Mayor's staffer to lead Human Rights Department

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2009 - 9:49 PM

Luz Maria Frias, St. Paul's new director of Equal Economic Opportunity, will seek to increase the city's use of minority- and women-owned businesses.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has selected one of his staff members to lead the newly formed Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity.

Luz Maria Frias, the administration's director of external affairs, will lead the city's efforts to increase the amount of commerce it does with minority- and women-owned businesses. Her three-year term begins Feb. 23.

"Her capability, dedication and integrity will enable us to further our mission and achieve our goals of increasing economic opportunity for all," Coleman said in a statement.

The appointment caps an arduous process. Years of community prodding and lawsuits, an audit and months of discussion have sought to heal old wounds, remove racial barriers and improve opportunities.

A recent audit found that less than 7 percent of $220 million worth of contracts in 2006 went to minority- and female-owned businesses. Lack of accountability, communication and resources were the main problems, the audit said. So a new department was created to combine several functions, from civil rights enforcement to workforce development. Its 2009 budget is about $4.7 million.

The director hiring process, which was to have been completed in January, has had its stumbling blocks. A few candidates were offered the job and declined or withdrew.

"I am confident we found the right person for the job," said Council Member Melvin Carter III, who led the 12-member search committee.

A self-described optimist, Frias said the job appealed to her because she has a passion for social justice issues.

She has master's and law degrees from the University of Iowa and has been a family court magistrate in Ramsey and Hennepin counties. Over the past 20 years she has been a frequent lecturer on civil rights, diversity issues within the courts and immigration reform.

Vic Rosenthal, executive director of Jewish Community Actions and a member of the selection committee, said Frias will do well but might need to gain the trust of some in the community because of her link to the mayor.

Her knowledge of how the city government works could be an asset, said A.L. Brown, chair of the human rights commission and member of the selection committee. "She's an excellent choice," he said.

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542

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