Saunders endorsed by GLAA, confirmed by Council as OHR Director
[Note: After the hearing at which GLAA gave the testimony below, DC Councilmember Jim Graham's subcommittee met on October 20 and approved the confirmation of Kenneth Saunders as Director of the Office of Human Rights. At the Council's October 21 Committee of the Whole and legislative meeting, the Saunders confirmation was approved without opposition. GLAA congratulates Mr. Saunders and wishes him the best of success at OHR.]
Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
TESTIMONY ON CONFIRMATION OF KENNETH SAUNDERS
AS DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Delivered before the Subcommittee on Human Rights
OCTOBER 17, 2003
Councilmember Graham and Fellow Residents:
Good afternoon. My name is Craig Howell. I am a native Washingtonian currently living in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. I am a former President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights group in the country.
I’d like to inform our Channel 13 viewers that the complete text of my testimony today, and much else besides covering a broad range of issues, may be viewed on GLAA’s web site, at: www.glaa.org.
I am pleased to be here this afternoon to reiterate GLAA’s strong endorsement of Kenneth Saunders as the permanent Director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR). GLAA urges the Council to confirm his appointment as speedily as possible, preferably at the Council’s November Legislative Meeting.
At this Subcommittee’s original confirmation hearing on June 24, you decided to postpone final action on his appointment until Mr. Saunders had had a chance to demonstrate to your satisfaction that he is up to the challenge of managing an agency as large and demanding as OHR in a city filled with minorities of every description. We believe that Mr. Saunders has successfully met that challenge.
Mr. Saunders took the initiative to meet last month with myself and two other GLAA stalwarts, Rick Rosendall and Bob Summersgill, to brief us on his plans for improving OHR’s operations and efficiency. All of us came away very favorably impressed with both the sophisticated thinking and the deep personal commitment that inspired his far-reaching proposals. To drag out an over-used cliché, he showed a commendable capability for “thinking outside the box,” displaying the kind of initiative and imagination seldom found in government bureaucrats here or anywhere else.
For example, he wants to send out written requests for information to respondents in discrimination complaints as soon as possible after a complaint is filed. That way, the beginnings of a balanced written record are already on hand in cases where mediation fails and a full-fledged investigation by OHR is required. Furthermore, he wants to get such written requests for information some teeth by imposing penalties on respondents who simply ignore OHR’s requests, as has commonly happened in the past precisely because respondents realize OHR has never done anything to punish them for their recalcitrance.
Mr. Saunders has many other equally innovative ideas, which I’m sure he’ll be eager to share with you momentarily. Neither you nor we need to approve each and every one of his ideas, because that would disintegrate into a clear case of inappropriate micromanagement. The point is that he clearly knows what he is doing, he has the “fire in the belly” to implement his reforms, and he is not overawed by the responsibilities thrust upon his shoulders by Mayor Williams.
I’d also like to cite Mr. Saunders’ appearance, along with the new Corporation Counsel Robert Spagnoletti, late last month before a meeting of the Mayor’s Gay BLT Advisory Committee. It was an unusually productive meeting, and the several dozen gay and lesbian community leaders who attended came away suitably impressed with both appointees. In response to an issue I raised, both men agreed that the Office of the Corporation Counsel should consult OHR before the Administration gets locked into politically embarrassing and legally unsupportable interpretations of our Human Rights Law. Had such a prudent policy been in effect a few years ago, the Corporation Counsel’s office would not have become so entangled in a pointless fight over the civil suit filed by the mother of the late transgendered woman Tanya Hunter, and the Fire Department would not have tried to reimpose virtually the same personal appearance codes that had already been thrown out by the courts years earlier.
Accordingly, we believe this Subcommittee should send the confirmation of Kenneth Saunders forward to the full Council with a strong recommendation for approval.
Thank you. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.
[Addendum. Craig Howell reports from the hearing: At the conclusion of today's two-hour hearing on the confirmation of Kenneth Saunders as Director of the Office of Human Rights, Human Rights Subcommittee Chairman Jim Graham quoted from GLAA's testimony and stated that he agreed with us that he "has successfully met the challenge" of demonstrating that he is capable of "managing an agency as large and demanding as OHR in a city filled with minorities of every description." Accordingly, he will move his confirmation forward to the full Council.]