Not So Neighborly: ADA flap renews simmering civic sibling rivalry | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

News » Local News

Not So Neighborly: ADA flap renews simmering civic sibling rivalry



It's no secret that its neighbor to the south overshadows Central Oregon's second largest city.

It's a rivalry that dates back almost 100 years to 1916 when Bend bested Redmond in a contest to see which city would become the county seat in the newly formed Deschutes County.

And so it has gone for a century.

Bend got the massive sawmills. Redmond got potato farms.

While Bend grew into the commercial center of Central Oregon, Redmond developed a reputation as a nice bedroom community with a bearable commute.

This may not mean much to the average citizen, particularly anyone living outside of Redmond, but Redmond civic and political leaders are well aware of their perceived second-class status.

Still, no one could have blamed them for bristling at a recent stunt by the Bend building department, in which a top building official from Bend surreptitiously snapped photos of a recently completed construction project in Redmond and brought them to a public meeting. The images were presented as an example of how cities besides Bend were failing to meet minimum requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (ADA)

There's just one problem- he was wrong.

It's no small matter.

Advocates for the disabled, spurred on by complaints about access issues, targeted the city of Bend several years and brought down the heavy hand of the federal government, which performed a comprehensive audit of Bend's public facilities - from drinking fountain and counter heights at city hall to sidewalk slopes in the public right of way.

Investigators from the Department of Justice who performed the work found a laundry list of accessibility problems in Bend. The bill for the work runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The city ultimately entered a settlement agreement with the DOJ that sketched out a list of projects and a timetable to bring the city into compliance. Still advocates have maintained that the city could and should do more, including withholding occupancy permits on new commercial buildings until all accessibility standards are met.

It was against this highly-charged backdrop that Bend building officials showed up to a February meeting of the Central Oregon Coalition On Access, a group that has formed with the intention of bringing public agencies, private sector businesses and the disabled community together to find solutions for ongoing issues of access for the disabled. According to one person who was at the meeting Bend officials showed up with an overhead projector - something unusual for the usually informal meetings - and asked if they could make a presentation.

They ended up running through a set of nearly 30 slides of an unidentified building, spotlighting compliance issues.

Board members immediately wanted to know what they were looking at.

"This is a very detail-oriented group and, to be honest, the building department was very smug," said Board Member Jenni Peskin.

It eventually came out that the building in question was the new Lowe's development in Redmond.

As one of the partners in COCA Redmond building officials were in attendance at the meeting and totally blindsided by the slideshow, said Peskin.

They weren't the only ones miffed by what looked like a sneak attack. COCA board members were extremely uncomfortable with Bend's tactics, said Peskin.

"The city of Redmond was made to look bad...It was really unprofessional and it felt like they were pointing fingers at the city of Redmond. And that's not what the meeting is for," Peskin said.

Peskin followed up with an email to Bend Building Manager Robert Mathias who participated in the presentation. She said Mathias apologized for the incident, but maintained that the intent was never to smear their sister city.

Redmond officials, meanwhile, set to investigating the allegations made by Bend. They performed an internal review of the project and determined that the site appeared to be in compliance. According to a city staff report that was recently presented to the Redmond City Council, building officials met with the Mathias and his lieutenant Dave Kloss, who snapped the photos. According to the report, the pair was adamant that the violations were real. Three weeks later Redmond officials went back out to the site with Deschutes County Building officials to double check the work and found no problems. They also sought a review from a trio of outside experts, including George McCart, a Prineville home designer who helped write the state's accessibility code.

"All three of these persons concurred with the City of Redmond's responses to the City of Bend's concerns which were brought up at the February 12 meeting and the on-site meeting of February 14," the report states.

Interim City Manager Eric King defends his staff member's motivation, showcasing the difficulty of ADA compliance in any jurisdiction, but said their approach was ill conceived.

"I sincerely apologized," King said. "By no means are we trying to defend it or stand by it and we're very apologetic for the unintended consequences off the actions. Believe me I was fairly upset to hear about it afterward and did my best to make sure that we didn't damage that relationship.

King who said he was not aware of the presentation until after it happened said there was absolutely no intent to smear Redmond.

"We don't want anybody to misconstrue our intent," he said. "We not there to point a finger and humiliate another community. That's not something I would promote or would tolerate."

Even so, Redmond officials took exception to Bend's grandstanding.

While the city has foregone a formal public response on the advice of Redmond city manager Michael Patterson, Redmond City Councilor Jay Patrick used a recent council meeting to publicly chastise Bend's handling of the affair.

"I'm just scratching my head to this day to see how they could have done such a thing," said Joe Mansfield, another Redmond city councilor, who learned about the flap in early April.

"We're all a little bit peeved. There has always been a little friction underneath between Bend and Redmond, and that's natural. I think we've held it pretty well in check. And I think that Mike Patterson was right when he said, 'Just cool it,'" Mansfield said.

About The Author

Add a comment

More by Eric Flowers