Our view: Councils are failing Minnesotans of color

Created between 1963 and 1985, Minnesota's ethnic councils were given worthwhile and important tasks: to advise state policymakers and to act as liaisons between St. Paul and the state's communities of color, specifically Minnesotans of Asian, Af...

Edward McDonald

Created between 1963 and 1985, Minnesota’s ethnic councils were given worthwhile and important tasks: to advise state policymakers and to act as liaisons between St. Paul and the state’s communities of color, specifically Minnesotans of Asian, African, Latino, Chicano and American Indian descent.
Decades later, however, the councils are failing miserably, at least according to an evaluation done this year by the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor. Changes clearly are needed, the final report said. And Minnesotans - all Minnesotans - are being invited to come together to talk about what can be done, what ought to be done and how to make more effective the state’s Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Council on Black Minnesotans, Chicano-Latino Affairs Council and Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.
A series of public “community conversations” is planned, including at 7 p.m. today in Duluth in Room 303 of City Hall. “Educators, community groups, students, advocates, businesses and anyone interested in the positive impacts of Minnesota’s ethnic councils in preparing for Minnesota’s changing demographics” are invited, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights said in a written statement to media.
That’s a lot of invitees. It’s all of us, really. And the topic is an important one involving state agencies that spend about $3 million a year of our taxes. Today’s gathering in Duluth deserves to be packed.
“Overall, we found little evidence that the four councils have been effective advisors or liaisons,” concluded the report, which can be found at “We … think more change, rather than less, is needed.”
While the councils’ leaders dispute aspects of the report, the problems it identifies include that the councils are isolated from state policymaking. They also lack clear statutory purpose, don’t
adequately identify objectives and outcomes, don’t work together often enough or effectively enough, suffer from poor attendance at board meetings and are plagued by poor communication, the report said. And while state law gives the councils flexibility to engage in a wide range of activities, they generally focus on cataloging what they’re doing rather than measuring impacts.
In addition, board appointments to the councils aren’t made in a timely enough manner, the Office of the Legislative Auditor found. That’s something Gov. Mark Dayton’s office said can be due to a lack of interested, qualified applicants. The governor’s office appoints directors for all the councils except for the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council; its directors are appointed by the elected leaders of the state’s 11 tribal nations.
Potential solutions and changes also are identified in the report and demand to be talked about today and during the other community conversations around the state. Those possible solutions and changes include maintaining the four councils while clarifying their purpose and while requiring operational changes, placing the councils under the Department of Human Rights, eliminating the councils in favor of a new state agency that would address minority concerns, and eliminating the councils in favor of advisory groups created by other state agencies to focus on disparities.
The report notes that constituent organizations generally oppose merging or eliminating the four councils, a point that must be kept in mind, too, as Minnesotans debate their ethnic councils.
The Minnesota Legislature, decades ago, saw a need for the councils. Minority populations lacked a voice. The Minnesota Legislature now sees the need for that voice to be more effective. All Minnesotans can come together to make sure that happens.

What do the councils’ leaders say?

“(The report) traps the reader in a litany of revisionist history and the promotion of stereotypical rhetoric about African heritage people and other ethnic groups.”
Council on Black Minnesotans Executive Director Edward McDonald in a letter to the state in March

“(The Minnesota Legislative Auditor’s Office) has chosen to ignore the unique nature of the Council and the crucial role that it plays in fostering and developing the government to government
relationship between the state of Minnesota and the tribal governments within the state.”
Minnesota Indian Affairs Council Executive Director Annamarie Hill in a letter to the state in February

“(The report) has very valuable recommendations” that can “improve the performance of (the Chicano Latino Affairs Council and) “produce an impact on the disparities affecting the Latino community for the past several decades.”
Chicano Latino Affairs Council Executive Director Hector Garcia in a letter to the state in February


Hector Garcia

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