A new enforcement officer will now staff a St. Cloud office full time for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, a 50-year-old state agency that investigates charges of illegal discrimination.
State officials selected attorney Heidi Hovis for the position after Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators approved $180,000 in additional funding for the department. Before now, the regional office was only staffed twice a month when an enforcement officer traveled there from St. Paul.
Hovis will “further enhance the increased education, outreach and community partnerships we have worked to strengthen throughout the past year,” Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said in a statement. “Hovis brings with her a wealth of legal experience that will benefit the St. Cloud area.”
Community leaders have said boosting the human rights office in St. Cloud would go a long way toward resolving tensions in the region, which have grown as the city’s population has grown more diverse.
In 2010, St. Cloud became the only city in Minnesota to have a local office of the state Department of Human Rights. The department assigned a state enforcement officer to work out of City Hall, investigating discrimination complaints and educating the community.
The officer left in late 2015, but records showed that the office had limited success in addressing possible discrimination against African immigrants in St. Cloud.
The local office received 80 discrimination complaints from the city of 66,000 people over a recent six-year period. Of those, just 15 were on the basis of race, religion, color or national origin (the rest were for age, disability or other reasons), and nearly all of the 15 were dismissed for lacking probable cause.
Only two complaints from those categories were filed in the past two years, according to agency records.