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Leaders in San Diego’s disabled community say they are shocked and dismayed by Mayor Jerry Sanders’ decision to terminate Linda Woodbury, the city’s disabilities services coordinator.

“It’s kind of like whiplash,” said Cyndi Jones, a founding member of the San Diego Disability Action Coalition, an umbrella group of local disability organizations. “It’s kind of like ‘what’s going on?”‘

Woodbury, who is blind and was hired by the city in 1999, was responsible for coordinating the city’s compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and other related state and federal laws that extend civil protection to people with disabilities.

Jones said Woodbury’s role with the city covered a wide range of day-to-day issues under the ADA – everything from the captioning of public meetings to trash pick up.

“If you called any department in the city about a disability issue they would say ‘call Linda Woodbury,’” Jones said.

Prior to Woodbury’s firing, the local disabled community was riding high after Sanders announced earlier this week that he plans to pump $50 million into capital improvement projects over the next five years in an effort to ensure that the city complies with the ADA, Jones said. The law requires that people with disabilities have equal access to public facilities.

The coalition has lobbied Sanders all year for increased attention to disability issues, Jones said. Woodbury was instrumental in organizing an April community meeting with the mayor that was attended by more than 100 people with disabilities, she said.

Despite her role as a citywide coordinator, Sanders’ spokesman, Fred Sainz, said the capitol improvement projects would not be impacted by Woodbury’s termination.

“This position has done enough work to let us know what projects need to be done immediately,” Sainz said. He said the justification for Woodbury’s termination was a confidential personnel matter and declined to comment.

Earlier this week, Woodbury answered questions about the city’s evacuation planning for disabled and special needs citizens during a natural disaster or other catastrophe for a related article. Woodbury said she didn’t know if that interview factored into the mayor’s decision.

The Mayor’s Office has a policy that staff must receive authorization prior to speaking with reporters, but it was not clear whether Woodbury asked for or received permission.

During an interview Wednesday, Woodbury said she was told that she “exhibits a lack of leadership and support for the organization,” before being let go.

Susan Madison, a coordinator with the action coalition and a former chairwoman of the city’s Citizens Review Committee on Disability Issues, disagreed with that assessment.

“I think she is very much a leader in the local community and I think there was certainly a lot of respect from many, many people over the years she was at that position,” Madison said.

Woodbury’s position was funded entirely with money from federal Community Development Block Grants, a spokesman for the mayor said.

“That kind of gives you a clue of what the city’s commitment was on this,” said Betty Bacon, an advocate for people with disabilities and a former member of the review committee. “I’m sure there will be a reaction from the community. Linda was well respected and had incredible communication skills.”

The mayor has named Ernie Linares, the city’s current deputy director of community services, as the city’s interim ADA compliance officer, a spokesman said.

“I hope it doesn’t take two, to three, to five years to fill the vacancy,” said Wes Johnson, president of Accessible San Diego, a group that promotes local tourism opportunities for people with disabilities. “We need to have a good leader in there to make sure the city keeps a priority for ADA compliance.”

“In the past, when we lost our disabilities coordinator, it left a vacuum that took years to fill and the challenges we faced were many,” Johnson said.

Check back later for more.

DANIEL STRUMPF

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