Governments Struggle For ADA Compliance In Face Of Lawsuits

Local municipalities are struggling to make their web sites compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act in the face of lawsuits being filed against municipalities that have not come into compliance.

City of Westlake Attorney Pam Booker reported Monday, June 17 on new budget reporting requirements passed in the last session of the Florida Legislature, and City Manager Ken Cassel said the requirement could be challenging to local governments attempting to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Booker said the legislature enacted HB 861, which deals with local government and web site posting.

“This is going to be effective on Oct. 15, 2019, requiring budgets to be posted on the web site for at least 45 days, and for the final budget to stay on there for up to two years, so there are more requirements dealing with budgeting,” Booker said. “They want to make sure that the public is aware and sees what is going on as we go forward in adopting the budget and that they are on the web site.”

Cassel said web site posting is a tricky issue due to the difficulty in making charts and graphics found in budgets ADA-compliant, which requires such documents to be made available to be read aloud for the visually impaired.

“There is no reader that will read a budget, so that is one of the things that is being worked on by a number of attorneys [in Tallahassee] and others to figure out how to comply with what they just passed and not set the municipalities up for ADA lawsuits,” he said.

ADA-compliance lawsuits are mushrooming against municipalities across the state. Cassel said one lawsuit against a municipality was recently thrown out because the plaintiff did not live in the city.

“Therefore, the judge in that case ruled that the individual did not have standing. However, that case is under appeal, so we do not know what the final outcome is,” he said. “What is going on is, basically, a cottage industry where individuals are filing lawsuits against special districts and municipalities throughout the entire state.”

Westlake Mayor Roger Manning said many municipalities have taken down their web sites while they try to become ADA-compliant. That has happened in Loxahatchee Groves.

“They’ve done it because they’ve had a frivolous lawsuit filed against them,” Manning said. “They might not seem frivolous to some, but to most people it does… When there’s tables like financial statements, it’s very difficult to get them on the web site and make them ADA-compliant. I’m surprised that the legislature passed this without more consideration.”

Cassel said he felt the legislation was out of an effort for transparency, which he believes most municipalities and special districts strive for.

“However, with this [risk of a lawsuit] sitting out there at the same time, it opens another can of worms,” he said.

Manning pointed out that anyone who wants Westlake’s financial statements can come to city hall and get them.

“It’s just that it’s not going to be available on the web site until everything is ADA-compliant,” he said.

ADA compliance was a primary topic at the Florida Association of Special Districts annual conference last week in Fort Myers attended by all the Indian Trail Improvement District supervisors.

“It focused on ADA-compliance issues for web sites,” ITID President Betty Argue told the Town-Crier on Tuesday.

The FASD web site has several postings on ADA compliance and the recent surge in the number of federal ADA lawsuits and demand letters filed against special districts and municipalities.

Royal Palm Beach Finance Director Stan Hochman said that with considerable effort, he has updated all of his village’s budget reports back to 2015, making them ADA-compliant.

“The problem is graphics,” Hochman told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “You have to use a lot of alternative text with graphs, and depending on how much of that you have, that determines how time consuming it is. Mine are all updated.”

Hochman said many municipalities have pulled their web sites down or limited the amount of information they disseminate online over concern about lawsuits.

“We’ve been in the process of upgrading our web site over the last six months,” he said. “These people out there, all they’re interested in is making a buck, so they’re trying to get all the municipalities to be compliant. If not, they’re suing them.”

Royal Palm Beach launched its new web site earlier this month.

“We were in the process of rebuilding our web site anyway, so [ADA compliance] wasn’t that big a deal because we were starting from scratch,” Hochman said.