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Ethnic strategic plan called a starting point

Councils' leaders have reservations but say they will work with it

Leaders of the state's ethnic advisory councils aren't saying that the Utah Office of Ethnic Affairs' new strategic plan is perfect. But they are saying the multifaceted plan that addresses areas from education to economic development is a start.

Bev Uipi, vice chairwoman of the Pacific Islander Advisory Council, said the plan is "something that's actually tangible.

"There's really no choice; we have to move forward with it," she said. "It's a foundation, a starting point for us, finally."

The ethnic councils serve as liaisons between the Office of Ethnic Affairs and the ethnic communities and are charged with keeping the governor informed on state agencies' responsiveness to ethnic concerns.

Ron Stallworth, chairman of the Black Advisory Council, said he has concerns about the plan but he's willing to work with it.

"It's up to us . . . to see this successfully implemented," Stallworth said of himself and other advisory council members.

"This strategic plan is not perfect," Stallworth said. "The Advisory Councils are there to support it. We have a right to question and advocate for change."

Carl Hernandez, vice chairman of the Hispanic/Latino Advisory Council, said the plan has "merit" in that it creates a blueprint for the office to organize its efforts.

"I hope there is flexibility to make changes as necessary as the ethnic offices move through the different points they've identified," he said. "I think the consultation with advisory councils is important as they move through their efforts."

However, Gonzalo Palza, a member of the Hispanic Advisory Council and Proyecto Latino de Utah, said the strategic plan is so "dispersed as to make the entire plan ineffective."

Palza said a Proyecto Latino analysis of the strategic plan revealed that many of its 37 points have limited impact on the community as a whole. He pointed to a Spanish translation of the Utah Business Link, which is still under development.

"I personally feel very few ethnic minorities will be able to benefit from that," Palza said. "They are diluting the effectiveness of strategic plans by including too many small and dispersed objectives."

Hernandez said the ethnic advisory councils should be able to keep their advocacy roles under the new administration, while the ethnic offices work with state agencies.

"This document needs to be viewed as a plan that is a working document for the ethnic offices," Hernandez said. "The advisory councils are in the position to develop their own issues of interest and be able to work closely with the ethnic offices to promote and advocate issues that are important to our individual communities."

Some civil rights activists have called the strategic plan evidence that the ethnic offices are out of touch with the ethnic communities' needs. In a recent opinion column published in the Deseret Morning News, John Florez called the Office of Ethnic Affairs a million-dollar tax waste. "It reveals how out of touch that million-dollar office has become" and shows a "discomforting disconnect between what the ethnic office proposes to do as opposed to the problems minorities face today."

But Stallworth contends the office is needed because it is the only representation the state's ethnic communities have at the statewide level.

"If you take away the ethnic offices, the ethnic population of Utah has no visible voice whatsoever," Stallworth said. "That voice should be strengthened, but they need something." Stallworth said he understands those calling for action, but being part of any government office makes one part of bureaucracy.

"There is a role for bureaucracy, there is also a role for social advocacy," he said. "The challenge is to merge the two."


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com