A critical new report released Friday from the Office of the Legislative Auditor says Minnesota's four minority councils have an unclear purpose and a questionable performance record. It recommends that lawmakers consider reforming or eliminating the councils.
The councils on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Black Minnesotans, Chicano/Latino Affairs and Indian Affairs are separate state agencies formed between 1963 and 1985 to represent the interests of four distinct groups of Minnesotans. The state spends about $3 million a year on them combined.
But after an extensive look into each council's operation and performance, Legislative Auditor James Nobles said he came away unimpressed.
"We think that there were certainly good intentions in establishing them, but we didn't find evidence that they've really been effective for goals and the purposes that they were established," Nobles said.
State law does not spell out what the councils are supposed to do or how they're supposed to do it. The report says the councils themselves have done little in the past decade to try to clarify their purpose or to measure the results of their work. It also points out poor meeting attendance and weaknesses in collaboration and communication among the councils, policymakers and outside organizations.
Nobles is recommending that lawmakers consider making significant changes. His four options range from keeping the councils in place with better policies and procedures, to eliminating them altogether and letting other state agencies take over the work.
"Policymakers do need to get advice, insight from various communities represented by these councils. So, we're not saying there's not a need. There just needs to be a better mechanism of doing that," Nobles said.
The directors of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans and the Chicano Latino Affairs Council generally welcomed the OLA findings. But the other two did not. The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council claimed the report showed a fundamental misunderstanding of its history and purpose.
Edward McDonald, director of the Council on Black Minnesotans, leveled even harsher criticism. McDonald called the report a "disgrace," an "incoherent attempt to promote stereotypes," and a "litany of falsehoods."
"The council provided 13 pages of corrections to OLA's report because it lacked an understanding of African-heritage people, the various cultures, their history in Minnesota, their protected status and the council's evolution of a state agency and overall operational approach of the council," McDonald said. "We also recommended that OLA hire additional African-heritage staff."
McDonald, who appeared at a legislative hearing, told lawmakers that he also found the language of the report "embarrassing" and "offensive." He specifically took issue with the frequent use of the word minority.
Nobles said he thought McDonalds's response to the audit was unfortunate and not particularly constructive. Lawmakers will now consider what to do with the report.