GLAA urges increase in OHR budget 04/13/00
GLAA endorses Charles Holman as OHR Director
Testimony on Confirmation of Charles Holman
as Director, D.C. Office of Human Rights
Committee on Government Operations
May 22, 2000
Mrs. Patterson, Members of the Committee, and Fellow Citizens:
My name is Craig Howell. I am Secretary and immediate past president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the nation's oldest continuously active gay and lesbian rights organization.
I am pleased to be here today to voice GLAA's strong endorsement of PR 13-800, the confirmation of Charles F. Holman III as Director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR).
For the past several years, GLAA has been urging that OHR regain its independent status instead of remaining submerged as part of another department. Our analysis and pleas were met with knowing nods but not with concrete commitments. We were delighted that this committee, under your leadership, Mrs. Patterson, finally accomplished this goal last year through the inspired use of the budget process. This was a strategy that frankly had not occurred to us. We could not be more pleased that your plan successfully ran the gauntlet of the full Council, the Mayor, the Financial Control Board, and the Congress, and went into effect on October 1, 1999, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Besides calling for the re-establishment of OHR as an independent agency, GLAA wanted the permanent head of OHR to be recognized as a part of the Mayor's Cabinet. When OHR was still submerged as part of a larger department, its highest ranking official for the last several years was a paralegal at the Grade 14 level. We wanted someone with much more knowledge and experience than that to head up the District's anti-discrimination enforcement efforts. We wanted that person to be someone whose voice would be heard in the Mayor's Cabinet, not just heard, but heeded, and not just in formal meetings, but on any occasion when a civil rights perspective was needed in the D.C. Government.
We believe Charles Holman is precisely the kind of person we had in mind when we were calling for an independent OHR led by a Cabinet-level official.
Mr. Holman has a rich background in the promotion and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. Starting as a law clerk in the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, he went on to serve as a civil rights trial attorney for the Detroit Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, specializing in Title VII employment discrimination cases. More recently, he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Detroit, and was selected from a nationwide pool of Assistant U.S. Attorneys to serve on the National Church Arson Task Force established by President Clinton. From 1998 up to the immediate past, Mr. Holman was the Senior Trial Attorney for the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
But Mr. Holman has shown that he is not just a man with an impressive resume. Over the last several months since first joining OHR, he has proven to be one of the most cooperative and enthusiastic members of the Williams Administration that we have dealt with. We have met with him in person to brief him on GLAA's past experiences with OHR, and he addressed one of our meetings last month. He is unusually easy to reach by phone, he returns his phone calls (no mean accomplishment for a D.C. government official), and he takes the initiative to call us when he needs some information from us or wants to share something he has discovered. All this adds up to receptiveness, sensitivity, leadership, accountability just the kind of virtues needed for an OHR chief.
Mr. Holman is already discovering he has his work cut out for him. He is experiencing troubles with our legendary D.C. government bureaucracy. He is properly awed by the monumental case backlog he inherited a backlog he should now be much better equipped to tackle, thanks to your Committee's $200,000 increase in OHR's FY 2001 budget, targeted at making inroads into the backlog.
We hope Mr. Holman appreciates how much his commitment to civil rights is needed within the D.C. government itself. I need only refer to the tragic Tyra Hunter case. The now-resigned Acting Chief of the Fire/EMS Department, Tom Tippett, recently told another Council committee that his department would not tolerate incompetence and insensitivity. He was unable to reconcile this abstract policy with his recent promotion of Adrian Williams, who has cost the city half a million dollars because of his refusal to treat Tyra Hunter in August, 1995.
Mr. Holman will have to realize that to do his job effectively, he's going to have to step on a lot of toes.
But we believe he is the kind of person who will find a way to do just that.
We urge his speedy confirmation.
Thank you. I would be glad to answer any question you may have.
[Supplemental notes: During his testimony, Mr. Holman noted there are 125 cases backlogged in mediation right now. In the last 2 months, the Office has about doubled the number of its volunteer mediators, from 15 to 32.
Mrs. Patterson noted that OHR data show that of the 325 complaints it closed during FY 1999, only three resulted in findings of probable cause. 181 cases were dismissed as lacking in probable cause, while the other complaints were closed administratively. Mr. Holman acknowledged he was troubled by the low percentage of probable cause findings. He said OHR's investigators need better training on the law, how to go out for more on-site visits to discover witnesses, and how to focus their questions to the parties involved in complaints. Once these and other office reforms are implemented, more findings of probable cause should result.
Mrs. Patterson asked Mr. Holman if he agreed with GLAA that OHR should serve as the conscience of the Administration in promoting civil rights awareness within the D.C. government itself. Mr. Holman praised GLAA's perspectives and record on human rights issues, and he hoped to encourage other community groups to follow GLAA's example by advising OHR on the concerns of the District's protected classes. Asked by Mrs. Patterson about GLAA's call for a renewed Executive Order spelling out that anti-discrimination policies issued by D.C. government agencies should always include all classes protected by the D.C. Human Rights Law, Mr. Holman says the draft Order is now in the offices of the Corporation Counsel and Intergovernmental Relations for review.
Mr. Holman said he would use the extra $200,000 provided by the Government Operations Committee for OHR in FY 2001 (and accepted by the full Council on May 19) to reduce the backlog by increasing salaries for OHR investigators, to enable the Office to hire and retain better professional staffers.
In delivering his statement, Mr. Howell noted with approval that at the suggestion of Councilmember David Catania, the Council on May 19 had ordered the Fire & EMS Department to reopen its internal investigation of the Tyra Hunter case. Mr. Howell reminded the Committee that this original investigation had been so badly botched that no one was ever held responsible for the Department's gross misconduct in August 1995.
When Mrs. Patterson asked Mr. Howell how GLAA would want the extra $200,000 spent in FY 2001 for reducing the backlog, he said GLAA could not presume to dictate precisely how to use the added funds. However, any increased salaries should be tied to actual performance by existing staff and need not be granted to those not qualifying as superior performers. He suggested that some funds be used to hire more mediators on a contract basis, since relying solely on volunteer mediators may not be enough. Since the Government Operations Committee report stated that the extra funds in FY 2001 could be expected to reduce the backlog by one-third, Mr. Howell said similar funding increases should be expected for the following two fiscal years. If all goes as planned with the budget increases and Mr. Holman's plans for improving OHR's staff, all complaints filed with OHR should then result in a finding on probable cause within 120 days, as required by law.
Mr. Howell concluded the question period by again thanking Mrs. Patterson for championing GLAA's cause of improving the Office of Human Rights, and by noting that the Williams Administration had truly demonstrated its commitment to human rights by nominating someone of Mr. Holman's caliber to head up OHR.
Mr. Holman and Mr. Howell were the only two witnesses at this confirmation hearing.]