116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - The Iowa City Council suspended its Truth and Reconciliation Commission for four weeks and plans on a joint meeting with the group once vacancies are filled.
Following two hours of public comment and another hour of council discussion, the council around midnight Wednesday voted 5-2 to suspend the commission until April 15.
During the suspension, the council will seek to replace three members who resigned from the commission. Some council members argued four weeks was not enough time while others responded to demands from the public that clear benchmarks be set for the commission's return.
'This grieves me to my core that I, as a Black sitting mayor, have come before this council and asked for a suspension,” Mayor Bruce Teague said. 'I am totally committed to the charge of the TRC.”
Teague said he still has hopes for the commission, which was formed by the council last year 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.
However, Teague said it was evident the commission has 'developed into this unsafe space.”
'It's an unsafe space for a lot of people who would like to go and be on the TRC,” he said. 'We had three people resign. That sends a signal that should be concerning to all of us.”
The move comes after a contentious March 4 meeting of the commission in which former chair Royceann Porter resigned from her leadership role ahead of a vote of no confidence in the commission's leadership. Former vice chairwoman T'Shailyn Harrington was voted out of her role by her fellow commissioners.
Despite vowing to stay on the commission, Porter resigned in the days following the meeting. She was joined in leaving the group by Harrington, Commissioner Anthony Currin and Jesse Case, who had been hired by the commission as its facilitator.
In their resignation letters, the departing commissioners cited the issue of trying to conduct meetings without clear sets of rules and conduct.
'We, as a governing body, had been designed WITHOUT rules for governance,” Currin wrote. 'This flaw, albeit, a mere oversight, shall be detrimental, the longer the Commission is permitted to operate.”
Harrington wrote that she believed in the commission, 'and the power it offers to create necessary change in our community. However, I am discouraged by the manner in which the Commission has operated, and I see no way forward in the current structure.”
Roughly 30 people addressed the council after Teague allowed public comment to go beyond one hour. Most opposed any suspension of the commission, and many lambasted the council for even considering the move.
'I believe it safe to assume that you all essentially had your minds made up before this meeting began,” said Mohamed Traore, the commission's new chair. 'Your intention is to suspend or disband the commission and start anew with a process that you can more closely control.”
Amel Ali, new vice chair of the commission, asked the council to give the new leadership a chance to show they could right the ship after a rocky start. She said remaining commission members are communicating more and getting 'serious and legitimate” work done in subcommittees.
Members of the Black Voices Project - which includes Porter - called on the council to dismantle and reform the Truth and Reconciliation. Without structure from the city council, the commission does not understand the scope of its work or funding available to it, the Black Voices Board said in a letter to council.
'The commissioners remaining after three resignations in the last week claim to represent the BIPOC the community,” the letter reads of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color. 'They do not. The way this commission is approaching its work is causing further division in the community as a whole and within the Black community.”
Council member Laura Bergus said the common thread of the community comment was that the council set up the commission for failure. However, intervening in the commission was also criticized.
'It's hard to see any path forward when those are our options,” Bergus said. 'We need to find a way to get everyone on the same page procedurally, to get everyone on the same page for team building that has to occur.”
The city will accept applications for new commission members until March 30 and appoint the three new members during its April 6 meeting.
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