- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The former chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Mary Frances Berry, refuses to step down. She has said, in defiance of law, President Bush and Congress, that she will remain in her post until Jan. 21 — the day after the Bush-Cheney inauguration. Her term ended on Dec. 5. People inside the Beltway are hardly surprised by the latest antic by Miss Berry, who, appointed by Jimmy Carter, always has acted as though her seat were a lifetime appointment. Miss Berry should have been shown the door years ago.

Mr. Bush this week named two replacements to the commission: Gerald A. Reynolds, assistant general counsel to a Kansas energy firm and former assistant Education secretary under Rod Paige; and Ashley Taylor, a Richmond lawyer. Mr. Reynolds, when confirmed, will replace Miss Berry.

The Berry commission has been adrift for more than a decade, and some people are questioning both the relevance of the agency itself as well as its management. A House Judiciary panel is probing all the commission’s financials. The probe is necessary because, as Congress learned in October, the commission has failed to conduct an independent audit since Miss Berry became chairman and, as a consequence, the GAO is unable to determine precisely how the commission spends public funds. The commission failed to update its 1997 strategic plan. Also, the federal Office of Personnel Management recommended several operational reforms to the commission in the 1990s, but the commission adopted few reforms — leading to “dire financial circumstances.”

Congress might have overlooked some of its own concerns had Miss Berry been less confrontational and myopic, but she spent considerable time probing voting-rights complaints and so-called racist motivations in an historical context, rather than doing what the commission was created to do in 1957 — investigate and publicize allegations of discrimination.

Indeed, Miss Berry has come to act as though she and the commission are one in the same. “Berry habitually releases to the public statements, reports, and press releases … that have been voted down previously by the commission as a whole,” Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, wrote Monday on National Review Online. Recall, Mr. Kirsanow is the very commissioner who had to sue to claim his seat on the commission. Why? Because Mr. Kirsanow is a Republican and because Miss Berry wanted to dictate to the Bush White House who would be seated and when.

Miss Berry is at it again, trying to stretch her term to Jan. 21. Mr. Bush could have dismissed her for malfeasance a few years back. Now she needs to be shown the door.

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