Our View: Rochester is logical choice for human rights office

Nobody disputes that Rochester and the surrounding region are going to grow rapidly in the next 20 years. However, with the positive effects that accompany Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center initiative will come ancillary issues, some of them not positive at all.

"We need to prepare the community for the growth that is coming and everything that comes with it — the crime, the discrimination, whatever the case may be," said Kolloh Nimley, community program specialist with the Rochester office of the Council on Black Minnesotans . "We need to prepare for this growth so that we're successful with it."

Last week while visiting Rochester, state Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said he has talked with Gov. Mark Dayton's staff about opening satellite human rights offices in the state. The agency, headquartered in St. Paul, has one satellite office outside the Twin Cities. It is in St. Cloud. Nimley and other Rochester-area civil rights advocates who met with Lindsey make a compelling case that the next satellite office should be in Rochester.

"It's not only Rochester that needs the human rights office — because, yes, the growth is focused on Rochester — but the surrounding areas will also be impacted by the growth and overflow of people coming to Rochester," Nimley said.

DMC, the $6 billion Mayo Clinic expansion, is estimated to create 35,000 to 45,000 jobs during the next 20 years. Even if those projections turn out to be optimistic, Rochester and the surrounding communities still will be forever changed.


"It would be a good thing for Rochester to have a fully funded and fully staffed human rights commission office that will be charged with the responsibility of overseeing procurement and contracting and stuff like that," Nimley said.

State offices provide outreach and training on provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act , which forbids discrimination on the basis on criteria such as race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, disability, public assistance status, age and sexual orientation.

Offices also investigate discrimination allegations to discern which complaints are legitimate.

"There are people who know how to work the system who will move here with the intention of 'Please discriminate against me because I know how much money I can make off of you.' Are we ready for that? No, we are not," Nimley said.

Ed McDonald , executive director of the Council of Black Minnesotans, said the leading recommendation at his agency's most recent statewide meeting was the establishment of more regional human rights offices. A ratification vote by its board of directors is scheduled for Dec. 9.

There are human rights offices in more than 50 counties throughout Minnesota, McDonald said, but without state funding, their effectiveness, especially in smaller communities, is limited.

"There's a need for an entity to assist with developing corporations, institutions and communities to jell with growing diversity — an entity like the Human Rights Department," he said.

The Human Rights Department's outreach and educational programs are great tools "to lead the way toward a post-racial existence in Minnesota," McDonald said. "Human rights is much more than investigating complaints." He sees human rights education as the means of moving from "absolute prejudice to tolerance to allophilia, where people have a positive attitude toward someone who is not your own."


"It's a unique opportunity with the DMC initiative to maximize the utilization of all human capital," McDonald said. "To ensure that equal opportunity exists. That's clearly the intent of all the leaders there."

"(Rochester) is about to do some incredible things in that region and actually for the state as a whole," McDonald said. "It really does have an aura about it that epitomizes it as a star city for Minnesota."

Already the third-largest city in Minnesota with a population topping 110,000, Rochester is destined for enormous growth. If the Human Rights Department opens another satellite office, the logical place is the state's fastest-growing city.

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