City Council approved RTA bus stops near the Mall at Fairfield Commons by a 5-2 vote Monday after the federal government found the city’s rejection of the stops two years ago violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The city was at risk of losing more than $10 million in federal highway funding if it did not revisit a March 2011 decision rejecting the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority’s request for three bus stops along Pentagon Boulevard. City staff previously had determined the RTA request met the requirements of the city’s 2000 bus stop ordinance. But council added several criteria citing a need to ensure public safety and to prevent the city from incurring additional costs.
The decision was challenged by Leaders for Equality and Action in Dayton in August 2011. The Federal Highway Administration found that adding the criteria denied transportation access to minorities to jobs, education and medical treatment available in the mall area. The highway administration did not say the denial was intentional.
Though she vehemently disagreed with the finding, council member Melissa Litteral said the potential loss of federal funding would be “catastrophic.” The majority of council said they had no choice but to approve the stops. “Our backs are to the wall,” Litteral said.
Council member Debborah Wallace said she would vote with the majority of the citizens who did not want the RTA buses. “My vote reflects the view of the majority of the voters,” she said before casting a no vote. She was joined by Scott Hadley in voting no.
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Municipalities that run programs and activities funded with federal dollars are banned from excluding or discriminating against a person based on race, color or national origin. The city is depending on $10.7 million in federal funding during the next five years to fund $19 million in road projects. The highway administration recommended the city rehear the RTA application and revise its bus stop policy to ensure the federal funds.
“We have to approve it. That is the reality. Otherwise the results will be catastrophic,” Vice Mayor Jerry Petrak said.
Adam Levin, a Washington, D.C., lawyer hired by the council to advise it on whether to appeal, told the council he recommended passing the resolution approving the stops.
“You face significant hurdles in the months it will take, including the hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs, the possible withdrawal of federal funding, a Department of Justice investigation and higher oversight,” he said.
More than 50 people packed the public hearing on the resolution. Many complained of possible further taxes, increased demand on police resources and the federal intervention.
“I don’t like an outside group dictating how we do business here,” said David Dunn, a Beavercreek resident, calling the highway administration finding a “great work of fiction.”
Marge Sedlacked, another resident, said it was time to move on. “For us as a city, we must move beyond putting people in categories. We must not let this blind us.”
Stephen McHugh, city attorney, said any additional tax would have to be approved by county voters.
Council member Zach Upton pointed out that if the city lost federal funds, it would have to go to the voters for a levy to replace those lost dollars. “We are doing everything we can to keep taxes low. A “no” vote is asking to raise taxes.”
The additional critera the city originally had requested from the RTA included: video surveillance cameras and police call boxes at all stops, billing RTA for police services, and requiring a $150,000 deposit from RTA in case new traffic signals were needed because of the stops. At the time, RTA said it could not meet many of those criteria.
“I hope tonight’s decision will be the first step toward providing fixed (bus) routes for all the entire region,” said Ronnie Moreland, a LEAD board member. “To deny access is a violation of the Civil Rights Act.”