Longtime community volunteers say Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to shrink the city agency that battles all manner of discrimination could weaken its effectiveness.
But Mona Noriega, the mayor’s appointee to head up the city Human Relations Commission, said the consolidations slated for next year actually would help “pull people together to work for equity, unity and change.”
The debate emerged publicly Friday as the City Council Budget Committee reviewed Emanuel’s intent to cut more than $600,000 from the commission’s $3.2 million budget. The city would reduce eight advisory councils to four, and liaisons for the Asian, Latino, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, or LGBT, communities would be laid off.
“The proposal would dramatically compromise the effectiveness of the commission,” said Denise Lam, who heads up the Asian American Advisory Council. “It’s a regression of the image that we want — to be a global city.”
Advisory councils that deal with African, Latino, Asian and Arab issues would be merged into the Council on Equity. There would be a new Council on Gender and Sexuality to deal with women’s and LGBT issues. Veteran Affairs would remain untouched. The Advisory Council on Immigration and Refugees would be elevated into the mayor’s office, with a new name: Office of New Americans.
“We could see that many of the (councils and liaisons) were functioning as independent silos, and by consolidating some of those functions we’re going to be able to be work more collaboratively so we can have higher levels of efficiency and be more effective in reaching our constituents,” Noriega told aldermen.
Ald. James Cappleman, 46th, said he is concerned that eliminating liaisons would make it tougher for some folks to reach out to the commission. “Each of those contacts knew the issues really well, and the various communities knew they were a point of contact, knew that they would advocate for them,” he said.
Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, the council’s Human Relations Committee chairman, said he believes the plan can work, but added that he’ll keep an eye on it.
“I think there’s a greater recognition that we need to go beyond thinking and silos and, as much as possible, decrease the balkanization that sometimes occurs, and by combining them in one entity, hopefully that will go a long way to doing that,” Moore said.
“You have to continue to communicate with the various communities, make sure that all of them are equally heard, and I also think they need to communicate with the members of the commission, the commissioners themselves, some of whom I think were a little blindsided by the proposals,” he added. “So I’m hoping that communication will increase.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun