(Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 15--Four state councils set up to represent the concerns of minority communities and recommend policy changes have been largely ineffective and should be eliminated or significantly revamped, the legislative auditor recommends in a report released Friday.
The councils, created between 1963 and 1985, have not been sufficiently integrated into policy-making, lack clear statutory purpose and have not effectively measured their impact, the audit found.
Despite having similar concerns, the four organizations largely have failed to collaborate, suffer from a delayed appointments process and poor attendance (including by lawmakers who hold nonvoting seats), and have not effectively communicated with constituent groups, according to the auditor.
"They're off on their own on these issues," Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles told members of the Legislative Audit Commission on Friday. Getting input from the state's fast-growing minority communities is important, Nobles said, but the councils are ineffective conduits.
The auditor outlines four possible fixes: maintain the councils but improve their operations, place them under the Department of Human Rights, eliminate them and create a new state agency to address minority concerns, or eliminate them and require state agencies to set up advisory panels as needed.
The auditor's office didn't recommend a particular solution but said "we do think that more, rather than less, change is needed."
Officials from all four groups -- the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Council on Black Minnesotans, Chicano/Latino Affairs Council and Minnesota Indian Affairs Council -- testified Friday. To the extent they expressed a preference, they seemed to prefer leaving the current structure intact and improving the groups' functioning.
Edward McDonald, executive director of the Black Minnesotans group, had numerous objections to the audit, including the use of the term "minority." The audit "traps the reader in a litany of revisionist history and the promotion of stereotypical rhetoric about African heritage people and other ethnic groups," the Council on Black Minnesotans said in a letter to the auditor, and the adoption of any of its recommendations would be a "disgrace."
Nobles called the Council on Black Minnesotans response "inappropriate, unprofessional and not very constructive," and committee member Mary Liz Holberg, a Republican state representative from Lakeville, said she found the tone offensive.
McDonald told the committee he had been raised to speak the truth, and "I apologize if anyone was offended by the truth in those words."
The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council objected to the tribes being treated as "just another ethnic minority group," noting the council's role in fostering the "government to government relationship between the state of Minnesota and the tribal governments within the state."
The four councils function as independent state agencies in the executive branch. Each is overseen by a board of directors appointed by the governor or, in the case of Indian Affairs, the tribes.
In 2013, the councils employed 16 staff and spent about $3 million total, which is similar to their annual spending the past several years, officials said. Executive director jobs for the councils pay in the neighborhood of $60,000 to $80,000.
Doug Belden can be reached at 651-228-5136. Follow him at twitter.com/dbeldenpipress.
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