Human Relations Commission May Be on Chopping Block

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Orange County supervisors are considering cutting funding for the county’s Human Relations Commission.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson this week raised concerns about the county’s $300,000 allocation to the commission because its executive director, Rusty Kennedy, is a recent retiree.

Nelson, who announced he is in the midst of crafting an ordinance preventing recent retirees from returning to work at the county as contractors, suggested that supervisors should hold back $200,000 of their annual allocation because Kennedy’s salary shouldn’t be funded from public coffers.

While other supervisors agreed to discuss the issue at next week’s public meeting, several voiced strong support for the commission’s work to fight hate crimes and foster better communication among diverse communities.

Supervisor Pat Bates called the commission — which was formed by supervisors in 1970 — “a real success story” that has increasingly become “self-sustaining.”

Kennedy, who is also on the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board, said members of the commission were mobilizing this week to meet with supervisors and stress the accomplishments of the panel.

The Human Relations Commission meets tonight at 1300 S. Grand Ave. in Santa Ana.

Kennedy said his recent retirement was actually the product of a deal sought by county officials last year, who agreed to a contract with Kennedy’s nonprofit foundation to run the commission, thus eliminating three county staff positions.

“We were shocked and surprised. He [Nelson] states something we haven’t had a chance to talk to him about. … It may be a misunderstanding about my position,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy started with the county as a human relations specialist in 1976 and became executive director of the commission in 1981. He retired in 2011.

He acknowledged that over the years the role of the commission was a tough one in Orange County because “We step into difficult conflicts.”

And while that may trigger emails to county supervisors, Kennedy said, “Anybody in law enforcement will tell you we make this county safer. We resolve conflicts that would result in violence if we weren’t involved.”

— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

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