O.C. Supervisors Take Direct Control of Human Relations Commission

Major changes are coming to the commission dedicated to fighting hate and discrimination in Orange County.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a complete overhaul of the Human Relations Commissions’ governing rules, giving the county’s representatives direct authority over its head staff. The Board of Supervisors will have the ability to fire the executive director for any reason at any time and then choose his or her replacement. The group’s meetings will also be moved to county headquarters, with agenda and note-taking now the responsibility of the supervisors' clerk’s office.

The changes, proposed by Supervisors Michelle Steel and Andrew Do, divided the board. Shawn Nelson sided with Steel and Do, agreeing that any commission that receives county funds ought to report to supervisors. Todd Spitzer and Lisa Bartlett saw it as another attempted power grab by two supervisors whose faith in the commission’s mission may be questionable.

“There’s a sense in the community that there’s been an attempt to take over and to change the direction of the Human Relations Commission,” explained Spitzer.

Steel and Do have a lengthy history of criticizing the body. Do especially has expressed concerns over the commission’s duel status as a nonprofit and county entity. Those concerns were cited earlier this year when the two tried unsuccessfully to defund the nonprofit’s staff.

Currently, the commission’s staff are employees of nonprofit OC Human Relations, but the commission’s funding comes from a mixture of philanthropy and county funds. It can get confusing at times.

In June, a tussle also ensued between Do and Steels’ appointees to the commission -- who voted not to release the group’s annual report on hate crimes -- and Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel, another member. That report found a large increase in hate crimes in Orange County and attributed the rise to the election of Donald Trump.

When it comes to their critiques of the commission, Do and Steel have a point. There have been a number of legitimate concerns over the group’s transparency, aforementioned comingling, and spending. But adherents to the power grab theory note that this is the third time these two supervisors have tried to expand their influence over a county organization this year.


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