I have known Montesano City Councilwoman Marisa Salzer for about three years now. I first met her when I started writing my column for The Vidette. At the time, she was a legal clerk, reporter, the person who put the stories in the computer and made everything come together for the newspaper. There were a lot of hats, and she wore each well.
It took me three months to figure out she was legally deaf.
Like anyone with a disability, she has learned to cope, and quite well. Small rooms, one on one, she is an excellent lip reader. You will most probably never know. Despite what you and I would consider a great disadvantage, something we couldn’t possibly relate to, she excels in most everything she does. Marisa currently is working with an agency that helps others with disabilities gain employment. She is trying to change the lives of people living among us; another example of heroes in the community just quietly going about their daily lives making a difference. Most we never even see or know exist. But they are there.
Last year, I talked with Marisa when she filed to become a council member here in the city. She was really excited. I was excited for her, a home-grown girl coming into her own and taking on yet another responsibility. The city would be well served with her presence on the council. What an example she would be setting, I thought to myself.
It was a long time from the filing period in the early spring until the formal election in November. We talked about it here and there and I could see in her eyes, and hear in her voice how excited she was. It was catching. Marisa was very pleased to be able to sit on the council as someone with a disability. She is aware that there are lots of little Bulldogs here in the community dealing with their own situations. She knew she would be setting an example.
In December, Marisa was called up to take her oath. She had invited her family, and even I broke down and went to the council chambers to watch. I don’t go there anymore as they just glare at me from the dias and the occasional council member will give off-handed insults. But I went and it was enjoyable to watch her raise her hand to take the oath. Her friends and family were so proud.
At her first regular council meeting that followed, the city forgot to bring in an interpreter. Her first meeting sitting at the dias, a brand new name plate next to her seat, she was forced to sit and not hear a thing. You can imagine how she felt. How alone and left out. She would have been a swing vote on a really important construction contract, but she didn’t vote because she didn’t feel comfortable without knowing exactly what was being said.
Trust me when I say this. She was more of a lady than I would have been a gentleman about it.
And there were more instances. I’m not going to go into them here.
Let’s fast forward to the city council meeting this past Tuesday, June 24. Marisa, having dealt with the city on this interpreter issue several times now in the past six months, talked with her interpreter about the upcoming meeting. The interpreter requested the city, in advance, to allow a team of two as the meeting would most definitely be going well past a normal hour. A team of two is a normal occurrence with a long meeting. To put it bluntly, interpreters wear out after about an hour. They just wear out. This is an important issue for a deaf person. They are past the ability of someone with hearing loss and can compensate with the use of hearing aids.
Without an interpreter, Marisa is completely left out of the meeting. Interpreter issues have happened so often now that Marisa has mentioned that her interpreter may not want to come anymore. At this point, I would ask you, the reader, how you would feel?
The city ignored her request. Despite the fact that everyone knew it would be a long meeting concerning the issue of the waterfront, the state audit, and other issues were on the agenda, not to mention that the council hadn’t met for a month.
It was an almost two-hour formal meeting, not including the before and after side conversations.
I asked Marisa the obvious question. Why? Why does it appear that time after time, despite the requests, that her interpreter is put into these types of positions. She, Marisa, feels that it is a financial issue. The city just doesn’t want to pay for it. It is a bother to them.
I have offered more than once to dust off my soapbox and call attention to the repeated problems she is having. Each time, she tells me, “I’m a big girl and can stand up for myself.” She often relates that people with disabilities are forced to develop a tougher skin than the rest of us. She has complained to the city. I’ve seen the emails.
Not only has Marisa complained, but the interpreter has complained as well. Those guys and gals are professionals. However, the city just doesn’t seem to take the issue seriously. That statement is made by direct observation during the last six months.
If these repeated snubs and situations had occurred in a private sector company, well, we all know what would be happening. I think we all expect more from our own city government.
Marisa is one of us. She is someone who rolled up her sleeves and is willing to jump into that snake pit up at city hall to fight for the town. She just can’t hear well. I will ask just this once, can the city please stop messing with her and her interpreter?
Quit treating her like a problem and show her or anyone else with a disability a little respect. If people with disabilities make some at our city government feel uncomfortable, that is their problem. Marisa just wants to work, and be a great of Bulldog Pride. To the city, and this is the only time I will say this, I highly suggest you listen.
Tom Frederiksen grew up in Montesano and lives here today with an active blog at montesanotoday.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.