Minneapolis mayor may cut civil rights program

How Minneapolis should handle civil rights complaints is a topic the City Council must make decisions on in the weeks ahead. As a budget-cutting move, Mayor R.T. Rybak has proposed shifting responsibility for civil rights complaints from the city to the state.

Any changes how to handle complaints must be made beforeyear’s end as it impacts the 2010 Minneapolis budget. A task force led by City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden has instead suggested that individual city departments pay for investigating complaints against them. Another task force suggestion is that city departments not complying with civil rights laws be fined. These would be ways to cover investigative costs. Fines of $1,000 per month would be assessed to city departments that do not comply with ordinances requiring affirmativeaction plans and the hiring of minority-owned and female-owned businesses.

The shift in who handles Minneapolis complaints would save the city about $400,000 per year. Rybak could include more details about the shift when he announces his 2010 budget proposal in mid-August.

Minneapolis is one of a handful of Minnesota cities with its own human rights or civil rights department. When state budget cuts were announced recently Gov. Tim Pawlenty suggested cities could cut their civil rights functions as a way to save money, by using the state department and its investigative services. St. Paul city officials rejected that suggestion but it met a mixed reaction among Minneapolis leaders.

However, the Minneapolis task force concluded that it would be harder for city residents to file a complaint with the state and that investigations would take longer. Currently Minneapolis residents wait about 24 months on average for a complaint to be addressed.

The task force is urging that the investigative function not be cut. Observations and recommendations in the task force report were developed from the evaluation of information received from several sources, including presentations from managers of the three Civil Rights divisions that comprise the Department Complaint Investigations Unit (CIU), Contract Compliance Unit (CCU) and Civilian Review Authority (CRA) and a presentation from Commissioner Velma Korbel of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

The task force also gathered input at several community-based public forums held in cooperation with numerous

community based organizations. Input was also taken at task force meetings. Minneapolis handled 296 discrimination charges in 2008. The city receives 10,000 to 15,000 complaint investigators for more review. The state office handled 867 complaints statewide, according to the Minneapolis task force.

The task force was asked to look at everything the department does, including analyze all of the roles of the Department of Civil Rights, which include investigating complaints, enforcing minority and female hiring and contracting goals, and providing investigative and management staff for the Civil Rights Commission and Civilian Review Authority. The task force’s report made a number of suggestions to streamline civil rights department operations and cut costs, such as using technology to handle complaints. Some of the comments from the task force and its work outline the philosophical objections to Rybak’s proposals and outlined the grounds for objections.

“The primary basis related to the long and proud history of the City of Minneapolis as a beacon of Civil Rights” was one comment. Another statement is that “The legacy of Hubert Humphrey, the strength of our Civil Rights Ordinance and the progressive posture that the City has maintained, over many decades, was of considerable importance…” According to the report, “there was a strong recognition that the Department has suffered budgetary reductions, in previous times of financial difficulty, and due to its relatively small budget the impact of further budget reductions, in the context of the overall city budget, would not be significant relative to the harm resulting from such actions.”

Minneapolis Civil Rights has a budget of $2.378 million for 2009. That budget was at $2.558 million but was cut by Rybak earlier this year in response to state aid cuts. The task force report states that between 2003-2006, Civil Rights already seen had its budget cut by 40 percent.

Another key observation was that “Finally, the current financial environment, coupled with the increasingly diverse population within the City suggests that it is even more necessary than ever to maintain the entity charged with protecting the civil rights of everyone.”

Anybody concerned about the cuts to the Minneapolis Civil Rights program may contact the Office of the Mayor at City Hall, Room 331, 350 South Fifth Street Minneapolis, MN 55415, 612-673-2100. Fax: 612-673-2305. www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/mayor/about.asp