Dismantling human rights protection

Government departments designed to protect the civil and human rights of Minneapolis and St. Paul residents are being dismantled by elected officials.

Government departments designed to protect the civil and human rights of Minneapolis and St. Paul residents are being dismantled by elected officials.

Minnesota Department of Human Rights suffered a cut of $146,000 from its 2003 budget and faces an additional $552,000 in cuts from its 04-05 budget.

Human and civil rights observers charge the cuts send a clear message that protecting the rights of people of color is no longer a Minnesota priority.

Under the cover of a politically contrived budget crisis, Minnesota, and Minneapolis and St. Paul, are reneging on civil and human rights. “Fire and Police are viewed as essential services as well as Park & Recreation, Public Works and Libraries, but not Human Rights,” said Tyrone Terrill, St. Paul Department of Human Rights Director. The cuts reflect how human rights are valued by St. Paul City Council members and by St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly.

State Representative Keith Ellison (58B) said civil and human rights protections is “the first thing to go once there’s a budget crisis. And our people are being placed in harm’s way because health programs are also being cut, including lead poisoning prevention and awareness programs. That cities and the state have completely backed away from our quality of life interests is a matter of civil rights, too.”

Ellison said the state could raise taxes to generate revenue to keep a healthy state.

Terrill said that he‘s heard talk about some of the duties assigned to the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights possibly moving to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. “This would wipe them out and then us. The next move would be to cut the State Department of Human Rights because the argument will be that the EEOC can do [our work] and they should, as they are the Federal government. If this happens, or if only half of this happens, we will join Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi as states without a local human rights department in major cities or at the state level,” said Terrill.

He noted that St. Cloud and Duluth have human rights agencies because the people in those cities understood that the state couldn’t adequately serve the community.

The Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights receives the bulk of its annual budget from the city’s General Fund and represents approximately .8% of the $259,472,580 Minneapolis budget.

According to a report issued by Vanne Owens Hayes, Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) Director, budget cuts for Œ03-?04 total $819,947, 41% of the department’s budget.

“Our department plays a larger role in the city than indicated by budget figures,” said Linda White, MDCR deputy director. “As an example, our proposed oversight of the Police Department through CRA [Civilian Review Authority] enables us to hold accountable a department with a budget 50 times that of MDCR.

“While our core services may not be as visible as public safety, snow removal, etc., we definitely represent the core values of the City,” said White.

The reduction in the MDCR’s budget and all Minneapolis departments comes in response to a $26 million reduction in the city’s 2003 Local Government Aid (LGA) payment from the state as proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak originally recommended budget reductions to the MDCR of 15%. However, an additional 4% in cuts was offered via a last minute amendment presented by Ninth Ward Council Member Gary Schiff.

In a statement to Insight News, Rybak said, “The numbers are not exactly what I proposed. My proposal recognized that small departments, like Civil Rights, cease to function at a certain point. I think it’s also disingenuous to imply that cuts to tiny departments, like Civil Rights, can make up the gap in huge departments 50 times their size.”

The recommendation to cut the department’s budge

April 7, 2003
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