projects in front of us, and we get things done,” Greene said. “We’ve got a staff that is willing to cooperate, and I just want to say thank you to you and all the other members who were part of this process.”

Greene made a motion to approve the resolution, which carried 3-0.