Office of Ethnic Affairs undergoes major change, staff reductions
Another director in the state Office of Ethnic Affairs has stepped down the second in two months as officials develop plans for a major restructuring of the agency.
Silvia Castro, director of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, resigned Tuesday. Just about a month ago, Linda Oda left her post as director of Asian Affairs to take a job with the Utah State Office of Education. And Jesse Soriano, the state Office of Ethnic Affairs (OEA) director, said he would likely retire at the end of the month.
Ally Isom, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert, said the new look and mission for OEA hadn't been finalized yet and couldn't say if it would result in fewer services when it begins under its new budget July 1. She did say, however, it would operate with a smaller staff given its budget is being cut from $750,000 to $250,000. There are currently five staffers left down from a peak of a dozen, Soriano said.
Isom said one of the issues with OEA was a seeming lack of "measurable results" from its endeavors.
"Some of the specifics of the long-term strategic plan were not being met and so it called into question the efficacy of the plan or the model in its current form," Isom said.
But Soriano took issue with that assessment.
"That is unfair and unwarranted," he said. "We were never asked to give any metrics to speak of."
The OEA falls under the umbrella of the Utah Department of Community and Culture and answers to the Governor's Office. In the past, it oversaw events like Latino Day at the state Capitol though this past session saw the Office of Hispanic/Latino affairs involved in a controversy when the state pulled its funding from the event that honored the service of Latino soldiers.
That event did happen in February and Herbert issued a proclamation of support. But Latino groups were forced to scramble for funds to stage the event, which drew about 300 participants and featured remarks by House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senate President Michael Waddoups. Supporters said it was the best-attended Latino Day in its short history.
But the OEA annual report online cited several of its accomplishments, including organizing a fundraising effort for victims of the Haitian earthquake and hosting an educational conference for families of ethnic minorities to help them navigate the public school system.
Claudia Nakano, spokeswoman for the Department of Community and Culture, said she didn't know what the new OEA would look like and said she didn't know which staff would be retained.
She also said the criticism of not having measurable results was "difficult" to address.
"A lot of what they do can't be quantified," she said. "Sure you can count the number of phone calls, but how do you measure the impact in the community? How do you measure relationships that are made?"
Soriano said he hadn't been offered a job and said he'd only heard "second hand information" about the process.
In an email to staff, Castro didn't explain why she was leaving early she simply said Tuesday would be her last day.
"I would like to thank all of you who have worked with us in our efforts to improve the lives of members of Utah's ethnic communities," she wrote in her email to staff. "I believe that we have made a difference and we should be proud of the work we were able to accomplish. It has been an honor to serve as your Director of Hispanic/Latino Affairs and to have had the opportunity to work with so many talented and passionate people."
Isom said Herbert, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and several staffers were still working on the plans for OEA's new mission, but she didn't say how soon it would be put into place.