Should Supervisors Have Greater Say in Work of Human Relations Council?

Should Orange County supervisors get more involved in the positions taken by a nonprofit that seeks to reduce hate crimes, prejudice and discrimination?

That question was at the center of a discussion last week among supervisors Andrew Do and Todd Spitzer regarding the Orange County Human Relations Council, which gets much of its funding from the county.

As supervisors prepared to approve the county’s annual contribution last week, Do said he wanted the Board of Supervisors to get more involved before approving another contract with the group next year.

“I would like to see a greater involvement by this board with the commission, and thereby with the council, in terms of…work that you do out in the community, statements that are being made, positions being taken,” Do told the nonprofit’s executive director, Rusty Kennedy, after asking if Kennedy seeks the board’s input before taking positions.

That didn’t seem to sit well with Spitzer, who – while being careful not to criticize Do – said just after Do’s comments that he found the idea of supervisors directing the group through their funding mechanism to be “troublesome.”

To illustrate his point, Spitzer spoke of a recent awards dinner he attended where the human relations group honored the transgender community. At the event, one of the presenters asked him to champion the cause of transgender undocumented immigrants.

“I got really uncomfortable. Those are not issues that I tend to champion,” Spitzer said.

But, he added, he very much supports the overall work of the commission and doesn’t want to see its mission muddied by politics.

“If we start dictating from our vantage point, because we have very strong views as elected officials, whether our funding goes hand in glove with the issues that the Orange County Human Relations Commission is going to tackle, we’re really gonna create some significant problems here in the county,” said Spitzer.

He continued: “There’s groups of people in this county that you are helping that wouldn’t vote for me in an instant. In fact they probably don’t like me and they probably would do everything they could to make sure I wasn’t elected…But I think your work is so critical, that I’m willing to put my own political self-effacement and ideology down.”

Do then sought to re-frame his earlier comments, saying he was just asking for information.

“What I asked for was actually to be made aware of what you’re doing,” Do said of the group. “I don’t think asking for information is the same as controlling the work or the message.”

If actions are being taken “in the name of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, it’s only fair that we know what is about to happen,” Do said.

Spitzer then said his comments weren’t directed at Do.

“I agree with you wholeheartedly,” Spitzer said to Do.  “I just wanted to put on the record that they are dealing with some very, very big issues that we may not, politically, support.”

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.