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O.C. supervisors divided over cuts to anti-hate-crimes agency

County leaders postpone action on a plan to chop two-thirds of the funding for the Human Relations Commission, which tracks hate crimes and fights intolerance.

June 20, 2012|By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

Orange County supervisors remained divided Tuesday over whether to slash the amount of government money it gives to the organization that tracks hate crimes and fights racial intolerance in the county.

The five-person board, which postponed making a decision until next week, was split on a proposal to cut the commission's funding by two-thirds, a discussion that morphed into a philosophical debate about the role of the county — and government in general — in funding community services.

The Orange County Human Relations Commission, which was established as a county agency in 1971, has in recent years been on the chopping block during budget talks.

Last year, county supervisors eliminated all county staff positions at the Orange County Human Relations Council, a nonprofit that raises money and works with the commission. Instead, they contracted with the nonprofit to provide community outreach and school programs.

The latest proposal would cut $200,000 of the $302,000 the county provides to the commission.

"If we just add a little money to a program that says it's about people getting along, will we all just feel better about it?" asked Supervisor Shawn Nelson, a former Fullerton mayor who proposed the cut. "This whole sort of liberal way of thinking that if the government just gets involved it's going to be better — I haven't seen that.... Government's not going to solve this, folks."

A couple dozen supporters protested the cuts, saying they could cripple programs essential to fostering tolerance.

"County funding proves that the message of acceptance, tolerance and awareness of all people is as important to the local leaders as it is to its citizens," said Seema Bhakta, a Fullerton resident who works for the council.

But the cut, say some, would by no means be the death knell of the organization, whose nonprofit brought in $1.4 million in revenue in 2010.

Gurpreet Ahuja, a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital of Orange County and volunteer for the council, said the proposed cut was just a fraction of the county's budget. "Is this too high a price for ensuring the safety and well-being of our children?"

Ahuja, who is Sikh, said he remembers being called names such as "Taliban" in the days following Sept. 11, 2001, and how the commission worked to address concerns of discrimination in the community.

But Supervisor John Moorlach said that considering the council's outside fundraising and the county's dire budget, the commission is a "luxury item."

"When you look at the nickels and dimes, it starts to add up to dollars," Moorlach said.

Nelson also raised concerns that Rusty Kennedy, the commission's executive director who retired from the county as part of the reorganization last year, is drawing a county pension and a salary funded in part by the county.

Kennedy said he was willing to hammer out the salary issue with county staffers.

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