GLAA testifies on Velasquez nomination for Office of Human Rights
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GLAA testifies on Velasquez nomination for Office of Human Rights


GAY AND LESBIAN ACTIVISTS ALLIANCE OF WASHINGTON
Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
(202) 667-5139


TESTIMONY ON THE CONFIRMATION
OF GUSTAVO VELASQUEZ AS
DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Before the Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations

FEBRUARY 9, 2007


Councilmember Schwartz, Members of the Committee, and Fellow Residents:

Good afternoon. My name is Craig Howell. I am a native Washingtonian living in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. I am happy to be here today representing the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the nation’s oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights group. We will be celebrating the 36th anniversary of our founding in April 1971 with our annual fund-raising reception on Thursday evening April 19 at the Washington Plaza Hotel. You and your colleagues will be receiving your invitations shortly.

We at GLAA regret to report that we have mixed feelings about the nomination of Gustavo Velasquez as the new Director of the Office of Human Rights (OHR).

We were sorry to see Kenneth Saunders leave OHR. Mr. Saunders had served ably throughout his three and a half years as Director, had spearheaded a substantial reduction in OHR’s case backlog and other improvements in OHR’s operations, and had maintained close communications with us. We had specifically urged Mayor Fenty’s transition team to retain Mr. Saunders in his post. Our recommendation was ignored.

To make matters worse, Mayor Fenty violated a written pledge he had given during the campaign to consult with us whenever he needed to choose a new OHR Director. Specifically, he promised us in answer to one of the questions we posed to all Mayoral candidates last year: “I respect the work that GLAA has done in the area of human and civil rights and I will invite a representative of GLAA to join representatives of other groups when and if I appoint a new director for the Office of Human Rights.” This was not done.

Finally, we are concerned that Mr. Velasquez lacks one vital qualification for the position as OHR Director: Professional training and experience in civil rights law enforcement. GLAA fought a long battle to establish this crucial job requirement in the 1990s, when OHR was submerged into another Department that was never headed by anyone with a civil rights law enforcement background. The result was a systematic cannibalization of OHR staff and budget and a deterioration in OHR’s performance, manifested by an explosion in its case backlog. We lobbied the Mayor and Council to re-establish OHR as an independent agency, led by someone committed to and experienced in anti-discrimination law enforcement.

Our efforts were futile until the end of the 90s, when Councilmember Kathy Patterson cleverly engineered OHR’s independence through the budget process. Since then, the District has been well served through the outstanding leadership provided by each of Mayor Williams’ choices as OHR Director. The Mayor’s Personnel Office invited GLAA to participate in the interviews of the finalists for this post in June 2003, the last time a vacancy had to be filled, and GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall and I were happy to oblige. We were both impressed by the highly qualified and experienced candidates we interviewed from around the country. Mr. Saunders’ subsequent success further vindicated GLAA’s emphasis on the importance of a professional civil rights law enforcement background.

We are troubled by the lack of such experience in Mr. Velasquez’ career. We do not blame him for the predicament we each find ourselves in, since he did not apply for the job and by all reports would have preferred to be serving the new Administration in some other capacity. He seems to have been shoved from his former position as Director of the Office of Latino Affairs into OHR as merely one outcome of some Byzantine machinations by Mayor Fenty’s people. Indeed, when Mr. Rosendall questioned Mayor Fenty in person about this situation at a reception last month, the new Mayor seemed not to be aware of our unhappiness over Mr. Saunders’ unceremonious dismissal and over Mr. Velasquez’ own lack of experience in civil rights law enforcement.

But dissatisfied as we are for all these reasons, we must confess that we have been favorably impressed by Mr. Velasquez over the last few weeks. He took the initiative to request a meeting with us, the first such meeting he sought with any community organization as OHR Director, and then struck all the right notes. He comes across as energetic, conscientious, eager to learn, and dedicated to establishing and maintaining good communications with anyone with a stake in the vigorous enforcement of our landmark D.C. Human Rights Law. He asked us to review his plans for the next several months and promptly responded to our comments and suggestions. Judging by those ambitious plans, it appears he will be able to use his extensive administrative experience to good advantage in his new position.

Accordingly, while we are unable to endorse Mr. Velasquez, neither do we oppose him. We are prepared to work constructively with him for as long as he remains in this post should he be confirmed by the Council. But we will be watching the Fenty administration closely to ensure that it provides the budgetary and other support that OHR needs. And we will be trying hard to ensure that the next time this job opens up, the Mayor will honor his previous promise to involve us and other interested community groups in the selection process and will choose someone with an appropriate record.

Thank you. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.


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