The Enforcer

John Garon may be a partial quadriplegic, but he wields federal civil-rights lawsuits with consummate skill

Shotz also found that the city had assembled a file on him in an attempt to discredit him and his findings, he says. Shotz is suing Jacobs, the City of Plantation, and other city officials over the incident. The case is still active in U.S. District Court. Jacobs refuses to comment on the matter.

Garon was so incensed -- it was he who had recommended Shotz as a consultant to Hillier -- that he decided to make it a public issue in an election campaign. "Since it was mostly Ron Jacobs that did it, he felt it was important to run against Ron," Shotz says.

"If I didn't run -- I filed ten minutes before the deadline -- that would have given the people the opinion that what [Jacobs] did was wonderful," Garon says. He was willing to sacrifice $8000 of his own money to defend Shotz's name. "I gave up the down payment on a brand new truck for that." This time he garnered 20.6 percent of the vote to Jacobs's 79.4 percent.

Sherri Cohen
Captain "Jean-Luc" Garon's message to flouters of the ADA: Resistance is futile
Sherri Cohen
Captain "Jean-Luc" Garon's message to flouters of the ADA: Resistance is futile

His political career on hold for now, Garon is focusing on the arena with which he's most familiar. In December, he filed a federal lawsuit against the new Weston Town Center, built by a major developer (Arvida) and approved by Broward County. The complex of restaurants and shops on Main Street, Garon says, was built with such utter disregard for the ADA that it's almost impossible to fix without tearing it down and starting over. Garon's lawsuit alleges 82 separate violations involving sidewalks, doors, counters, tables, and bathrooms -- nothing was built right, he says, making it impossible for the disabled to conduct normal business. To see a new, major project so badly built is "a slap in the face" to the disabled, he says.

Worst of all is parking, his particular bugbear. There's not a single disabled parking spot near the main business entrances; all are tucked around back. "So no "crips' are allowed on Main Street," Garon says wryly.

And the suit against Weston Town Center is only his opening salvo. "That's nothing compared to what's going to happen," Garon warns. "I'm going to hit them with every building out there. Any building that's brand-new that has serious enough deficiencies will be sued. I'm dying to see what they're going to do. I really think they could build the pyramid of Cheops again before they could fix all this."

But Garon maintains he's suing only because he cares. "I go out there a lot," he says. "I like the shops there." Weston's young and energetic population will one day be elderly and infirm, he points out; if much of the town is inaccessible to him now, where will they be in a few decades?

Arvida's claim that it plans to conduct its own investigation into any problems, in Garon's opinion, means that the developer will merely try to apply for waivers to the Florida Accessibility Code. But that still won't exempt them from the ADA. "It's not gonna happen," he gloats. "You can't do that, even if you know all the Bushes." Attorneys for Arvida and Weston did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

The project was approved by Broward County building inspectors, to whom the City of Weston contracts its services. Tom Velasquez, chief building inspector for Broward County Building Code Services Division, admits there were problems. "It was a very rushed project, and most of the inspectors who did the project were newly hired inspectors and didn't have much experience with the ADA," Velasquez says. "We actually sent some of my people back, but since it's under litigation, I don't want to say much more."

Velasquez promises that, lawsuit or no lawsuit, changes are on the way. "I have taken some steps to keep something like this from happening in the future," he says. While all of his inspectors have had training in ADA standards, it's only a minor part of their job. Now he is establishing a team of inspectors just to check ADA compliance in a separate, special inspection of new construction. "We're actually giving new classes to all the inspectors," he says. Even so, he has fewer than 50 inspectors to cover the unincorporated area of Broward County and the 24 cities that use county building inspectors.

Garon has previously advocated creating just such an inspection team. Meanwhile, he sees more than enough work for himself with existing problems just in Broward County. "I feel like the sorcerer's apprentice," he says: In the course of inspecting one place for ADA compliance, a dozen more problems turn up. But if businesses and governments continue ignoring the ADA, he and his colleagues won't just go away. "These lawsuits are going to increase geometrically," he warns.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help