116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - Just three months into its existence, Iowa City's ad hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission saw an upheaval in its leadership during a contentious meeting.
Commissioners argued with each other and members of the public, spoke over each other and acknowledged multiple times the commission has been in disarray in past meetings.
Three members of the nine-person commission served as chairperson at some point during the meeting, with former commission chairwoman Royceann Porter resigning from her position - but not the commission - as she faced a vote of no confidence.
'I'm not leaving this board,” said Porter, who is a Johnson County supervisor. 'I've got work to do. That's what I'm going to do.”
The commission, formed by the Iowa City Council in response to demands from Black Lives Matter protesters, is to hear evidence of discrimination and racial injustice; and provide opportunities for those impacted to share their stories and express their truths through art, theater and other avenues.
It is to facilitate conversations between the minority and white communities, create a model for enabling the conversations throughout the community and identity policy reforms, social practices and other means of creating better social harmony that will be recommended to the Iowa City Council.
However, commissioners and city leaders noted Thursday night the commission has struggled out of the gate.
'This commission got off to a very rocky start,” said Jesse Case, a facilitator hired by the commission. 'There are a lot of people who feel very disrespected.”
Comments at the beginning of the meeting from Mayor Bruce Teague and Mayor Pro-Tem Mazahir Salih seemed designed to defuse the tension on the board, but had little effect.
'We trust you,” Salih said. 'Even though you are struggling a little bit, there is no problem. You're going to get together.”
At the heart of Thursday's planned vote of no confidence were comments made by Porter that commission members did not feel aligned with the mission of the group.
Nicholas Theisen, a community member, accused Porter of praising the city council and city manager during a recent city council meeting while saying people needed to 'get over” the June 3 protest in which demonstrators were teargassed by police.
Jaylen Cavil, an activist and organizer from Des Moines, said Porter called him after a previous commission meeting in which he expressed disappointment in how disorganized the meeting was.
'She was being disrespectful to me,” Cavil said. 'It was a very hostile conversation. It just made me feel uncomfortable. I feel like she called me out because I made a public comment.”
Porter denied Theisen's accusations and accused him of disrespecting Black leadership on the Iowa City Council. She tried to expand on her interactions with Cavil, but was interrupted.
'I don't know how this is even happening,” Porter said. 'When we talk about ‘truth and reconciliation,' I don't even get to tell my truth.”
Commission vice chair T'Shailyn Harrington ran most of the meeting before Porter's resignation.
Despite commission members noting the meeting had run more smoothly than in the past, a call was made to oust Harrington from her leadership role after succeeding Porter as chair.
After a vote of 6-3 to remove Harrington, Commissioner Mohamed Traore was selected as the new chairperson and Amel Ali was selected as vice chairperson.
Porter will remain on the commission.
'Let's roll up our sleeves and do the work,” she said. 'That's what time it is.”
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