LYNN — Â City Clerk Mary Audley rocked the Highlands Coalition Tuesday when she told the Human Rights Commission she had a plan to bring a polling station back to the Highlands, just not to the Ford School.
“I am currently working with KIPP Academy on High Rock Street to enable me to use that facility for a polling location,” she said in a prepared statement.
The facility is new, it’s accessible to the disabled, has plenty of parking and is two-tenths of a mile from Ford School, a four-minute walk, Audley said.
“I’m a little shocked because we met with the director of KIPP maybe three weeks ago and they said they had no intention having voting there,” said Highland Coalition member Leslie Greenberg.
Greenberg and the coalition have been fighting to have voting restored at the Ford School since it was relocated to North Shore Community College nine years ago. The Human Rights Coalition has held two subcommittee hearings on the issue.
Audley told HRC members she moved the polling location in 2004 because the school is a poor setup for voting, and the ramp does not meet state standards. Principal Claire Crane said the ramp was repaired years ago but it was never re-evaluated.
At the suggestion of coalition member David Gass, Ward 2 Councilor William Trahant said he would file a City Council order to have the state’s Office on Disabilities inspect the ramp.
“It would take it off the table,” Gass said. “It was always a non-issue for us. Six hundred kids would be in danger if the ramp were not right.”
Audley said she thought the news would be exciting and that it was a good compromise for all, but not everyone saw it that way.
Crane argued that, educationally, it was important to have voting at the Ford SchoolÂ
because parents came with their children and could see the process. Crane and Greenberg both called KIPP an unwelcome location.
“I thought it was the job of the Election Commission to make sure that everyone got a chance to vote,” Greenberg said. “I don’t see that happening.”
HRC Vice President Laura Mc Gaughey-Marquez commended Audley and the Election Commission for finding a compromise, but HRC member Audrey Jimenez wondered if they were asking the wrong question.
“I don’t understand why we’re saying no to the Ford School, she said. “I understand why we’re saying yes to KIPP.”
Jimenez said if every community banded together like the Highlands, it would be good for the city. She said she believed that reinstating voting at the Ford School would create a lot of good will.
Chairman Michael Tucker warned the commission that its jurisdiction is narrow and limited.
“I think we have to stay focused on our jurisdiction under the ordinance,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we can’t try and facilitate or negotiate.”
Tucker said the board should wait until the state rules on the compliance issue at the school and see if the City Council will uphold Audley’s plan.
HRC member Pamela Freeman reminded her colleagues fighting for the right to vote should be seen as a positive.
“This is not a negative, this is a positive,” she said. “It’s really about equality; that’s what it is at the end of the day.”
“I believe this is an equitable resolution to the complaint before this commission,” Audley said. “And it will provide the voters in the Highlands a safe and convenient location to exercise their right to vote.”