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Officials study gutting of Des Moines rights panel

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 10:53 a.m. CST

DES MOINES (AP) — Officials are examining the possible effects of essentially closing the Des Moines Human Rights Commission.

Some people argue the 62-year-old commission, which investigates and enforces penalties for illegal discrimination, is duplicating work being done by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

The Des Moines Register reported the city commission closed or resolved 33 complaints in the fiscal year that ended June 30. The Iowa commission processed 306 complaints from Des Moines over the same period.

Money is an issue, too.

The Des Moines cost per case based on its entire budget was $10,333. The state commission’s cost was about $595 per case for nearly 2,200 cases statewide.

Des Moines Human Rights Director Rudy Simms said the per-case cost comparisons include his commission’s other activities, such as community education.

However, Des Moines City Council member Christine Hensley said it’s important to compare the city and state commissions to figure out if changes are needed.

Hensley said the number of complaints investigated by the city organization and the overall cost were an indication that the city needs to make a change.

“We can’t allow the commission to function in the manner that it has because I don’t think it has been effective,” Hensley said.

Although it investigates fewer complaints, Simms contended the local commission did better work.

“I would hope our city leaders keep favor upon the citizens of Des Moines,” Simms said. “Our citizens’ best opportunity for justice is with the local commission. Even though we are small, I believe we do more thorough work.”

Mason City was faced with a similar choice earlier this year and opted to reduce its commission budget from $143,000 to $15,000.

State law requires cities with populations greater than 29,000 to have a civil rights agency or commission, but the law doesn’t set spending levels or require that the organization does investigations.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie said he doesn’t favor sending complaints to the state commission, but he added that a review was important.

“This isn’t all about costs. It’s also about outcomes and making sure we have a plan that’s measurable and reasonable,” Cownie said.

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