On March 14th, the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report that slammed the effectiveness of the Councils on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Black Minnesotans, Chicano/Latino People, and Indian Affairs.
The report opens up with: “Overall, we found little evidence that the four councils have been effective advisors or liaisons to state policy makers. Our report identifies six overarching problems: isolation from state policy making, lack of clear statutory purposes, inadequate identification of specific objectives and outcome measures, little substantive collaboration among the councils, untimely appointments and lack of attendance at council meetings, and poor communication. We discuss four options for the Legislature’s consideration. These options range from maintaining the four councils but requiring certain operational improvements to eliminating them and creating advisory committees in select state agencies to address issues.”
As a matter of disclosure, I was a 2009 recipient of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Award (Arts) from the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans and served several years as a contractor for them during the Minnesota Dragon Festival.
The Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans has also worked closely with my previous employer, the Lao Assistance Center on various community-strengthening projects, including the Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities interdisciplinary exhibit in 2010. However, there are also many moments when I have gone on the record to express my concerns about their effectiveness.
TC Daily Planet editor’s note
Here’s the page to go to for the report:
From this page, you can go to the summary of the report, the 111-page report in PDF form, and some responses to the report.
For example, since the year started, 74 days later, the Council has issued just 3 posts on its blog, 11 tweets on its Twitter, and 35 posts on its Facebook account. Considering the size and diversity of its constituency, calling that an underwhelming amount of even basic output to the public is an understatement. Especially for a body that exists to communicate between Minnesota legislators and their constituents. It’s no wonder people question what the Councils do for them.
From my perspective, I do agree with Auditor that changes are required. One of the key changes that are really needed, though, is reducing the isolation of the Councils from both the policy makers and the policy stakeholders.
The Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans has largely done good work for what they’ve had to work with, but it needs to be more ambitious and vocal about its vision for what a more fully-engaged Asian Pacific Minnesotan community should look like. And Asian Pacific Minnesotans need to be more vocal about getting the Council the resources it deserves to do the job properly. Right now, they’re ridiculously understaffed even by the most objective standard.
We have to remember what the history was that led to the formation of the Councils in the first place. We should remember that in the 1980s, there was terrible inequality and ineffectiveness in meeting the needs of our diverse constituency. There were so many new faces coming in, but no one really understood the best practices. This led to the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans (CAPM) being created by the Minnesota State Legislature in 1985 pursuant to Minnesota Statute 3.9226, subdivision 1.
They had 3 primary objectives: “to advise the governor and members of the legislature on issues pertaining to Asian Pacific Minnesotans; to advocate on issues of importance to the Asian Pacific community; and to act as a broker between the Asian Pacific community and mainstream society.” That’s a great and visionary charter. But are we living up to that mandate?
For the Lao community, our frequent concern must remain one of education, since it’s so directly tied to our long-term economic prosperity and civic engagement in Minnesota. Since at least 2000, if not earlier, the Council has been issuing reports calling for more support for the needs of Southeast Asian American youth. In the space of 12 years since, those youths needs continue to remain unmet evidenced by the test scores. While test scores are NOT everything, I would still raise an eyebrow that our performance is THAT low even with the Council recommendations. When 9 out of 10 Lao don’t hold a college degree, we should be throwing a flag on that.
In an outdated assessment on their website, the Council sees itself as serving “individuals and ethnic groups from over 40 countries, including Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Federated States of Midway Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hawaii’s, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Laos (Hmong and Lao), Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Nauru, Nepal, New Caledonia, New Zealand, North Korea, Northern Mariana Islands, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tahiti, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tibet, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.”
But by my count, there’s well over 60 groups in Minnesota including minorities such as the Tai Dam and the Karen from Burma who are also making inroads to become great Minnesotans. But they can’t do it we treat them as invisible or even worse, expendable. With the current staffing and resources allocated to the council I would challenge anyone to build effective contact and engagement with all of these constituents, and I would say “uff da” to any legislator who is complicit in setting the Councils up to fail.
Do you honestly feel like we’ve heard from even a fraction of these communities meaningfully? The same can be said for the other Councils. In most cases, not because the staff aren’t trying, but there’s physically only so much we can process and assess with the resources they’ve been handed.
As it stands, this system architecture is not working for many, and we shouldn’t be satisfied with that.
I don’t want to see the elimination of the Councils except as an absolute last resort. I AM open to an open house-cleaning and restructuring if it gives them the real resources and personnel we need. The final result needs to be Councils who can run an accurate, timely and thorough analysis of what’s going through the legislature and accurately convey what the people want to see. Otherwise, what’s the point?
There’s a need and a place for the Councils.
In education alone, the scores prove that someone needs to be on the Capitol advising best practices with concrete, informed recommendations. In economic development, we need someone who’s figuring out how best to create risk resiliency for small business owners that allows them to remain viable while surrounded by big box stores and developments we seem to enjoy inviting here. We need a consistent presence that can reflect our diverse demographics meaningfully. It’s not about trotting everyone out in their traditional costumes during the New Years or whenever we need something besides a polka to start a meeting or hold a photo op.
Minnesota deserves better. And great state deserves great Councils. As the late Senator Paul Wellstone once famously said, “We all do better when we all do better.”