Minnesota's minority councils criticized by legislative auditor

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Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles, left.

Photo: JOEL KOYAMA, Star Tribune

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Minnesota’s legislative auditor on Friday delivered a harsh report on the state’s four minority councils, finding little sign that they have been effective at their mission.

The legislative audit suggested the councils, designed to raise the interests of Minnesota’s minority populations, must change. It proposed closing the councils, absorbing them into existing state agencies or otherwise redesigning them.

The audit highlighted myriad issues. It said that the councils lack clear goals or power, have members who rarely show up for required meetings or have vacant appointments, and have “poor communication with constituent organizations.”

The councils for Asian Pacific Minnesotans, Black Minnesotans, Chicano/Latino Affairs and Indian Affairs were allocated about $3 million last year and are expected to spend more in the next two years.

Although the councils have been around for decades — the Council on Indian Affairs was created in 1963 — they have long been viewed with skepticism. A decade ago, a legislator proposed cutting off state funding for all of the councils. While the councils have remained, their budgets have vacillated wildly.

Despite periodic looks at revamping their roles, the councils have continued — as have major disparities between the majority white population in Minnesota and minorities. The state’s minority populations are far more likely to live in poverty, struggle with educational attainment and suffer from worse health outcomes than the majority population. While the state’s population as a whole tends to compare well to other states, its racial disparities on key measures are among the worst in the nation.

Councils respond

In response to the audit, some of the councils said that they agreed with some of the findings and that they rejected others.

“As our communities grow and the four councils become more effective at seeking a place at the table, we are committed to assisting government with finding ways to grow the pie and fostering cooperation rather than competition,” said Sia Her, executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans.

Annamarie Hill, the executive director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, said the auditor had ignored or misunderstood the fundamental purpose of the Indian council.

The audit found that the Council on Black Minnesotans suffered from particularly acute issues. Over the last decade, the report said, various studies have found financial mismanagement and dysfunction in the council, and in 2011, three council members resigned and the longtime executive director was fired. The audit found that the council had performed its statutory duties but that it also had “poor attendance and unbecoming behavior by some members.”

That council’s response was equally abrupt.

Edward McDonald, the council’s director, and Patwin Lawrence, its board chairman, wrote that the audit “traps the reader in a litany of revisionist history and the promotion of stereotypical rhetoric about African heritage people and other ethnic groups.”

In testimony to legislators on Friday, McDonald said: “The term ‘minorities’ throughout the report and disparity data to compare African heritage people to others is an insult to our state, and only serves to fuel pretentiousness and dominance but illustrate the need to strengthen our human rights enforcement statute.”

 

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @RachelSB

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