ANNA MARIA – Former City Commissioner Eugene “Gene” Aubry has filed a complaint with the United States Justice Department regarding the commission’s 2018 decision to not install handrails on the new city pier currently under construction.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division received Aubry’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint on July 29.
Atop the copy of the complaint form sent to Mayor Dan Murphy is a handwritten note that says, “Mayor – For your info,” followed by Aubry’s initials. The complaint lists Aubry’s Palmetto address.
In his handwritten response to the question asking who’s being discriminated against, Aubry wrote, “All future visitors.”
In response to who has discriminated, Aubry wrote, “The mayor and entire city council.”
As for when the alleged discrimination occurred, Aubry wrote, “Present. Under construction.”
He described the discriminatory act as “Refusal to install handrails on pier.”
Chapter 6.4 of the United States Access Board’s ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) says, “Most fishing piers and platforms are fixed structures and must comply with the accessible route requirements in ADAAG. Railings are not required. However, where railings are provided, at least 25 percent of the railings must be 34 inches maximum above the ground or deck surface in order not to interfere with fishing by individuals with disabilities.”
The original pier, built in 1911, had railings that were removed decades ago. Aubry served as a commissioner from 2010 to 2013. During that time, the pier did not have railings.
When demolished in 2018, the pier did not have railings. Instead, it had wooden toe rail curbing that ran the length of the pier walkway and T-end platform. The design for the new pier calls for higher toe rail curbing.
In his complaint, Aubry checked “yes” as to whether efforts were made to resolve this complaint through an internal grievance procedure. As for the grievance status, Aubry wrote: “Was presented to city council by E. Aubry with no response.”
As to whether the complainant intends to file with another agency or court. Aubry checked “Yes” and wrote, “If ADA does not respond.”
In the additional answers space, Aubry wrote: “At the end of the pier, the city will be constructing a restaurant, bait shop, retail and bathrooms – all to be accessed over pier that has no handrails over the water. Where the handicapped (is) concerned, especially the blind, this is a major problem and should not be allowed.”
Aubry’s complaint ends with his suggestion that the engraved planks removed from the old pier be used to build railings on the new pier.
In February, Aubry made his pitch for pier railings. He told the commission he’s been an architect for 60-plus years and he referenced the ADA but did not claim the new pier would be non-compliant without handrails.
“The original pier had railings on it. The fact that we’re not building handrails is personally beyond my imagination. It has to do with safety and liability,” he said then.
In March 2018, Mayor Dan Murphy and the City Commission discussed whether to include railings on the new pier. Murphy told the commission he received several emails on that topic and public opinion was evenly divided.
City resident and Anna Maria Preservation Trust founder Sissy Quinn told the commission she preferred no railings because that maintains the look pier visitors have become accustomed to over the past 30 years.
The commission voted 5-0 to not include railings. The commission felt the increased height of the toe rail curbing would provide adequate protection for those using strollers, wheelchairs and walkers.
When asked about the complaint, Murphy said he does not expect it to impact the construction of the new pier as planned.
He noted the new pier is designed to maintain its historic use as a place where boats can be docked and said, “Boat docks don’t have to have railings.”
When contacted, Aubry said he never expressed concerns about pier railings while in office because there was no talk then of repairing or replacing the pier.
Aubry said city code requires a railing around a deck that’s more than 18 inches off the ground and he questions why that same standard isn’t applied to a structure built six to eight feet over the water.
Aubry could not cite a specific state or federal law or regulation that requires pier railings, but he fears the commission’s decision exposes the city to potential liability and litigation.
“A toe rail will not keep you from falling off the pier,” Aubry said. “It’s like Disney World out there and adults today do not take control of their kids.”
The ADA website notes that it cannot investigate or litigate every complaint and it can take three months to complete a review.