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Ethnic Affairs Office closure slap in minority Utah's face

by Stephen Dark
- Posted // 2011-06-17 -

At close of today, the Ethnic Affairs Office will have 10 days left before it expires, not with a bang but a whimper. Quietly taken 'round the back of the Capitol Hill tool shed, tied to a post and left to starve to death.

But the lingering coup de grace -- can there be such a thing? -- delivered by an indifferent Gov. Gary Herbert administration might well be argued to at least be consistent with what many in the Hispanic community see as a long history of governmental duplicity. After all, this office has always been drastically underfunded and understaffed and yet is supposed to represent the interests and concerns of 20 percent of Utah's population. 

Why not demonstrate that truly the majority of Utah's legislative hierarchy has no interest in pandering to the needs of people they see as either criminal, illegal or just unworthy of their patronage? Now, according to a Tribune story yesterday, rather than close it down completely, the office will be run on a budget of $250,000.

In its current iteration, the OEA, which cobbles together offices supposedly covering issues relating to Utah's Hispanic, African-American, Pacific Islander, Asian and Native American Indian communities had an annual budget of $750,000. After you took out staff salaries for the different offices, I would imagine there was little left to actually fund work to better the lives of those in the communities who need help.

 Quite what $250,000 will buy Utah's minority communities in way of representation to government other than glossy brochures and the like is difficult to conceive.

While some in the Hispanic community criticized the office as no more than a career springboard for past officials who sailed up farther into the giddy heights of government politics, padded salaries and all-expense paid trips abroad, I would argue that, over the years, the noble folks at the OEA have tried to do what they could with the very little the Hill gave them. 

For its fraught silence in front of its own dismantling, the OEA received the slap in the face from Herbert's spokesperson in yesterday's Tribune story as being labeled as failing to live up to its own mission. You could almost hear the gnashing of teeth from some in the Hispanic leadership community at the hypocrisy of it all.

Which leaves the question: Who will represent Utah's minority interests to the government now? OEA chief Jesse Soriano reportedly is going to retire, while other employees are jumping ship. So I fear the answer is, as the legislature probably always intended, no one. 

The government's plans for an overhaul of the OEA are just a convenient smoke screen while it gasps out its painful death.

Can you even bear to look?


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