116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Just how the city’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission will go about fulfilling its mission of helping the community address racial injustices is uncertain, but the Iowa City Council this week agreed it needs more time.
The panel — created by the City Council in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests last year — was the main topic of discussion during the council’s work session Tuesday. It was not a joint session with the commission, although members of it were present.
The future of the commission was left unsettled the last time council members discussed it. The council on Sept. 7 approved a nearly $200,000 budget for the panel, but then on Sept. 21 rejected hiring an out-of-state facilitator to help its work on a 4-3 vote.
“I think it's pretty clear that there's some a great deal of uncertainty among them as to where the council stands and where we might go,” City Council member Laura Bergus said.
Commission members have continued meeting. Over the last five meetings, members discussed extending the panel’s timeline, partnering with local organizations and how best to facilitate healing within the Black community.
The panel unanimously voted during its last meeting Nov. 18 to recommend the council extend its timeline by a year. When the commission was created, a council resolution stated the group was to submit a report to the council by May 1, 2022, and be disbanded on June 30, 2022, unless further action was taken.
There was consensus from the council more time is needed for the work, and that the timeline should be extended to June 2023. Given the unanimous agreement, City Manager Geoff Fruin said city staff can turn the recommendation into a resolution.
“We won’t wait for the next meeting for you to direct us to do that,” Fruin said. “We’ll just start on that process now.”
Fruin recommended that council members be flexible as the commission begins the truth-telling process because it might ask for another extension in the future.
“There's so much unknown with the challenges ahead, the scope that’s ahead,“ Fruin said. ”It's going to be nearly impossible for the TRC to know exactly when the appropriate end date is. … But as they get into the truth-telling process and they begin to explore programs that may emerge from that, you've got to expect that you could have some detours along the way.“
What comes next?
While there was consensus to extend the timeline, next steps were less clear. The council-appointed panel got off to a “rocky start,” council member Susan Mims said.
The council voted a year ago to create the nine-member commission to gather testimony about racial injustices, foster ways for people to share their stories and to encourage direct conversations in the community.
Earlier this year, the panel was struck by leadership changes, resignations — including from the previous facilitator — and was put on a temporary hiatus.
“We knew from the very beginning the challenges of that commission were going to require a good strong facilitator, and I think we had one available to us,” Mims said.
“At the last moment, the majority of this council pulled the plug on the TRC, and I think that is shameful,” Mims continued.
The four council members who voted against hiring facilitator Kearns & West expressed concern that the firm wasn’t local and would not know the needs of the community. The same concern was brought up again Tuesday, as well as how the Black community needs to be unified in the mission.
“There is just a huge disconnect,” Teague said, adding that the next step for him is to find a way to move forward as a community.
Council members discussed how to support the panel. Suggestions included scheduling a joint meeting with its members and appointing a council liaison to the commission, similar to how there is a liaison to the Community Police Review Board.
Teague encouraged the commission to reopen the application process for finding a facilitator.
“I believe that we can figure this out and move forward as a community,” Teague said.
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