Kenneth Brown is black and disabled. Because of this, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak broke precedence and did not reappoint him to a second term as chairman of the city’s Civil Rights Commission , Brown claims, and legal action against Rybak is being discussed.
Four members of the 21-member commission — which implements the city’s civil rights policies — were up for routine reappointment by the City Council and Rybak . Two members, John Oberreuter and Andrew Hauer, were reappointed while Allen Kathir, commission secretary, and Brown, acting chair, were not.
Brown protested a proposal to cut the Civil Rights Investigation Unit, a division of the Civil Rights Department comprised of attorneys who investigate the more than 200 civil rights complaints the unit gets a year.
Rybak proposed to cut the unit in February at the request of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said the state Human Rights Department already handles these cases.
“Cutting the CRI leaves no purpose for the commission to even exist,” Brown said. “We might as well go home.”
Commissioners, who serve three year terms, are usually reappointed unless they are not attending meetings or fulfilling their duties, Ward 2 councilman Cam Gordon said.
But Brown, a 7 -year veteran of the commission, said he was not reappointed because his drive for civil rights, his race and his partial paralysis didn’t fit Rybak’s agenda.
“The Mayor believes I embarrassed him for asking questions,” Brown said. “He expects me to go away. I’m not going away.”
Assistant City Attorney Frank Reed said at the Monday meeting that although the allegations of discrimination are taken seriously, he believes they are without merit.
Some members of the commission agree that Brown’s outspoken views, which conflict with those of Rybak, caused the Mayor not to reappoint Brown.
“There needs to be some kind of protection for commissioners to do their jobs,” Barbara Isaacman, who is replacing Brown said at a Monday meeting, “without worrying whether they’re going to be reappointed or not if they’re active in the positions that they take.”
A motion was approved for the commission’s Standards and Procedures Committee — made up of attorneys — to review measures to protect the members.
Kathir, who is South Asian, said the move crippled diversity on the board.
“They shouldn't be voting off diversity, they should be encouraging it,” Kathir said.
The fact that Kathir was not reappointed was a mistake, Gordon said.
“We thought he was a mayoral appointee, not a council appointee,” Gordon said, adding that he hopes Kathir reapplies for the commission in the future.
“He is young, enthusiastic and motivated, and I think he is an asset,” he said.
Kathir is currently a candidate for Ward 3 councilmember, which he said played a role in the fact he was not reappointed.
Gordon is currently conducting a diversity audit of the city’s boards and commissions to find out if there is balance of ethnicity, age, gender and sexual orientation representation at the city.
Michael Jordan, director of the city’s Civil Rights Department, defended the Mayor and said there is a reason the commissioner’s terms only last three years.
“The reason to have three-year terms would be to bring new people on,” he said.
Several commission members brought up a similar controversy which arose in 2006 when Rybak did not appoint Larry Blackwell, a 35-year civil rights veteran, to a second term on the commission.
In 2005, Blackwell released a report criticizing the allocation of funds issued to Minneapolis for the development of “empowerment zones,” a 10-year designation of $25.7 million in funding from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development to create sustainable communities through economic growth, affordable housing, safety, education, job training and community services.
Blackwell’s critical report broke down how the funds were spent on specific ethnic groups, citing that roughly $3.5 million of the total $22 million was awarded to identify organizations of color.
Brown is currently deciding the nature of the legal action he plans to pursue, and who exactly to take it against.
"Larry was not reappointed by the Mayor when he led the effort against the Mayor years ago," Brown said. "Now I'm seeing the same thing."
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