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Orange County

Human Rights Panel May Be Cut

County budget planners reportedly recommend a four-year phase-out due to state budget woes.

January 28, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Bracing for deep state budget cuts, a panel of Orange County officials has reportedly recommended eliminating the Human Relations Commission, which tracks hate crimes, mediates disputes in schools and neighborhoods and sponsors talks among diverse ethnic groups.

The commission has a $437,000 budget that pays the salaries of an executive director, deputy director and a community relations director.

The commission, however, relies on hundreds of volunteers, including 10 commissioners, 40 board and committee members, high school interns and 30 volunteer mediators to promote tolerance and fight discrimination.

The 2003 Strategic Financial Plan reportedly recommends cutting the budgets of other county Community Service Agency programs as well, including the Office on the Aging and Veterans Services.

The budget panel, which is expected to present its recommendations at a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, proposes phasing out the human relations group over four years, cutting its funding by $80,000 each year.

Rusty Kennedy, the commission's executive director, said the county's executive office told him Monday to come up with a plan to end the agency's funding.

Tom Wilson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, was unavailable to comment on the panel or its report.

Kennedy said even the $80,000 reduction in the commission's budget this year would be painful, forcing the agency to close community mediation clinics in Fullerton, Orange and Westminster and reduce its ability to help police with community disputes. He said the commission's Bridges program, which seeks to prevent violence and teach tolerance in schools, would also be affected.

"Our county has changed dramatically over the years," said Becky Esparza, chairwoman of the commission. "The diversity of the county has changed. We need to reach out and understand and meet these people, and this is what the commission provides."

Kennedy said the commission staff and volunteers will plead their case to the board.

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