Velma Korbel, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Human Rights
It is difficult to respond to the facts in "State Cripples Human Rights Agency," (Insight, Jan. 28) because few facts are offered to support the contention that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is somehow gasping on life support. It is difficult to respond to the facts in "State Cripples Human Rights Agency," (Insight, Jan. 28) because few facts are offered to support the contention that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is somehow gasping on life support.
For example, the article states that "several" people at a public gathering "said complaints that they filed more than a year ago still linger untouched at state or local human rights departments."
The fact is, the department is mandated under the state Human Rights Act to receive, investigate and make determinations on charges alleging discrimination within one year. A decade ago, the department did have a backlog of cases, but that backlog has long since vanished, and the overwhelming majority of charges are resolved in a timely manner as required by law. From January 2007 through June 2007, the department closed 476 cases, none of which were older than one year. In the previous six months, there were two cases that had gone beyond 365 days. Bear in mind that the department handles approximately 1,000 charges each year.
This information is not top secret, but is available to anyone who visits our web site (www.humanrights.state.mn.us), along with a wealth of additional information on our progress in investigating discrimination charges and obtaining justice for charging parties when we find that there is probable cause to believe that discrimination occurred.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in a healthy discussion about the department's performance. I am grateful to the individuals who have opened up this dialogue out of concern for the well being of the community. But perception is very seldom the reality. To suggest that "charges linger untouched" by a department that is "crippled" or "rusty" is not only false, but it does a serious disservice to victims of discrimination who need to know that we are here and ready to effectively and impartially investigate their charges.
Would we enjoy having more resources? Who wouldn't? But we are proud of the work we have done with the resources the Legislature has made available. Like other government agencies, private businesses and many Minnesota families, we have had to adjust to economic realities. But we have done so creatively, without sacrificing our core mission or values, while continuing to be a highly effective agency enforcing one of the strongest human rights laws in the nation. It is not the department that is "rusty;" it is the information bandied by some of the department's critics.
The facts speak loud and clear: each year more than 10,000 Minnesotans who believe their rights have been violated turn to us for help. We believe their confidence is well-placed, and we will continue to work diligently to earn and deserve their trust.