- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

The new chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and five other members failed to show for a congressional oversight hearing yesterday, drawing the ire of legislators seeking to fix the group’s finances and end its partisan bickering.

Gerald A. Reynolds, the commission’s new Republican chairman, and the missing commissioners either did not return calls or could not be reached.

The panel’s staff director Kenneth Marcus said he “could not respond” when asked why the commissioners did not attend.

Russell G. Redenbaugh, an independent who resigned from the commission Tuesday, told the Judiciary Committee’s Constitution subcommittee that the eight-member panel should be abolished, citing a lack of fiscal and managerial accountability controls and a formal mission.

“A lot of us here are down to our last smallest bit of patience with this commission,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican.

Mr. King’s remarks came after George Harbison, director of human resources and acting chief of finance and budget of the commission, said he “did not have access to the accounting ledger this year at any time, even when I requested it.”

Mr. King said the commission should clean house and be more proactive in developing a formal finance plan and creating a new agenda.

“Most of the staff was hired by the former chairman [Mary Frances Berry] and are loyal to her, and I think that is where a lot of the problem is,” Mr. King said. “Get a new staff; that should be the first step.”

The independent watchdog commission was repeatedly cited by the General Accounting Office for fiscal mismanagement during Miss Berry’s tenure, attracting the attention of legislators.

It also became known for partisan battles and for taking liberal stances on issues while controlled by Miss Berry and other Democrats.

Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and subcommittee chairman, was prepared to reissue subpoenas for former commission staff director Les Jin and several financial documents said to be in his possession.

The committee subpoenaed Mr. Jin last year, but the subpoena expired with the 108th Congress.

Mr. Chabot held off on the summons for “eight weeks” after hearing concerns from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat.

“We have heard that Mr. Jin allegedly took the documents and refused to cooperate, but we have no real knowledge of that,” Mr. Nadler said.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, said the information is no longer important.

“It seems we have to start over again and this is how we do it; we end the past somewhere,” he said.

The subcommittee also did not call for a full financial audit or any investigation into the organization’s finances. Mr. Marcus, the panel’s staff director, said the commission is having its balance sheets audited by Parker Whitfield & Co., but is unsure whether it can afford a full audit this year.

Michael Yaki, a Democrat, was the only commissioner to attend the hearing. Members who did not attend were Abigail Thernstrom, the vice chairman, Elsie Meeks, Jennifer C. Braceras, Peter N. Kirsanow and Ashley Taylor.

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