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Community fights back and protests Maio’s firing of popular disability commissioner

By Miya Rodolfo-Sioson chair, Commission on Disability
Saturday August 18, 2001

Craig’s removal unjust 


The Commission on Disability lost its most active member and strongest advocate on Aug. 6 when City Councilmember Linda Maio removed Karen Craig from her position on that commission. As chair of the COD and a member of the disability community, I am upset not only by the loss of a valuable Commissioner, but also by the manner in which she was dismissed. Karen’s removal is also related to unjust accusations made by Maio and Councilmember Dona Spring about the Commission as a whole. 

Karen’s work on the COD has been tireless. Through her leadership of the Outreach Subcommittee, the downtown Starbucks and numerous local banks have installed access modifications including accessible counters and automatic door openers. She has continuously fought to improve the accessibility of AC Transit buses and to remove obstacles from sidewalks and stores. She recently succeeded in getting disability advocates and organizers of the Berkeley Free Folk Festival together to discuss access improvements at the event. Karen helped create the City’s safety light program for pedestrians and bicyclists, and “parking warning” flyers for cars blocking sidewalks and curbcuts. She has been the COD’s liaison to the Library, I-80 Overpass and Warm Pool committees, Public Works and Police Review Commissions, and Transportation Commission Traffic Calming Subcommittee. Finally, she was a core organizer of the historic Measure E campaign. 

Despite four and a half years of dedicated service, Karen has been abruptly dismissed, ostensibly over one issue – her outspoken criticism of Easy Does It, the current contractor for the City’s Emergency Services Program for the Severely Disabled. Maio never expressed to Karen concern regarding her behavior before this summer. It appears her dismissal has little to do with Maio’s sudden attention to this matter, but is instead primarily a political favor to Spring, who has tried to discredit Karen as well as the entire Commission. 

According to an Aug. 6 letter Maio wrote to Karen, Spring convinced Maio that “contention” supposedly created by the COD’s objection to a particular EDI policy “has caused capable people to leave EDI”. The Commission believes that this policy – -of using Measure E funds to buy equipment for individual clients – is inappropriate and may violate the ordinance. The COD cannot be held responsible for staff resignations because it opposes a policy. 

At the Dec. 9, 2000 City Council meeting, Spring fumed that the COD “has always been very critical of EDI” and that she did not “expect that (the Commission is) going to approve any money for EDI.” The August 10 Daily Planet article quotes Spring as criticizing Karen for wanting to “micromanage” EDI and for creating “an unresolvable conflict”. 

It is unjust to accuse Karen and the Commission of trying to interfere with EDI operations. The COD’s recommendations regarding EDI are valid, and many of them are echoed in two city-sponsored evaluations of the agency. Commissioners do not criticize to promote conflict, but to improve service. The fact that our opinions differ from those of Spring or EDI should be taken at face value and not misinterpreted as an effort to impede or do harm. 

Although contact between the Commission and EDI was previously very tense, a working relationship has developed in recent months. The COD approves of EDI’s recent attempts to dispatch in-house, pre-schedule calls and experiment with case management. Karen, Commissioner Marissa Shaw and I have met with EDI staff twice since April to discuss different ways of addressing service problems. While we did not resolve the difficult issues, we did explore common ground. The Commission also supported EDI’s funding request in January and did not oppose the funding it solicited last month. 

Despite Spring’s accusations, recent interactions between the COD and EDI demonstrate that our differences are not unresolvable. Discrediting the Commission and dismissing Karen from it may bolster Spring’s political influence, but it does nothing to improve relations in the disability community. Karen, the Commission and the community deserve better than such realpolitik.