116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Amel Ali will remain on the city’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a restorative justice process begins to repair harm caused by comments she made on a local podcast.
The Iowa City Council voted Tuesday night to indefinitely table the decision to remove Ali from the commission. The 6-1 vote — which is the second time council has tabled this decision — came after two and a half hours of emotional public comment and council discussion. Mayor Bruce Teague was the sole vote against tabling.
Ali remains on the panel but is no longer chair. The commission voted earlier this month to suspend the title of chair from Ali.
Calls for Ali’s removal became public earlier this month after claims she used a racial insult against other Black leaders and made disparaging comments on a local podcast. The two podcast episodes on which Ali was a guest are no longer posted online. The episodes were originally published behind a paywall.
Ali has apologized for the comments. On Tuesday, Ali outlined to the council what a potential restorative justice process could look like and said she would not take a leadership role within the commission when this is happening.
Some City Council members raised concerns over how the commission could move forward with its truth-telling mission on racial concerns if some members of the community don’t feel welcome sharing their experiences.
But others highlighted the potential for restorative justice to repair the harm caused by the remarks and how this is a chance for the commission to do the very work it’s been tasked with.
“The TRC has operated under more scrutiny than probably any other commission has ever functioned in our city, particularly scrutiny from us,” council member Laura Bergus said. “ … We have heard loud and clear from the TRC members that they want to address this.” She said if the council steps in now “and we just say ‘punishment is the only option,’ we will not allow that process to continue.”
Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter said she learned of Ali’s comments on the podcast “Rock Hard Caucus” through an anonymous letter and audio recording she received in the mail. Porter is one of the people Ali insulted in the podcast episodes.
Porter expressed the hurt she felt after hearing the podcast episodes but told Ali she forgives her.
Porter and her group, the Black Voices Project, have urged the Iowa City Council to remove Ali from the commission. Others have spoken in support of Ali. They called the release of the podcast recordings an attack to undermine the work of the commission.
There were also calls Tuesday night from the public for the council to pause and let the commission figure out how to move forward.
The Iowa City Council created the commission in 2020 in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The panel’s mission is to gather testimony about racial injustices, foster ways for people to share their stories and encourage direct conversations in the community.
Teague said part of the commission’s work is getting the community involved in the process.
“The TRC is a place where people feel welcome, where they feel like they can share their truths, and I think that has been damaged by her act of feeling so comfortable to go on the podcast and talk about a group of people,” Teague said.
Teague spoke in favor of restorative justice but said it’s possible for restorative justice to happen while also removing Ali from the commission. He said having Ali on the panel is not appropriate.
Council member Pauline Taylor said the commission has been on the right track with its work but that the actions at hand have been a distraction. She agreed with the mayor how the community needs to feel comfortable to share their stories.
Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter added how there must be trust in leadership and the importance of leaders being held accountable.
Using restorative justice can be example
Council member Janice Weiner said using restorative justice in this instance can serve as a model. She said the City Council needs to step back to allow for work to continue.
Weiner added she has confidence the commission can move forward while also pushing ahead on the other tasks at hand, including bringing a facilitator proposal to the council.
Council member John Thomas said his focus has been on the function of the commission and how there needs to be a level of independence. Bergus and council member Shawn Harmsen also brought up how the larger discussion needs to be about the panel’s mission and what moves that forward.
“The heart of the matter is the functioning of the TRC, and it has to model the actions pertaining to its ability to meet its mission,” Thomas said.
There is currently a vacancy on the commission after Daphney Daniel announced her resignation earlier this month. Daniel said she is stepping down for health and personal reasons. Applications to fill the vacancy must be submitted to the city by 5 p.m. Sept. 27.
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