, November 22, 2017
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“Vilified and praised’ OC human relations fixture retiring after 40 years

Rusty Kennedy, a fixture for four decades in Orange County’s human relations services, announced Wednesday he will retire as chief executive of OC Human Relations next month.

Deputy Director Alison Edwards will succeed Kennedy on Jan. 1. Kennedy’s last day on the job will be Dec. 22 when the offices will close for the holidays.

Kennedy started as a human relations specialist for the county’s Human Relations Commission in 1977. The commission is a county-run agency, which has been downsized over the years as county officials contracted with the nonprofit OC Human Relations to provide most of its services.

OC Human Relations and Kennedy have come under fire in recent years by some Orange County supervisors as the Human Relations Commission agencies appeared to blend too much together in the public’s view.

Kennedy was promoted to executive director of the commission in May 1981, and then helped start the OC Human Relations in 1991 as a way to expand the commission’s services beyond what Orange County officials were willing to spend.

Kennedy has drawn criticism as he commented on racial issues in the county in recent years. One of OC Human Relations’ highest-profile events is its annual report on hate crimes.

“I have been vilified and praised often by the same people at different times, so it’s the irony of putting ourselves between difficult conflicts and trying to find common ground,” he said.

When asked what he will do next, Kennedy chuckled and said, “That’s a good question. There’s lots of options.”

One involves writing a book about the past 40 years of civil rights history in the county, he said.

“I’m not planning to hurry into a full-time job, but I’m open to lost of possibilities,” Kennedy said.

Next on his agenda is a trip to Honduras with his wife to build a home for Habitat for Humanity.

Kennedy said he remains concerned about the state of race relations.

“Right now, truthfully, in the world I’m so concerned about the deterioration of civility and worried about the denigration of our principal institutions that are the cornerstones of a mature democracy such as the media and government,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he senses a “riding of this wave of pitching hate and bigotry and super nationalism as a way to galvanize support” and, he added, “it frightens me.”

Edwards has been deputy director of OC Human Relations since 2010.

“I can think of no better leader to take the helm at OC Human Relations than Alison,” said Frank Marmolejo, president of the agency’s board. “In her time at OC Human Relations, she has been responsible for creating positive climates at Orange County public schools.

“Alison has trained hundreds of teachers and students on creating safe and respectful schools, and she created a support network of local Gay Straight Alliance Clubs. She also initiated a justice program to create restorative schools that use alternatives to suspension and expulsion.”

–City News Service