The Orange County Board of Supervisors reduced the budget of the nonprofit organization known for tracking hate crimes by $50,000 today in a vote that sparked a debate between Supervisor Shawn Nelson and the group's executive director on how it responded to the beating death of Kelly Thomas.
The Orange County Human Relations Council last year agreed to a five-year, $302,000 annual funding contract that would be subject to annual review by the board.
Nelson proposed cutting the council's county funding by two-thirds for this year, a compromise, he said, to respect Supervisor Patricia Bates' support for a program that helps residents mediate problems with law enforcement before a complaint is officially filed. The county's funding for that program is $99,000 annually.
Orange County Board Chairman John Moorlach suggested cutting the council's budget by one-third, but supported today's vote.
``I didn't get my hundred, but I'll start with 50,'' Moorlach said afterthe meeting.
The council has an annual budget of about $1.5 million, most of which comes from fundraising.
The council's executive director, Rusty Kennedy, said he was ``pleased'' with the board's support.
Kennedy added, that ``although the $50,000 will reduce the number of people we have to respond to hate crime, reduce our capacity to help resolve conflict, cut into our ability to assist communities in dealing with crisis, we were facing a cut of four times that amount last week.''
Nelson criticized the council for not taking a more public role in the fallout from the beating death of Thomas at the hands of six Fullerton police officers, two of whom face criminal charges.
``I feel completely left down,'' Nelson told City News Service. ``It's like you pay for insurance for 20 years and the one time you make a claim it's denied.''
Carol Turpen, who chairs the OC Human Relations Commission, which oversees the council, argued the organization did respond to the Thomas beating ``quickly, professionally, and in a sustained manner to this tragic death. This has actually been one of the top priorities of the commission over the last year.''
A day after the beating July 5, the commission's liaison with the police began investigating, Turpen said.
``Within days he had contacted Kelly's father and the police chief,'' Turpen said in a letter to the supervisors.
Kennedy was out of town at the time, but directed staff to ``continue outreach, attend the demonstrations, contact the family, communicate with the city, and find out what the facts were and how the commission could help,'' Turpen said.
When Kennedy returned he got in touch with the city manager to get updates and advise city officials on how to get an independent review of the police.
Kennedy also headed a task force analyzing how city officials could better deal with the issue of homelessness.
Nelson said he wasn't impressed and said if the commission's and council's representatives were meeting with demonstrators he didn't see it when he was doing the same.
Kennedy should have held a town hall meeting to provide a forum for the ``frightened and angry'' residents, Nelson said.
Nelson did not make an issue of his concerns last year because he wanted to ``keep a respectful distance.''
However, one month after the beating death, Nelson said he called the Department of Justice and the FBI began investigating.
"When word got out I called and there was confirmation the FBI was going to investigate (the officers involved) were off the street within 24 hours,'' Nelson said.
Kennedy characterized Nelson's complaints as a ``mistaken impression.''
The Human Relations Commission was created in February 1971. The nonprofit Human Relations Council that Kennedy leads was created in 1991 and has worked with the commission, which oversees the council.
The council provides a variety of services such as tracking hate crimes annually and intervening to provide counseling and other support when a racial incident arises.
In June 2010, the supervisors began moving to reduce the number of county staff workers that support the commission and the council.
Moorlach said last week the council has a strong track record, making it easier to raise money on its own, which will help it cover the declining county revenue.
-City News Service