By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DOWNTOWN - The Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, the 60-year-old independent city agency charged with "building bridges" among various racial and ethnic groups, has some bridge-building of its own to do with Cincinnati City Council, commission members said Thursday.
City Council members don't understand the commission's role and are unfairly blaming it for the city's escalating homicide rate, they said.
Such complaints dominated the commission's monthly meeting Thursday - the first since four City Council members proposed cutting a quarter of the agency's budget to fund a "Black on Black Crime Initiative."
"Why CHRC? I don't know. We're still asking that question," said executive director Cecil L. Thomas.
Council members Laketa Cole, Sam Malone, Alicia Reece and Christopher Smitherman announced their anti-crime initiative in Bond Hill Dec. 31, within two days and two blocks of the city's 74th and 75th killings of 2003.
Among other things, they proposed earmarking $100,000 of the Human Relations Commission's budget for programs to prevent gun violence, train convicted felons for jobs and host youth events.
But Thomas said at least half the commission's $417,440 budget already goes to programs to improve police-community relations and get young people off the streets. Cutting the budget would mean cuts to police-community "study circles," the 30 youth unity ambassadors, and the "Do It Right" campaign, which teaches public school students what to do if police stop them.
Smitherman, a Charterite, said the commission is too "top-heavy," with 74 percent of its budget going to pay six full-time staffers. The director makes $70,000 a year.
For all that money, Democrat Reece said, the commission has failed to produce results on the biggest human relations problem in the city - black-on-black violence.
"Do they attribute the work we do here to the number of deaths in the city?" said commission member Willie Thomas. "We're talking about apples and oranges."
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