Saunders discusses reforms at Office of Human Rights
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GLAA on Human Rights

Saunders discusses reforms at Office of Human Rights


OCTOBER 17, 2003

RE: PR15-256 "Director of the Office of Human Rights, Kenneth L. Saunders Confirmation Approval Resolution of 2003"


Chairperson Graham and members of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs and Property Management, I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you again regarding my confirmation as Director, DC Office of Human Rights.

I want to begin by thanking Mayor Anthony Williams for nominating me for this position. I am truly grateful for his confidence and support and I welcome the opportunity to make human rights a priority in the nation's capital.

I also wish to commend both the Council of the District of Columbia and the current administration for their commitment to human rights by enacting one of the most comprehensive civil rights statutes in the United States, and by ensuring that sufficient resources exist for an effective Human Rights office in the District of Columbia.

I strongly believe that my qualifications and experiences have prepared me well for this unique position. I have worked directly with a diverse population similar to what we have here in the District - we have a very significant African-American population, an increasingly Latino population, a strong and active Gay, Lesbian and Transgender population, and a sizeable Asian and Pacific Islander population. I have also worked extensively with the United States Department of Justice Community Relations Service as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Housing Programs. I have directed Community Outreach and Coordinating Initiatives relative to human rights issues. I also developed a comprehensive Diversity Training program for all staff and subordinates involved in human rights. I have initiated new legislation as well as instituted policies and procedures to uphold human rights laws which ensure the protection of civil rights to all citizens. Most importantly, I have performed every function that exists in any human rights office from intake to adjudication of hearings, and have gained from that an understanding of the intricacies, linkages and relevance of each function leading to better overall coordination and management. I have personally conducted intake and investigations, directed training for government and private organizations and issued Letters of Determination. In my private sector capacity, I represented both plaintiffs and defendants in a variety of human rights and civil rights cases including race discrimination, age discrimination, sex discrimination, unlawful termination, just to name a few. Combined, I believe that these experiences make me exceptionally qualified for this position.

It is important to understand the current structure of the office. As the Director of the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights, it is my responsibility to set overall policy and establish performance targets, to supervise and evaluate staff, to administer the budget, to promote conciliation after a determination of probable cause, to issue final decisions on allegations of discrimination, to ensure compliance with all human rights laws in the District, and to conduct education, training and outreach to governmental and private sector entities. Since my arrival, in order to facilitate a more efficient and cohesive effort, I have restructured the office into the following divisions: I have combined intake and investigations into one division, and maintained the Compliance, Mediation and Legal divisions. The Office of Human Rights currently has a General Counsel and one (1) Attorney Advisor who render opinions that are sufficient to withstand legal scrutiny as it may arise.

Upon my arrival on June 16th 2003 and in the following weeks, I have identified, investigated and addressed the following deficiencies in the OHR:

Let me also share some good news at OHR since my arrival:

Since my arrival, I have identified many deficiencies in the Office of Human Rights and have taken concrete steps and have successfully alleviated many of them. The steps I have chosen to implement have been those that would lead to long-term success, not just short term fixes.

In addition, I have established the following guidelines that we will use as we improve the operations at the DC Office of Human Rights. These are:

Finally, I have committed and will continue to commit resources, most notably in the form of training and employee development, to the OHR's most valuable asset - it's staff.

In closing, I would like to emphasize my priorities as we plan for the future:

(A.) We must train staff at all District agencies on the importance of the human rights laws.

(B.) We must reach out to our Latino and other immigrant populations and become their advocates in the fight for basic human rights.

(C.) We must level the playing field for the gay, lesbian and trans-gendered community in DC.

(D.) We must create sufficient Training, Education and Outreach to the private sector, and

(E.) We must cease the practice of discrimination in housing and lending practices to minorities in the District.

In closing, I once again thank each and every member of this Subcommittee for the opportunity to testify before you today. I look forward to working with all members of City Council in an effort to fulfill the mission of the Office of Human Rights for the betterment of all in the District of Columbia.

At this time I am prepared to answer any questions that you may have. Thank you again for this opportunity.

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