OC Human Relations Council gets a year’s reprieve from supervisors

OC Human Relations CEO Rusty Kennedy, center, is surrounded by employees, clockwise from bottom: Seema Shah, Alison Edwards, Marco Ortega, Don Han, and Julie Vue in Santa Ana on Monday, April 24, 2017. They show off posters used in a stereotype awareness exercise. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG) ORG XMIT: RIV1704241426060058

The OC Register, June 13, 2017

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The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday, June 13, in favor of funding the OC Human Relations Council, allowing the nonprofit to pay for three staff positions at $252,000 and remain in the county building on Grand Avenue for one more year.

Chairwoman Michelle Steel cast the sole dissenting vote.

The council, the fundraising arm of the county Orange County Human Relations Commission, has been in administrative hot water for the past year over failing to draw a clear distinction between the council, which is a private nonprofit, and the commission, a government entity.

Supervisors deadlocked 2-2 on a vote, June 6, for a three-year plan, essentially voting down funding. But Supervisor Todd Spitzer asked that the issue be brought back for a vote before a full board, because Supervisor Shawn Nelson was on vacation last week.

On Tuesday, Nelson offered a compromise, agreeing to fund the organization for one year instead of three with a strong directive to clean up what he called “the administrative nonsense” once and for all.

He said the nonprofit does important work and is a community tool that is valued by law enforcement.

“We want to support you, your mission is righteous,” he said. “Please focus on the administrative tasks, which, really, are minor.”

If these issues surface again next year, when the board will revisit them, Nelson said he would be inclined to vote against the funding.

Supervisor Andrew Do, who voted “no” last week, agreed with Nelson’s proposal to give the nonprofit one more year to make the two entities clearly distinct. Do has continually expressed concerns over the commingling and confusion between the nonprofit and the commission and he raised them again Tuesday pointing to the commission’s web page, which is housed on the nonprofit’s website.

Do also read from a 12-year-old Grand Jury report which stated that supervisors should support the commission “to the degree that it remains under county auspices and retains its (public) rather than private entity.”

Spitzer said it was the county that created this situation by initially “putting pressure” on the nonprofit to raise funds for the commission’s programs so the county, which at the time was plagued by a bankruptcy and its aftermath, could save money.

He said supervisors must decide whether they want to fund the programs and maintain control over the messaging or allow the nonprofit to raise money and maintain its autonomy.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Spitzer said.

The nonprofit has raised about $30 million over the last 25 years to support the work of the commission including compiling its annual hate crime report.

OC Human Relations will take every possible step to work with the commission, county and supervisors to sort out the administrative issues in a timely manner, said Rusty Kennedy, CEO of the nonprofit.

“All of the issues have been identified and we are working to resolve them,” he said.

The nonprofit will continue to look for another office space and hopefully move out in the next few months because that will help underscore that it is an independent entity, Kennedy said.

“Moving out will help with the separation and in finding middle ground with (the supervisors),” he said.

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