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Officials Endorse Human Relations Commission

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Responding to a survey drafted by Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, top county officials have resoundingly endorsed the Human Relations Commission and warned that its elimination would hurt law enforcement and exacerbate racial tensions in Orange County.

The commission, which costs the county about $307,000 a year, has been cut from the proposed budget as part of an effort to overcome a $67.7-million deficit.

But many county officials and community supporters have risen to defend the commission’s work. Wieder has led that charge, although she proposes combining the Human Relations Commission and the Commission on the Status of Women, also slated for elimination, and dramatically cutting the combined group’s budget.

Both commissions have scrambled to justify their existence by putting together cost-benefit analyses of the services they provide. In reports presented to Wieder, Human Relations Commission Executive Director Rusty Kennedy estimated that the agency saves the county more than $10 million annually in such areas as housing, education, police-community relations and employment.

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Nina Hull, chairwoman of the women’s commission, put that agency’s savings at more than $850,000.

Wieder said the estimates, admittedly rough, are important. But she indicated that the board would be swayed more by the endorsements of top department heads.

Among the responses to Wieder’s survey:

* “Police-community relations would suffer a setback in terms of victim assistance, law enforcement collaboration and community coordination,” Sheriff Brad Gates said.

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“The loss of the Human Relations Commission would possibly delay acquisition of information on ‘hate crimes’ and hate incidents,” Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi said.

* Local police “would lose a valuable training resource,” Costa Mesa Police Chief Dave Snowden said. “We would also lose the coordination and networking the commission provides us.”

“I was very pleasantly surprised and pleased by the response to the survey,” Wieder said. “It has helped substantiate the need for the Human Relations Commission.”

Kennedy agreed.

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“It’s very gratifying,” Kennedy said. “It’s great to see the recognition and validation of the work that this commission has been doing.”

Wieder’s questionnaire did not ask officials about the Commission on the Status of Women, an omission that drew angry responses from its backers.

“Our omission from that survey is a very clear statement,” Hull said. “It says that women’s issues are not important to the county. It’s unfortunate, but there’s no other deduction that I can come to.”

Hull and other supporters of the women’s commission are fighting to preserve that panel as an independent organization. Folding it into the Human Relations Commission, they say, would dissolve it.

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Wieder said she did not include the women’s commission in the questionnaire because it was addressed to county department heads and the women’s commission does its work primarily with the community, not government, agencies.

“I’m totally supportive of the Commission on the Status of Women,” Wieder said. “But I need to justify whatever action we take in these tight budget times.”

Leaders of both commissions have said that it is almost impossible to quantify the benefits of the human services they provide, but both, nevertheless, attempted to do so.

For example, the Human Relations Commission report estimated that by promoting parent involvement in schools, the commission may have prevented 400 students from dropping out. Those students would cost school districts at least $3,000 per pupil in lost state funds, for a total loss to the county of $1.2 million.

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County budget director Ronald Rubino said he will study the reports.


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