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NIRPC faces new disability lawsuit

Updated: January 4, 2014 6:31AM

Everybody Counts is taking the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission back to court, claiming the group hasn’t followed through on a consent decree.

According to its motion filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond, Everybody Counts says that NIRPC’s annual meeting on transportation for the disabled is not easily accessible by the disabled. The annual meeting focuses on how well transportation providers are serving the disabled.

This includes making sure the meeting is held at a time and place that the disabled can get to it through their transportation providers. Everybody Counts also says that the location of the meeting, at the Student Union at Purdue University Calumet, was so far from where vehicles could go that several disabled residents had trouble walking to the location in 2011 and did not go the next two years because of that.

The Merrillville-based group, which advocates for the disabled, sued NIRPC, which provides funding to several operators that provide transportation to the disabled, in 1998 over disability transportation issues, and the sides agreed to a consent decree in 2006.

Everybody Counts said in a press release that it has tried repeatedly to get NIRPC to cooperate with them on the consent decree but that NIRPC has continuously refused to do so. Roy Dominguez, a board member for Everybody Counts, pointed to an incident at one of NIRPC’s June meetings where police were called after about half a dozen people, some in wheelchairs, showed up with protest signs.

“They have arrogantly adopted an attitude of ‘so sue me,’ thus leaving us with no other alternative but to seek judicial intervention,” Dominguez said in the release.

The group also claims that NIRPC dismissed efforts that Everybody Counts and a NIRPC ad hoc committee had made to help craft NIRPC’s public participation plan to include the disabled.

The lawsuit included several letters from NIRPC’s attorney, David Hollenbeck, addressing Everybody Counts’ complaints. In one, he blamed the problems on Everybody Counts, saying the group failed to respond in time to NIRPC’s announcement about the most recent annual meeting on public transportation and that the group purposefully waited to make their requests for changes until NIRPC would have had to cancel the scheduled meeting in order to comply.

“Over the years, NIRPC staff has repeatedly attempted to work with your client only to have those efforts rebuked time and time again by your client’s unreasonable and unacceptable behavior,” Hollenbeck wrote. “Your client has chosen the strategy of personal attacks, mean spiritedness and acrimony which has created an environment wherein cooperation becomes difficult if not impossible”

The lawsuit is asking that NIRPC be forced to follow the consent decree and that it pay Everybody Counts’ legal fees.

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