Council on Black Minnesotans faces retaliation for reporting on inequities

screen_shot_2015-04-13_at_7.41.56_pmThe State of Minnesota in 1980 created the Council on Black Minnesotans to ensure that people of African heritage fully and effectively participate in and equitably benefit from the political, social and economic resources, policies and procedures of the State of Minnesota. The council is a unique community-controlled entity that serves to negate underrepresentation in state government administrative operations and legislative deliberations until the underrepresentation is eradicated.

This structure provides for a community controlled collaborative relationship with state lawmakers and the executive branch, and generates administrative and legislative recommendations that have statewide impact for Minnesotans of African heritage. The Council should be allowed to continue doing its job.

In the first half of this year’s legislative session, the Council on Black Minnesotans, as a requirement of its statutory duties, released “the answer” to the ferocious cry for equity and racial justice in the marketplace: A 2015 Human Rights And Affirmative Action Analysis that showed 16 years of major problems with the state’s administrative application, its contracting program, and affirmative action policy, and 20 years of disinvestment in human rights enforcement.

The Council’s answer establishes a direct correlation between the disinvestment in human rights enforcement and the poor administrative application of the aforementioned program and policy, with the underutilization of protected class people in state government operations, and by extension the growing disparities in the marketplace.

The council was proud of its answer to the marketplace cry for racial justice and equity and presented it to the executive and legislative branches but received two very different responses.

Governor Dayton and his staff responded by issuing an executive order that creates a task force comprised of state department commissioners that he will chair to strengthen contracting administration and affirmative action planning and administration. He recommended a budgetary increase in human rights enforcement to the legislature, and he also hired an executive search person to recruit qualified protected class personnel for vacant cabinet level positions.

The legislative branch responded to the report by introducing bills to eliminate the council. They later modified the legislation according to the bills authors to “clarify the purpose and duties of the ethnic councils.” However, each bill proposed removes the council’s requirement to “recommend changes” to the state’s affirmative action program.

To be clear, the specific language in their modified legislation states, “The council “may” make recommendations regarding the affirmative action program,” but also adds separately so long as it is “politically feasible.” This appears to be a small distinction, but the difference between “shall” and ‘may’ in statutory language leaves our recommendations to the whim of whomever happens to be in charge of their proposed “political feasibility” test.

If their legislation is supported it runs afoul of the state’s whistleblowing protection as there is a direct correlation now between our answer and the timing of the proposed legislation, which clearly removes the requirement to recommend changes to affirmative action.

The legislature needs to follow Governor Dayton’s lead to strengthen and reverse the disinvestment in human rights enforcement and support the Council on Black Minnesotans legislation to strengthen affirmative action and contracting monitoring by assigning the responsibility to the state auditor through HF 1364 and SF 889.

In fact, we would like the legislature to support all our legislative recommendations that are shown in our mid-session progress report to address disparities. Our wish during the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act is to strengthen our state’s freedom from discrimination act.

To do this, our state must make a commitment to cultural agility in government operations and, by extension, in the marketplace. Cultural agility is reached with the employment of individuals and entities with cultural and linguistic competence to diversify an institution’s professional base so congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies can come together that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations, diverse culture communities, and reduces institutional isms.

Edward McDonald is executive director of the Council On Black Minnesotans. He welcomes reader responses to edward.mcdonald@state.mn.us.