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Orange County supervisors this week began a strategic withdrawal from funding the county Human Relations Commission.
While adopting on Tuesday a $50,000 reduction in their annual contribution to the group that combats hate crimes and racial bias countywide, supervisors noted disappointment with the commission over its reaction to the Kelly Thomas police beating death in Fullerton.
They also criticized the deal crafted last year by their own county officials that led to the retirement of Executive Director Rusty Kennedy as a county employee and contracting with his nonprofit to continue offering the commission staff support.
Supervisor Pat Bates offered the motion, which passed 4-1, that would cut this year’s funding and call on staff to devise ways to eliminate the county contribution in future years.
That’s how things are done in Orange County, Bates said, mentioning that the Orange County Tourism Council had faced a similar fate in recent years.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who cited the concerns over the Kelly Thomas incident, dissented on the vote, calling for a larger cut in funding.
“We need to make a serious step to get out of this business,” Nelson said.
Without mentioning the Human Relations Commission’s controversial work with Muslim leaders in Orange County, Bates noted that supervisors wanted to have more detailed information on what the commission is doing.
Bates also successfully moved for a monthly update on the commission’s activities, saying she had “questions whether it meets the county mission.”
“At one time, we believed it was core to our mission,” Bates said.
Nelson cited concerns that the Human Relations Commission didn’t take a more aggressive stance against the city of Fullerton over Kelly Thomas’ death in July 2011.
“If you’re needed and you’re not there, there’s no point,” Nelson said. “This commission wasn’t there then. … When human relations got involved, it was more for the city than citizens,” Nelson said.
Nelson also took direct aim at Kennedy, criticizing the deal that eliminated three staff positions within the county bureaucracy and put Kennedy into retirement.
“That’s not really what county retirement is set to do,” Nelson said.
Two other supervisors — Janet Nguyen and Bill Campbell — were supportive of the Human Relations Commission.
“In my district,” Nguyen said, “the Human Relations Commission immediately came forward” after an incident where Santa Ana City Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez made disparaging remarks about Jewish property owners.
“They were the parent in this situation for us. It really did calm things down,” she said, echoing what many police chiefs across the region say about the commission.
Nguyen also defended Kennedy’s retirement, saying it was a deal that saved taxpayers money.
“His position was eliminated,” Nguyen said, adding that “to call him a double dipper is unfair.”
Nguyen struggled with the funding cut, trying to craft a delay, but didn’t have the votes.
She declared that her vote for the compromise is “not any commitment from me to the public that I want to eliminate the commission in any way.”
Campbell, who has been the most ardent defender of the commission on the board of supervisors, also acknowledged that the votes weren’t there. Any further delays could have also meant further funding cuts for this fiscal year, he said.
“I’d rather take a bird in the hand,” Campbell said.