Commission membership becomes St. Paul's Human Rights issue

While Minneapolis looks at cutting its civil rights functions. St. Paul has been working for the past several months to form a new city Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO).

Impetus for the new department came after studies of the city’s contracting and vendor outreach practices revealed a number of problems in working with persons with disabilities, minorities and women.

The new department takes in functions that were previously handled by several other city departments. By merging functions across the City, the new HREEO department brings civil rights enforcement; contract analysis and procurement; contract monitoring, investigation, and enforcement; and capacity building and workforce development under one roof.

The city is in the process of selecting a new human rights commission that will have 21 members. Ten new people will be added the existing 11 people on the city’s human rights commission. But the notion of expanding the commission did spark some questions from St. Paul City Council members earlier this summer. The new commission will include people who don’t live in St. Paul. Most city boards, commission and committees have residency requirements.

But new HREEO Director Luz Maria Frias said the commission needs expertise in such areas as banking, labor and contracting. Frias told the City Council she has learned of possible commission candidates who live outside of the city. The City Council had agreed that two-thirds of the new commission members should be St. Paul residents.

Frias brings more than 10 years of experience in management, program development, fundraising, and leadership training. A noted civil rights advocate for more than 20 years, Frias has extensive experience as a mediator and frequent lecturer on social justice issues; diversity issues within the courts and mediation process; cross-cultural negotiation issues; immigration public policy reform; and the use of interpreters within the legal system. Most recently, Frias served as St. Paul’s external affairs director where she secured more than $27 million in supplemental funding to spearhead the city’s major initiatives.