Council director calls the report ‘flawed,’ its recommendations ‘a disgrace’
By Isaac Peterson
Earlier this month, Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) released its annual audit of the four “minority councils” in Minnesota. These councils — identified by the OLA audit as the “Councils on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Black Minnesotans, Chicano/Latino People, and Indian Affairs” — were created between 1963 and 1985 by the State of Minnesota. They are, also according to the audit, “primarily charged with advising policy makers and serving as a liaison to state government.”
The audit report was somewhat critical of the councils. Following are conclusions from the audit of the councils:
• “Overall, there is little evidence that the state’s four minority councils have been effective advisors or liaisons to state policy makers
• “The councils have not been adequately integrated into state policy making
• Statutes set forth various duties [for] the councils…but the councils’ overall purposes are unclear
• “…the councils have done a poor job setting specific objectives and identifying outcome measures to assess the impact of their activities
• “There has been ‘little substantive collaboration among’ the councils
• “Communication between the councils and the organizations that work with their constituents has been inadequate”
The audit was also very careful to note that not all problems concerning the councils were with the councils themselves. The governor’s office and the legislature, under whose auspices the councils exist and operate, drew
criticism as well.
“We found lengthy delays in the time required for the Governor to appoint voting members to some of the councils,” the audit stated, and “…Although they appear before the Legislature for funding, their budgets are small. Thus, the Legislature does not spend much time examining the councils’ duties and activities.”
The audit noted as well that the councils are “only indirectly accountable to the Governor,” and “Similarly, the councils are only partially accountable to the Legislature,” as “statutes do not require them [the councils] to report directly to any of the Legislature’s policy committees. Consequently,” the audit continues, “the councils are not routinely held accountable for setting and achieving specific objectives.”
The audit also proposed four options for change:
1. “Maintain the four councils, but clarify their primary purposes; require them to adopt strategic plans, develop policies and procedures, and work more substantively with state agencies; and encourage them to become more involved in the appointments process and better communicate with the public;
2. “Restructure the councils by placing them under the Department of Human Rights and requiring them to adopt certain operational changes;
3. “Eliminate the councils and create a new state agency — an Office of Minority Affairs — in the executive branch to address minority concerns;
4. “Eliminate the councils and selectively require that state agencies establish advisory groups to focus on disparities between Minnesota’s White, non-Hispanic and minority populations.”
Concerning the Council on Black Minnesotans specifically, the audit stated:
• “COBM has had numerous financial and management problems over the last decade, which it has currently begun to address;
• “COBM has operated with fewer voting members than required by the law during several of the last 11 years;
• “Over the past year, COBM has had a significant problem reaching a quorum at meetings;
• “Legislative attendance at COBM meetings has been poor, and the council did not have a full complement of senators in 2013;
• “In the last year, COBM has begun to engage in strategic planning, but it has not addressed how it will measure the effectiveness of its activities;
• “Similar to our findings for the other councils, there is little consensus among council members and other stakeholders as to how the council should measure its effectiveness;
• “COBM did not have a working website for several months during 2013;
• “COBM has done a poor job informing its constituents and the general public of its roles, priorities, and activities;
• “Although most Black organizations surveyed were aware of COBM and its major responsibilities, over one-fourth could not tell us how well the council performed its specific duties;
• “Only a few of the Black organizations that we surveyed had frequent or occasional contact with COBM over the last year.”
Finally, although the audit reported that “More Black organizations were dissatisfied with COBM’s performance than were constituent organizations for [two of the other councils],” the audit also concluded that “Most of the community leaders we interviewed did not want to see COBM eliminated or merged with the other minority councils.”
In testimony to the Legislative Audit Commission, COBM Executive Director Edward McDonald strongly objected to the audit results. McDonald told the Commission that the report “only traps the reader in a litany of falsehoods; it appears to be nothing more than a veiled attempt to stymie the Council on Black Minnesotans’ civic engagement and the promotion of strong human rights enforcement in Minnesota. The report is an incoherent pre-civil rights attempt to promote stereotypes and irrelevant information about African heritage people and their council in order to usurp the long established formal relationship with our state government so as to position others to decide how and what form the relationship continues.”
Other comments from McDonald to the Commission:
“In 34 years, we had four years where minor financial issues occurred. We corrected them.”
“The report survey of constituency is flawed because it interviews organizations, and most of them [are] not organizations of Black people.”
After listing other grievances, McDonald closed his testimony with “Neither OLA nor anyone else should be allowed to usurp this long-established formal relationship. African heritage people are more than capable of using enabling legislation to make recommendations for changes to our relationship with our state government. The adoption of any of OLA’s recommendations would be a disgrace to the great human relations approach the state of Minnesota has established to ensure protected class African heritage people and others are intrinsic to our great state operational approach.”
McDonald reiterated his comments and concerns about the audit in a March 2 letter to Legislative Auditor James Noble.
Next week: The MSR speaks with State Auditor James Nobles in depth about the report.
To view the full Legislative Auditor report, go to www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/ped/pedrep/councils.pdf.
Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.