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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Overcast with Haze
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Checking up on Civil Rights
After a year, new department gets mostly high marks
Lucia Nunez is being praised as 'an asset' and 'a fabulous choice.'
Lucia Nunez is being praised as 'an asset' and 'a fabulous choice.'

When he announced his run for mayor, Peter MuÃoz once again criticized Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's controversial decision to merge the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Affirmative Action Office into the Department of Civil Rights. He complained that Cieslewicz showed 'not leadership but dictatorship' in 2005 when he created the department without more public input.

'I knew it was a done deal before the mayor even got going,' he says.

But MuÃoz admits that since Lucia NuÃez was hired a year ago to run the department, he has no idea how it's operating or whether services have improved: 'I have not looked at its performance.'

In fact, many of those who once blasted Cieslewicz's proposal for a Civil Rights Department are now pleased with how it's being run.

'I think overall it's going much better than I had hoped,' says Vicky Selkowe, vice chair of the Affirmative Action Commission. 'Lucia NuÃez is such an asset. My impression is that she's very well respected by staff.'

Bert Zipperer, who once accused Cieslewicz of trying to kick him off the Equal Opportunities Commission because he opposed the new department, also praises NuÃez. 'Lucia was a fabulous choice,' he says. 'That says something good about Dave Cieslewicz. I think he came through with a real winner there.'

But there are many promises Cieslewicz made about the new department that have not yet been realized. The two agencies were supposed to move into the same office last year, but NuÃez says that's been delayed until at least March because the department's new space in the City-County Building is being remodeled.

'It's a pain for me,' laughs NuÃez. 'I'm the one who has to go between the two offices.'

It also took NuÃez nearly a year to finally hire Norman Davis as head of Affirmative Action and Ariel Ford as manager of the EOC. 'It took a while for me to figure out what I wanted,' she says.

Cieslewicz also promised that some of the $100,000 in cost savings from merging the two agencies would be used for minority recruitment and fair housing testing. The city did hire a minority recruiter, but not until last fall. Minority employees make up only about 14% of the entire city staff, unchanged from a year ago.

The city gave $30,000 to the Fair Housing Center for testing and other services last year, but the contract ended on Nov. 1 and has not yet been renewed. Fair Housing's Erika Sanders, however, praises the city for finally spending money on testing, noting last year's contract 'was significantly more money than we'd had.'

NuÃez says the city plans to renew the fair housing contract in 2007. In the meantime, she hopes to begin discussing the future of civil rights in Madison with her staff and city officials. She particularly wants to focus on minority home ownership and job training: 'It's not just about social justice, it's about economic justice.'

In the money ' not!

Since MuÃoz announced he was running for Madison mayor only two weeks ago, he's way behind in the race for campaign cash. 'Somebody did send me a check for $250,' he says, laughing.

According to Cieslewicz's last campaign finance report, filed in July, he's raised nearly $80,000. And he's held several fund-raisers since then, including a large one in December that netted more than $22,000. (The next official filing is at the end of this month.) But MuÃoz doesn't intend to match this.

'I would be embarrassed to raise that kind of money,' he says. 'I've always admired Sen. Proxmire.' The late William Proxmire, who represented Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate for 32 years, was famous for spending less than $200 on his campaigns ' much of it on stamps to return donations.

MuÃoz also won't be like Ray Allen, who loaned his own campaign more than $38,000. 'I don't want to be self-funded,' he says, although he's willing to donate a little ' maybe $100 ' to his campaign. 'Certainly not beyond that.'

Allied aid reallocated

When 14 families in the Allied Drive neighborhood were evicted last month by a landlord trying to address city nuisance complaints, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz pledged nearly $6,500 in city aid to help them. But how many families actually got the money?

'None of the money did go directly to those families,' admits mayoral aide George Twigg. He says eight of the families were ineligible for assistance because they were deemed part of the nuisance problem; one family moved before it could be helped; another received aid elsewhere, and three families were ultimately allowed to stay in the buildings. He doesn't know what happened to the other family.

'The intention was to make this money available if they qualified,' Twigg says. 'It turned out that many of them didn't.'

Instead, $4,500 went to the Community Action Coalition, which used it to help eight families in the Allied Drive neighborhood who had already applied for emergency housing aid. The other $1,900 went to Section 8 recipients in the new Prairie Crossing subdivision on Allied.

'At the end of the day, there were eight families overall who did get assistance and another eight families in Prairie Crossing who benefited,' says Twigg. 'It did go to residents in need.'

But some neighborhood residents are upset that the money was not used as intended. 'That bothers me a great deal,' says Robert Artis, a member of the Allied Area Task Force, which wanted the money to go directly to the evicted tenants. But, he adds, 'We really didn't have a say so in it after a while. The city had already made its decision.'

And Artis knows one tenant who asked for help, but was told she wasn't eligible. 'She doesn't even have furniture, she had to leave it all behind because of bedbugs,' he says. 'That money could have helped her.'

Oaths under protest

After the Nov. 7 election, in which Wisconsin voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, Dan Ross resigned from the Equal Opportunities Commission. Ross, who is gay, wrote in his resignation letter:

'To be on the EOC, I signed an oath to uphold the constitutions of the state and country, and I can no longer do so in good conscience, when that very constitution classifies me as less than equal.'

The EOC has since drafted new language for Madison's oath of office which might alleviate Ross' concern. Underneath the paragraph swearing to uphold the state Constitution, the EOC wants to add a statement that says in part: 'I take this oath of office today under protest to the passage of the constitutional amendment.... I pledge to work to eliminate this section from the Constitution and work to prevent any discriminatory impacts from its application.'

The oath of office is taken by all of the city's elected officials and committee members. The EOC's addition would be voluntary. The EOC passed the new language last month, and it goes before the city council on Tuesday.

Ross, apprised of the proposed change, was momentarily speechless. 'I appreciate what they've done,' he said finally. 'I'm very touched by it.' But he's not sure it's enough to induce him to return.

'One of the big questions I have is, am I somehow violating the oath if I get married? Does the oath call into question any of the work I would do on the committee? I'll have to think about it a little bit.'

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