Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, it's become an annual tradition to have the Orange County Human Relations Commission see its reflection in the blade of an impending cut before the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Shawn Nelson is now wielding a proposal that seeks the elimination of $200,000 in funds from their current $302,000 budget in the five-year contract they currently have. If approved, it would deal yet another blow to an already withered down institution.
The cycle is a familiar one, although this time around the agency has been caught off-guard. Two years ago, when Nelson was a newbie on the Board of Supervisors, there was a clamoring among his supporters that the commission was going to be targeted for complete dismantlement and he would be the one to spear the effort. That scenario did not play out in full as it was preserved, though not with a hit to its coffers, as part of the larger $5.5 billion dollar budget approved by the Supes, Nelson's vote included.
Further changes ensued. “Last year, they eliminated all our county employees as a proposed cost-saving measure,” says longtime Executive Director Rusty Kennedy, who took a retirement as part of the compromise. “We were willing to enter the agreement with the county, share the
pain and reduce their pension obligation.”
This year, as the commission learned yesterday, such a move was not considered enough in the eyes of Nelson and Chairman of the Board John Moorlach who supports the proposed hatchet job. “We haven't had a chance to sit down and hear out what their rationale is for
this,” Kennedy adds.
Part of the cut is aimed at the Executive Director himself whose salary is partly funded by it. Kennedy is being deemed a “double dipper” for taking the retirement he didn't want last year and currently leading the commission under its county-contract reconfiguration this year. Whether a double dip or a sought out 'double dump,' the slash would go beyond Kennedy and effect other areas of its work including the BRIDGES Program and other community building efforts.
One of the initiatives to come out of BRIDGES was the YouthSpeak contest and this year's winner Christian Lopez, a senior at Garden Grove High School, gave a speech about people with disabilities and injustice at the annual award gala held at the City National Grove of Anaheim. His words deserve an audience far and wide. The commission provided that platform of empowerment for Lopez and other youth like him.
A deep slash of the core budget would only serve to further weaken such services. Resources would be shifted and programs across the board would be negatively affected. The only uncritical support from detractor Supes is for the continuation of funds in terms of
the agency's collaborative efforts with police departments. Sorry folks, but this county of ours is still chock-full of intolerance and hilarious haters, in case you haven't noticed lately. There's definitely criticisms of the commission out there, and this writer has his own, but at the end of the day, it needs to be preserved in a much more viable form than that.
Professional staff have been able to intervene in situations like the Mr. Fullerton Pageant where a gay Fullerton Union High School student was yanked from it by an assistant principal because of his pro-same-sex marriage views. Commissioners also listened to the experiences of discrimination from the local Sikh and Muslim communities and developed a plan of action based upon them. Bullying at North OC high school campuses in Fullerton, Buena Park, and La Habra was also taken on by the agency's work at the request of Fullerton Union High School's Superintendent.
Now, the agency's five-year contract is subject for review by the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday when the proposed two-thirds reduction in cash flow will be considered. For detractors, the question of funding is perpetually politicized. They don't call for reform of imperfections, the unofficial mantra is 'defund and deform.'
But aren't OC's imperfections too voluminous that a severe slashing of the public's commitment to a non-profit that works against them is truly what can't be afforded?