By Al Dozier
The town of Irmo has finally reached a settlement with the federal government after two years of negotiations over allegations that the town violated a disabled woman’s rights.
The lawsuit settlement, approved during a special “zoom” meeting Wednesday, was not near as punitive as many expected. Council members voiced relief that the town would not be forking out millions as part of the settlement.
The lawsuit was filed after a disabled Irmo resident asked the town for an exemption from zoning regulations that restricted her from installing a roof over a ramp in front of her home, which she said would prevent her from falling when the entrance way became wet after rains. But town officials contended it was a violation of zoning regulations and refused the request.
The resident concluded it was a violation of fair housing laws and contacted the Department of Justice (DOJ) about the denial. The town was soon informed it would face legal action. The DOJ initially advised the town that it would have to pay out $40,000 as part of a settlement.
The town came under fire from the community for mistreating the handicapped woman, who was actually injured from falls on her walkway.
Some said the incident gave the town a “black eye.”
But the settlement signed off by council members Wednesday didn’t include any financial settlement. It just required an educational program for town officials that would familiarize them with federal guidelines on fair housing regulations. Town officials would be required to have a total of four hours of instruction during the next two years.
Council members described the settlement as “a big improvement” over earlier negotiations. Town Administrator Bob Brown and the town’s attorney were credited with negotiating the settlement.
The settlement agreement was a new agenda item to a meeting originally called to address the assignment of accommodations tax funds.
The town’s tax advisory committee recommended the allocation of $21,945 to Lake Murray Country, and $11,055 to the Irmo Chamber of Commerce $11,055 to promote tourism. Approval of the recommendations was on the council’s agenda at an earlier council meeting, but Councilman Kelly Busch requested more time to review the advisory committee’s selection process.
Busch continued to have reservations about the allocation at Wednesday’s meeting, and asked that it be delayed until next year, when it could be added to the next allocation. Councilman Kathy Condom supported Busch’s recommendation, but the allocation was finally approved by a 3-2 vote.
Some council members have expressed concerns during the past few years that Lake Murray Country is not doing enough to promote the town of Irmo.