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Utah Hispanic council is an ineffective facade

Recently, the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune have featured stories and editorials lamenting the departure of the director of the governor's Hispanic Advisory Council. The way they carried on, one would think this job was essential. In truth, the job is a facade used to shield government from change and subdue the natives when they get restless.

The Hispanic Advisory Council was conceived in an era when few Latinos resided in Utah. The charter of the governor's appointed advisory board has not changed in 30 years. The appointees supposedly advise the governor on how state agencies can more effectively deliver services to the Hispanic community. To assist the council, the governor appoints one full-time director and a part-time secretary.

Although on a laudable mission, council members never advise the governor. They report to the director of the Division of Economic Development. The division honcho has little to do with the council or its director. Historically, Hispanic directors learn quickly that the media listens to them because they occupy the official spokesman pulpit. Directors also realize that promotion is based upon deflecting scrutiny and activism from state agencies. Agencies detest accusations of dereliction.

With an inattentive boss and a volunteer council, Hispanic directors have little guidance and have chosen the path of least resistance. They have all become professional meeting attenders. Board memberships take precedence over issues. Predictably, no noteworthy policy changes, budget impacts or political appointments can be traced to council or director influence in the last decade. Council agendas are rehashes of the meetings the director has attended.

I phoned the departing director to inquire if any state policy or program has been altered or improved to better serve the Hispanic community. She did not return my calls. I couldn't look this information up because the council, unlike other government entities, does not file a mandated annual progress report.

Although I didn't find any evidence the council is meeting its directive, Utah's two daily newspapers disagree. They recently lauded the accomplishments of the Hispanic director.

In January, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the departing director won "respect" for "keeping in check the partisan tensions that pull at the state's largest ethnic minority community." Within days, a Deseret News editorial propounded that the director of the Hispanic council should be "reproduced" for repudiating Mexican worker talk about striking during the Olympics and for encouraging the showing of Spanish language movies.

If these are the best examples of what has been accomplished for the Hispanic community by the council and its director, then the position truly has become the antithesis of its genesis.

Instead of being a catalyst for improved state services, the councils and directors have ignored their charter. Rather than promote needed institutional change, directors have taken on the mantel of official Hispanic spokesmen at meetings galore. Community concerns over health, education, housing and employment are ignored and stereotypical issues of immigration and gangs take precedence because they are the subjects of innumerable meetings.

Once, the Hispanic voice was in danger of being overlooked and needed an official advocate. Now, that same advocate impedes integration by keeping dialogue "in check."

The director once served a purpose. Now it is a self-serving government apologist position that stifles inclusion and misdirects efforts. Rather than resolve problems, Hispanic organizations bicker over who will be their paternalistic government voice.

Latinos, like everyone else, need to fend for themselves. So long as we have an office that theoretically speaks for the humongously diverse Spanish-speaking community, social and political discourse are repressed. Individual initiative is repressed. Unproductively, many are deluded into thinking the council and director are their problem-solving advocates, as patronizing and untrue as that characterization is.

Latinos, like all good citizens, must become active community participants. They must be political candidates and attend PTA meetings. They need to petition government agencies, which are not providing them services, rather than expect an emasculated council to fend for them. They need to be selected for commissions, councils, judgeships and as employees, and when they are rebuffed they must seek recourse as others do when aggrieved.

Soon the governor will appoint a new Hispanic director. The old director has been promoted for a job well done. The new director, without policy authority, budget, staff or clout, will also get along so they too will someday be promoted into a real job.

The state must reassess the '60s mentality outreach models and implement 21st century reality. Soon to be 20 percent of our population, Hispanics must immerse themselves in the community, not be coddled as infantile. The emerging population must independently prioritize and acclimate unencumbered by obstructionist, imposed leadership.

This century, stimulate initiative and individual responsibility. Abolish the obsolete council and directorship.

Utah native Mike Martinez, an attorney in private practice, is active in Hispanic affairs. He has previously worked in the Utah Attorney General's Office, the Salt Lake County Attorney's Office and for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C. E-MAIL: