Friday, July 23, 2004

Kentucky's Human Rights director quits

She criticized proposed shake-up

By Brett Barrouquere
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - The executive director of the state's Human Rights Commission resigned Thursday, and on her way out, she criticized Gov. Ernie Fletcher's plan to possibly reorganize the group.

Beverly Watts said she's accepted a job as director of the National Fair Housing Training Academy, based at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Watts said she will leave by the end of the month.

Watts said Fletcher's plan to possibly reduce the commission from 11 part-time members to three full-time members wasn't the motivating factor in her departure. But Watts criticized the proposed reorganization, saying it would weaken the commission's ability to do its job in the future.

"This is the best this organization has ever been," Watts said. "We resent anyone trying to smear that record."

Meanwhile, Fletcher said Thursday he plans to create a commission to study how the state's Human Rights Commission should be organized. The announcement came following a closed-door meeting early Thursday at the Capitol with various black leaders.

So far, no final decisions have been made about the commission's future, Fletcher said. The idea to reduce the commission to three members was only a recommendation, Fletcher said.

The governor's chief of staff told reporters the day before that the administration was considering a change that would reduce the number of commissioners and make them full time.

Fletcher said he did not ask Watts to resign and was "disappointed" by her decision.

"I would have preferred that Ms. Watts come and talk with me about that," Fletcher said. "But she made a decision based on, I suppose, what she thought might happen."

Currently, the commission has 11 part-time unpaid commissioners, each appointed by the governor. The commission, established in 1960, is responsible for reviewing civil rights complaints and resolving them.

Under the reorganization, the commission would be moved under the purview of the state's Office of Minority Empowerment.

That would essentially strip the commission of its independence, said Beth Wilson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

Former Gov. Paul Patton had considered a similar restructuring but decided against it because it was too costly, Watts said.

With the commission's current caseload, full-time commissioners are not needed, Watts said. Instead, the commission would be better served by hiring a full-time administrative law judge and buying new computers, Watts said Thursday.

Fletcher's administration turned down a budget request totaling $160,000 this year for those items, Watts said.

The commission gets about 7,000 calls annually and had 312 that resulted in actual cases during the last fiscal year, Watts said.

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