Outgoing civil rights chairman alleges discrimination by mayor

Kenneth Brown said he plans to take legal action.

by Briana Bierschbach

Kenneth Brown is black and disabled. Because of this, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak broke precedence and did not reappoint him to a second term as chairman of the cityâÄôs Civil Rights Commission , Brown claims, and legal action against Rybak is being discussed. Four members of the 21-member commission âÄî which implements the cityâÄôs civil rights policies âÄî were up for routine reappointment by the City Council and Rybak . Two members, John Oberreuter and Andrew Hauer, were reappointed while Allen Kathir, commission secretary, and Brown, acting chair, were not. Brown protested a proposal to cut the Civil Rights Investigation Unit, a division of the Civil Rights Department comprised of attorneys who investigate the more than 200 civil rights complaints the unit gets a year. Rybak proposed to cut the unit in February at the request of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said the state Human Rights Department already handles these cases. âÄúCutting the CRI leaves no purpose for the commission to even exist,âÄù Brown said. âÄúWe might as well go home.âÄù Commissioners, who serve three year terms, are usually reappointed unless they are not attending meetings or fulfilling their duties, Ward 2 councilman Cam Gordon said. But Brown, a 7 -year veteran of the commission, said he was not reappointed because his drive for civil rights, his race and his partial paralysis didnâÄôt fit RybakâÄôs agenda. âÄúThe Mayor believes I embarrassed him for asking questions,âÄù Brown said. âÄúHe expects me to go away. IâÄôm not going away.âÄù Assistant City Attorney Frank Reed said at the Monday meeting that although the allegations of discrimination are taken seriously, he believes they are without merit. Some members of the commission agree that BrownâÄôs outspoken views, which conflict with those of Rybak, caused the Mayor not to reappoint Brown. âÄúThere needs to be some kind of protection for commissioners to do their jobs,âÄù Barbara Isaacman, who is replacing Brown said at a Monday meeting, âÄúwithout worrying whether theyâÄôre going to be reappointed or not if theyâÄôre active in the positions that they take.âÄù A motion was approved for the commissionâÄôs Standards and Procedures Committee âÄî made up of attorneys âÄî to review measures to protect the members. Kathir, who is South Asian, said the move crippled diversity on the board. âÄúThey shouldn’t be voting off diversity, they should be encouraging it,âÄù Kathir said. The fact that Kathir was not reappointed was a mistake, Gordon said. âÄúWe thought he was a mayoral appointee, not a council appointee,âÄù Gordon said, adding that he hopes Kathir reapplies for the commission in the future. âÄúHe is young, enthusiastic and motivated, and I think he is an asset,âÄù he said. Kathir is currently a candidate for Ward 3 councilmember, which he said played a role in the fact he was not reappointed. Gordon is currently conducting a diversity audit of the cityâÄôs boards and commissions to find out if there is balance of ethnicity, age, gender and sexual orientation representation at the city. Michael Jordan, director of the cityâÄôs Civil Rights Department, defended the Mayor and said there is a reason the commissionerâÄôs terms only last three years. âÄúThe reason to have three-year terms would be to bring new people on,âÄù he said. Several commission members brought up a similar controversy which arose in 2006 when Rybak did not appoint Larry Blackwell, a 35-year civil rights veteran, to a second term on the commission. In 2005, Blackwell released a report criticizing the allocation of funds issued to Minneapolis for the development of âÄúempowerment zones,âÄù a 10-year designation of $25.7 million in funding from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development to create sustainable communities through economic growth, affordable housing, safety, education, job training and community services. BlackwellâÄôs critical report broke down how the funds were spent on specific ethnic groups, citing that roughly $3.5 million of the total $22 million was awarded to identify organizations of color. Brown is currently deciding the nature of the legal action he plans to pursue, and who exactly to take it against. “Larry was not reappointed by the Mayor when he led the effort against the Mayor years ago,” Brown said. “Now I’m seeing the same thing.”