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Local Column

Rey: City did not manufacture website crisis

The City Council’s decision to outsource development of a new website for the city of DeKalb has drawn a number of comments from members of the community.

Public discussion of public items is healthy and encouraged. What I would like to address, however, is misinformation regarding the Department of Justice’s communications with the city of DeKalb regarding compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The city of DeKalb was contacted in July 2013 by the Justice Department, which asked the city to provide documents relating to its job application process. The city fully complied with the investigation regarding compliance with the ADA in the city’s hiring practices, and in the process produced thousands of pages of records for review.

The Justice Department did not find any instances of unlawful discrimination in its review of those city records. That review process extended over 18 months, with frequent contact between the city and the Justice Department.

In late October 2014, the Justice Department advised the city that it had commenced a review of the city’s website to determine if the city’s “online job application process” was accessible to people with disabilities.

At that time the Justice Department advised that:

1. This was a routine review not initiated based upon any complaint;

2. They had not identified any ADA violations at that time;

3. The department expected its review would take an extended period of time, and

4. If any ADA violations were identified, the Justice Department would promptly notify the city of those concerns.

The Justice Department also acknowledged the city did not have an “online job application process,” and indicated it was just commencing its review of this issue.

The city was not actually advised of any ADA compliance concerns with its website, however, until it was officially notified Dec. 29 that issues existed. At that time, the Justice Department notified the city of DeKalb that its website must be brought into compliance with the ADA within a 90-day period or it would be at risk of official sanctions.

At that point, city staff explored options for compliance, while the city attorney worked with the Justice Department for an extension of the deadline. Justice officials ultimately agreed to provide 150 days for the city to revise its website.

It is important for the community to understand the nature of this timeline and to recognize that the city did not create a false need for an urgent resolution to the ADA compliance issues. The website redesign had been in planning by the city for nearly a year, and the city had budgeted funds in the current budget for that purpose.

The anticipated process was to bring request for proposals to the City Council for approval in March or April. That timeline was modified when the critical nature of the issue became known, and city staff undertook immediate efforts to comply with the Justice Department’s mandate.

The City Council ultimately approved a contract with a vendor that specializes in municipal websites and that offers the ability to comply with the condensed timeline at issue here, while providing a website with full municipal functionality that will further enhance transparency for the city.

I hope members of the community will share accurate information about the Department of Justice timeline and refuse to perpetuate any rumors stating that the city attempted to hide any earlier notice from the Justice Department specifically regarding website issues.

Additionally, please be aware of the city’s diligent efforts to bring the city of DeKalb into compliance with all federal requirements. Examples of these efforts include the appointment of Assistant City Manager Patty Hoppenstedt to the ADA coordinator role and the city’s recent staff training on subjects such as discrimination, harassment and ethics in the workplace and ADA compliance for hiring managers and supervisors.

The city has made the Justice Department’s July 2013 notice and the final settlement agreement with the DOJ available on the city’s website at www.cityofdekalb.com/DOJ.html.

Please direct any questions regarding the city’s ADA compliance efforts to staff at 815-748-2000.

• John Rey is mayor of the city of DeKalb. Reach him at 815-748-2099 or email john.rey@cityofdekalb.com.

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