On anniversary, officials assess anti-discrimination efforts
By State House News Service | February 16, 2016, 6:14 EDT
BOSTON — Past and present leaders of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination recently debated the roles of funding and promotion in addressing an agency beset by a heavy caseload of thousands of discrimination complaints.
During a Feb. 5 panel discussion with five other current and former MCAD commissioners to mark the 70th anniversary of the agency’s establishment, chairwoman Jamie Williamson said repeated requests for more aid have been made and questioned the commitment to eradicating discrimination in Massachusetts.
“For me, personally, it really is about justice delayed being denied and I can’t help but feel that the lack of funding to this agency is an assault on civil rights. I want to find some nice way of saying it, due to reason, but I can’t come up with one,” said Williamson who sat alongside her predecessors Jane Edmonds, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Thomas Duffy, Charles Walker and Douglas Swartz.
“This is Massachusetts? And this is what we think of civil rights?” said Williamson. She continued, “We’re supposed to be the leaders. We’re the ones that have created all of these great laws but at the end of the day, really we don’t fund them. We don’t fund the enforcement of them.”
Appointed in 2014 by former Gov. Deval Patrick, Williamson serves as one of three MCAD commissioners with Charlotte Golar Richie, another Patrick appointee who moderated the discussion, and Gov. Charlie Baker appointee Sunila Thomas George, who offered opening remarks.
The MCAD, which has seen it state appropriation level steadily rise since 2009, but not by enough to meet the demand of more than 3,000 discrimination cases filed annually, is requesting $617,000 in additional funding in this year’s budget. As part of his fiscal 2017 proposal issued last month, Gov. Charlie Baker allocated nearly $2.9 million for MCAD, the same as last fiscal year.
Williamson said the budget request, in addition to the federal resources it receives, would mean they could hire more investigators to address approximately 2,000 cases in the MCAD backlog.
The agency employs 65 permanent full-time employees as well as interns and volunteers, with each investigator handing 235 cases, a number that far exceeds neighboring states with similar agencies.
“I don’t think it’s all about the funding. I’m not minimizing the need for funding but I don’t think it’s all about the funding,” said former commissioner Edmonds, who suggested the success of the agency also lies with better self-promotion through social media sites.
Edmonds continued, “Success has to be something more than just people coming to the agency, because we can’t ignore that there are others, and we can give examples far beyond what I gave, of people right now that need to have what we call justice.”
Questioning whether more funding and exposure would yield a greater number of cases, former commissioner Rodriguez, a 1985 appointee, suggested solutions go beyond the capacity of a single agency.
“I do know at the end of the day, if we’re going to fix this thing it’s going to be a societal fix. It’s not going to be just an agency fix,” said Rodriguez.
Each commissioner reflected on challenges they encountered during their time at the MCAD.
— Written by Antonio Caban
Copyright State House News Service