Tulsa’s Expensive Duplication

Eddie Huff’s question is simple:  Why would the City of Tulsa duplicate services provided by Federal and State government to an amount fluctuating around $500,000 a year during a time city police and firefighter positions are cut because of budget shortages?

Huff, host of The Eddie Huff show on AM 1170 KFAQ recently posed this question about Tulsa’s Human Rights department on-air.  He believes that there is no need for a Human Rights department in the City of Tulsa because it is a duplication of effort.  Tulsa Today’s investigation shows Huff may well be right.

The City of Tulsa Monthly Financial Report Executive Summary published December 30, 2005 had appropriations of $396,000.00 and a staff of 7 for the department.  Over the years, this has grown substantially.  In Fiscal Year 2009-2010 the Human Rights Budget Summary from the Adopted City Budget lists the FY 08 actual budget at $641,000 and a staff of 8.  Fiscal Year 2009 actual budget was $769,000.00 with a staff of 9 and next year’s approved budget was restrained to $484,000.00 until City Council approved another $100,000.00 in last Thursday’s session.  Just a round sum of the monies spent in these years alone is over $2 million.

Much of the amount spent by the department over the last few years has gone to a “Disparity Study” costing over $300,000, but the question remains of why the City funds 9 workers at an average total cost of $400,000 per year?

Huff said, “I am not in favor of a Human Rights Department, period.  Secondly, at a time, when we are watching a City under [financial] siege with this battle between the Mayor and Council over the Police Department, now the City Council has the gall to find $100,000.00 to hire two new compliance monitors that are supposed to find instances of this new Affirmative Action package that was passed.”

“I think it will cause a big problem.  I am in the insurance business and you have to get a certain type of insurance before you can get a job or bid on a job.  You have to have comprehensive liability, worker’s comp, and you have to be bonded.  Many minorities starting out are not going to have all that, and so it is going to be cost prohibitive.  Now let’s say you are a contractor or the City who wants to put out a bid, and you are now going to have to find minorities who can do the job and be qualified to do the job,” Huff said.

“Another problem is going to be in hiring engineers.  How many black or Latino or female engineers do we have to choose from?  If they come back and say to the engineering companies they have don’t have enough minorities then they will have to go looking outside the state to fill the requirements.”

Huff noted that in the same meeting where the Council rejected the Mayor’s request for more funding, they gave the Human Rights department another $50,000.00 to total nearly $800,000 for last fiscal year that ended May 31st.

“This year some departments were cut over 50% where the Human Rights department has only been cut about 10%.  Barely cut, now they come back and get another increase only two weeks into the new budget,” Huff said adding “I don’t think we need a Human Rights Department in the City of Tulsa.”

Director Dr. Lana Turner-Addison disagrees. “The Human Rights department is about promoting and protecting the rights of people who work for the City and for those who live in Tulsa. [It is] extremely important.”

Addison has been the Director of the Human Rights Department for the last three years.  She earned an Associate Degree at Oklahoma Junior College; a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and a Master’s Degree in Urban Education from Langston University.  She recently earned a Doctoral degree at Oklahoma State University.  She was formerly employed at OSU-Tulsa as the Community Relations Manager and also owns and operates a bookkeeping service.

“We are focused on education and making the public aware of the issues taking place and who to contact if an issue is taking place.  We keep a lot of incidents from happening that way.  There are also five commissions that we report to, and these groups report to the Mayor’s office, Addison said.

“The numbers of incidents are definitely not declining.  When I started we were tremendously understaffed.  For the most part, the issues do not trend up or down, but rather tend to fluctuate from type to type.  In one month we may have more ADA cases, in another month there will be more sexual orientation cases,” Addison said.

However, a few simple Google searches present a plethora of options for filing complaints on every subject within the City of Tulsa’s Department of Human Rights specific mission.  For housing discrimination, the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) provides an online form, a toll free number and a form that can be printed and mailed. Click here for more.

The federal government investigates ADA claims and provides a list of no less than ten different agencies for filing complaints including instructions and contact specifics.  Click here for more.

There is an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office for the state in Oklahoma City, where again, names, numbers, contact information and instructions are provided for filing complaints.  In fact, on the ADA website there is a 23 page instruction booklet on how to both recognize and file a complaint for items as specific as “Readily Achievable Barrier Removal : Van Accessible Parking Spaces.” Complete with diagrams and a list of rights.

Don’t want to talk with the Federal government?  The Oklahoma State Human Rights Department employs nine staffers and five of them work in Tulsa.  Addresses and office hours for personal one-on-one appointments are posted online.

The basic goals of the City of Tulsa Human Rights Department are similar if not an exact duplication of Federal and State agencies. The Tulsa Today investigation has yet to find an agency, service, commission, branch, or other designate of the Federal, or State governments that do not already have a body of persons that exist solely for the purpose of receiving, and investigating or forwarding complaints of discrimination that operate on both a large and small scale.  

So why does the City have a Human Rights Department?  Why have we spent millions to duplicate work, purpose, and time that others are carrying out quite nicely?  A brief review of the cases that the Department Of Justices posts on its site shows a prominent Tulsa company in the top ten.  In this instance and a recent court case for ADA; the very topic Dr. Turner-Addison mentions repeatedly; was brought to court and prosecuted, not by the City, not by the State, but by the Federal government.

Of course minority rights should be protected, but they are covered, well covered from every possible angle.  Do we need a Human Rights department at the City of Tulsa?

Maybe the better question is:  Should the City of Tulsa spend $584,000 on other community needs this year?  Maybe rehiring police and firefighters or repairing a few more city street would be a more compelling need than duplicating state and federal agencies.

About the author:
Aaron Sheppard is a long time believer in smaller government and responsible use of tax dollars.  As a former City of Tulsa employee who worked in the Finance Department assisting in production of the Annual City Budget from 2001 to 2004, he experienced first hand the differences in what happens behind the scenes and what makes the news. He has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix and has worked in the private sector since 2004.  Sheppard may be reached at editor@tulsatoday.com for news tips.  Comments on this report are welcome below.