The nonprofit that tracks hate crimes in the county and trains agencies in the aftermath of high-profile racial incidents could soon lose its county funding.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday discussed slashing or eliminating the amount of funding provided to the Orange County Human Relations Council, which helped Fullerton to work with its homeless population in the aftermath of the Kelly Thomas beating last year. If there is a market for such services, the nonprofit should be able to function solely on private donations or contracts, county supervisors said.
Last year, the council agreed to a five-year, $302,000 annual funding contract that would be subject to annual review by the county.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson proposed cutting the council's county funding by two-thirds for this year, and Orange County Board Chairman John Moorlach suggested cutting it by one-third.
The board put off any decision to allow Supervisor Patricia Bates to work with Rusty Kennedy, the council's executive director, to discuss other financing options. The council has an annual budget of about $1.5 million, most of which comes from fundraising.
Nelson and Bates expressed concern that Kennedy, who retired from the county last year when his position was eliminated, is a "double dipper" collecting a pension while also being paid by the county to continue leading the council.
To address that concern, Kennedy said he would step down as executive director and let someone else in the organization take over. Kennedy would remain as the council's chief executive officer and could draw a salary from private sources, he said.
"I totally understand" the concern, Kennedy said. "I've been developing a succession plan as I get a little older and less capable anyway, and they're more than capable of stepping up and taking care of that responsibility."
Kennedy hopes the supervisors maintain the current county funding of $302,000.
"I hope it's not reduced," he said. "We're struggling everywhere. To lose more would be very hard for us. We've had to lay off staff, and I hate that."
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. The council, for example, helped Fullerton city officials craft a plan to address homelessness following the in-custody death of Thomas, a schizophrenic transient.
In June 2010, the supervisors began moving to reduce the number of county staff workers that support the commission and the council.
Bates praised the council's work and said it should continue, but she wants to look at other ways to fund it. She suggested that cities dealing with some sort of race-related controversy could hire the council and pay its staff an hourly rate.
Moorlach said it would be healthier for the county and the council if it was independent.
"I think it's better when it's out of the political world," Moorlach said. "When they get into a (political) realm and start to try to intervene and try to help, you're going to get one side of that controversy upset, and so I get all kinds of emails because it's a county agency."
If the council takes a stand on a political controversy, Moorlach said, the supervisors shouldn't have to take heat for it.
"I'm an innocent bystander, and I'm getting shrapnel coming my way," Moorlach said. "If they were an independent organization, that would be so much healthier."
Moorlach said the council has become a luxury the county is having trouble justifying when county workers may have to be asked to accept pay cuts.
"Rusty's done a super job," Moorlach said. "In fact, all I'm saying is (the commission that oversees the council is) 41 years old. It's time to move out, and that has to be a model for others."
Moorlach said the council has such a track record and is so effective with its fundraising that it shouldn't fear getting less money from the county.
"It has built four decades of gravitas," Moorlach said. "As (Supervisor) Bill Campbell said, if it is a necessary service that needs to be provided, then the public will step up and fund it."
- City News Service
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