Mary Frances Berry, chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, is resigning. Those scratch marks on the floor may be from her fingernails as they dragged her from the building by her feet. Berry has been a member of the commission for 24 of its 47 years -- a record probably unmatched even in Washington, D.C., a city of sinecures.
She isn't exactly going quietly. Until a few days ago, Berry was preparing for a legal fight with the Bush administration over the duration of her term. She insisted that her tenure did not end until Jan. 21 -- though her contract specifically states that her last day was Dec. 5. She now acknowledges that a legal battle over a stint of six weeks might be a little much.
Berry departs with allegations of mismanagement swirling about her head. The commission is small potatoes, Washington-wise, with a budget of only $9 million and a staff of only 70. But no one knows how that money has been spent over the past 12 years, while Berry has presided with an iron hand. Peter Kirsanow, a black conservative member of the commission, writes that the management of the agency is "completely dysfunctional." Record-keeping is said to be "indecipherable," and there hasn't been an independent audit (required by law) for 12 years.
The mismanagement was not limited to money. Berry ran the place like a Soviet commissar, holding all the levers of power and ruthlessly stifling dissent. Berry ensured that her personal stamp was on every document issued by the commission. Even when she was in the minority of commission members, she would manage to suppress the majority's view and publish her own.
A recent example is currently on the website (usccr.gov). Titled "Civil Rights Leaders Appeal to President Bush to Help Heal American Divide," the statement goes on to charge that President Bush "has failed to exhibit leadership on pressing civil rights issues. ... Sadly, the spiraling demise of hope for social justice and healing has deepened over the past four years. ..." This "report" was rejected by commission's majority. But there it is, front and center, on the website.
This is no surprise to those who've been following the commission's work. Under Berry's direction, the Civil Rights Commission published an utterly fallacious finding about the 2000 election in Florida, concluding that "countless Floridians ... were denied their right to vote."
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