Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Human Rights Commission has acting director


Staff attorney elevated to vacancy

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Kentucky's Human Rights Commission filled a looming vacancy Tuesday, choosing staff attorney Morgan Ransdell as acting executive director to succeed Beverly Watts.

Ransdell's promotion comes amid a time of uncertainty for the agency that enforces Kentucky's civil-rights law.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher plans to appoint a task force to review the 44-year-old commission as a prelude for a possible reorganization.

Ransdell declined to comment on the review. He thanked commissioners for showing confidence in him, and said the agency's focus would remain the same - "to root out discrimination in the commonwealth and stop it.

"My goal will be to keep things moving with the same professionalism and competency," Ransdell said.

Ransdell, 36, will assume the job Sept. 1. Watts is leaving to become director of the National Fair Housing Training Academy, based at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Ransdell will not be a candidate during the national search for a permanent director, said the commission's chairwoman, Priscilla Johnson.

Johnson announced Ransdell's promotion to applause from commission staff after commissioners emerged from a two-hour closed-door meeting.

Ransdell is a graduate of Vanderbilt University law school, and served four years as a Kentucky assistant attorney general. He has been staff attorney at the commission since 1998.

Under Watts' stewardship, he said, the commission has improved the thoroughness and speed of investigations into civil-rights complaints.

He said he would continue the emphasis on procedures to make the commission's investigations "more uniform, consistent and timely."

Watts, the commission's executive director for 12 years, promised a smooth transition.

Meanwhile, Fletcher said Tuesday that he wasn't ready yet to form the task force, but said it would have minority representatives.

The governor has floated the suggestion of recasting the commission from 11 part-time members to three full-time members.

At his weekly news conference at the Capitol, Fletcher said the concept has gotten a favorable response from many of the minorities he's discussed it with. But he conceded that misgivings persist.

Fletcher said there are "some political concerns" about a Republican making changes to the commission.

"I think that's unfortunate that they allow political considerations to overshadow what I think appears like a good idea," Fletcher said.

Watts, who has been critical of the proposed reorganization, said she was concerned that the task force "might be a rubber stamp and that it might not be a real, honest evaluation of the commission."

The commission has 36 employees and an annual budget of about $2 million. Watts said that comments by Fletcher's administration about the review have led to perceptions that the commission has problems.

Instead, the commission is handling complaints more quickly than ever, she said. And it's focusing on efforts to help employers and those providing housing avoid claims of civil-rights violations, she said.

"In fact, we've been doing continuous improvement," Watts said.

The Associated Press' Joe Biesk contributed to this report.




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