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Mayor makes apology

Disabled man’s complaints caught him off guard, he says

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Keith Barney, shown at a 2005 cleanup event, complained Tuesday that Highland's city offices aren't ADA compliant.

Keith Barney, shown at a 2005 cleanup event, complained Tuesday that Highland’s city offices aren’t ADA compliant.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

HIGHLAND — The mayor of Highland has apologized for a harsh exchange in which he threatened to have a disabled man removed from a public meeting Tuesday.

Keith Barney, a former Paralympic athlete, went to the City Council meeting to complain that Highland's city offices have not been brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Among other pointed comments, Barney said the mayor and City Council were individually responsible for years of not following federal code.

At the meeting, Mayor Jay Franson, who has been in office for six months, denied Barney's accusations and said he was personally offended that Barney suggested the city didn't care about the needs of disabled individuals.

"This is not the proper venue to discuss this," Franson said to Barney. "Your two minutes are up, and I could have you removed."

Franson later said Barney's comments took him off guard, and he regretted responding so harshly.

"I felt he was making some accusations against the council that weren't justified," Franson told the Deseret Morning News. "There's been a lot of work done in terms of trying to solve the access problems the building has."

According to Barry Edwards, Highland's city administrator, plans to retrofit the building to comply with federal code have already been completed and are open for bid. The city expects to have bids back on the project by Tuesday.

The city is also in the process of approving a new City Hall that will be built according to ADA standards. According to Edwards, the new City Hall could be completed in a year, but plans are still in relatively early stages.

Because of a recent federal lawsuit brought against the city by the Disability Law Center, a nationwide nonprofit organization, City Council members discussed the building further in a closed session after the meeting.

Barney, who uses a wheelchair, said he first encountered the perils of Highland's City Hall in January 2003 when he went to the building to resolve a traffic ticket. Barney says most disabled people would find the ramp too steep and entryway too narrow to navigate.

"I didn't go there with a tape measure; I didn't go there with an agenda," Barney said. "I found it was a bad situation and asked for it to be corrected."

Barney, who participated in the 2002 Winter Paralympic Games and attributes his ability to get inside the building to his physical dexterity, said his request to fix the building has been ignored.

Barney has taught an accessible recreation course at Brigham Young University for the past four years. The course teaches students how to use recreation as a way to break down barriers between the public and people with disabilities.

Although breaking down those barriers has become something of a life's mission for Barney, he says it shouldn't be an issue with a public building.

"I've been treated differently my whole life," Barney said. "It's not like I'm not used to that. But there are some places where we should be better than that. The government, particularly, should be better and not discriminate."

E-mail: achoate@desnews.com