Local News

Equality office victim of Chatham budget cuts

Posted January 20, 2011 5:21 p.m. EST
Updated January 20, 2011 6:40 p.m. EST

— Chatham County commissioners have eliminated the county's Human Relations Commission director as part of budget cuts, and some residents say the move will hurt the community.

The commission addresses local civil rights issues. It urged the commissioners, for example, not to get involved in an immigration enforcement program known as 287(G).

"It's particularly troubling that the one office, the one position charged with enforcing civil rights laws and regulations at the local level, was targeted and eliminated," Mark Dorosin, senior managing attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, said Thursday.

A community as diverse as Chatham County needs an office focused on equality issues, Dorosin said.

The county has one of the fastest-growing Hispanic populations in the state. The number of Hispanics in the county has increased about 20-fold in the past two decades, and the group now accounts for about 12 percent of the local population.

Black people account for another 13 percent of the county population.

The Human Relations Commission recently issued a report about problems facing non-whites in the community. Officials said it mostly addressed issues of inequality that extend beyond Chatham County.

"It's very troubling. The report came out in November, and less than two months later, this position is eliminated," Dorosin said.

Brian Bock, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, said the budget cut was "unrelated completely" to the report on area minority problems. The Human Relations Commission office had one staff member, and eliminating it saves the county about $100,000 a year, he said.

"We feel like those services, like most places in the state, can be done by the commission rather than a full-time staff position," Bock said, adding that he plans to meet with the commission next week to ensure no programs in place fall through the cracks.

According to the state Human Relations Commission, only 13 North Carolina cities and counties have a paid staff person to deal with equality issues instead of a volunteer commission. They include Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville, Orange County, Wilson and Rocky Mount.