116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Marion’s Community Equity Task Force is ready to bring its recommendations to the city council but will take no position on a police citizens review board at this time.
City Council member Colette Atkins let out a sign and smiled at the end of an almost three-hour meeting Wednesday night.
“I think we have come to completion of this work, and I can’t say thank you enough for how we have modeled for our community and outside of our community to have really difficult conversations, but I think this is the beginning of the overall work,” Atkins said.
The task force, established in August 2020, will present its recommendations at a future city council meeting.
The recommendations include a review of city hiring practices, funding for more implicit bias training for city staff and police, policing data review and reporting, and public education on transparency and accountability.
They include building public awareness of the city’s efforts to become more equitable and inclusive.
“This was a long and messy process, and there is much work still to do,” said Joshua Milam, a member of the task force and the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity. “But we can stand behind the recommendations we are forwarding to the city council.”
The task force included representatives from the Alliance for Racial Equity, the Marion City Council, city staff and Marion Civil Rights Commission members.
Tom Newkirk, an attorney and Des Moines-based consultant, assisted the task force and advocated against a police citizens review board throughout task force discussions, instead focusing on data collecting and added training for officers.
“At the end of the day, you are recommending the city council wait for data to come in before considering if the review board is necessary,” Newkirk said at the meeting.
“The more effective form of accountability has nothing to do with a review board, and it’s what you're putting into place. You have to get to the point of data collection, that's what you need to do. That's just my suggestion.”
The task force was pushing to finalize its recommendations to the city council before planning begins for the fiscal 2023 budget.
“If we don’t bring recommendations relatively soon, it may have to wait until the next budget cycle,” council members Atkins said.
On Wednesday night, the task force amended an earlier recommendation for a part-time mental health liaison until data shows its need. The city last January hired a full-time law enforcement liaison in an agreement with the nonprofit Foundation 2 Crisis Services.
The city also invested more than $1 million earlier this year in a new data software system to keep better records for city departments, including police and fire.
Milam, from the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity, said the goal of the task force has and will continue to be making Marion more welcoming and open for all residents.
“We believe this is a great start,” Milam said. “Task force members worked hard to understand each other and, by the end, we were trying to craft recommendations we could all support when there was room to do that.”
Mayor: ‘Ongoing work’
Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said the recommendations are the beginning of the process.
“Achieving equity is ongoing work, and I see these recommendations as a way to cement the city’s commitment to continual improvement and to implement policies and mechanisms that help us achieve true equity and inclusion,” AbouAssaly said.
AbouAssaly added he believes there is more work to be done in the community to educate, break down barriers and change mindsets. He said he also will be organizing a “mayor’s diversity council” that will include people of “diverse backgrounds who will work in the community to promote diversity as a strength.”
“There’s only one side to this issue,” AbouAssaly said. “All well-meaning people want the same result, and we can achieve great things when we see the best in each other, resist division and work together toward a common goal of a city where all people feel welcomed and valued and are treated fairly.”
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