Government

Civil rights director accuses Davenport mayor of sexual harassment

Screenshot from a video taken during an April 4 meeting at City Hall showing Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch and Davenport Civil Rights Director Latrice Lacey. (Contributed by the Quad-City Times)
Screenshot from a video taken during an April 4 meeting at City Hall showing Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch and Davenport Civil Rights Director Latrice Lacey. (Contributed by the Quad-City Times)

Against the backdrop of mounting public pressure over a proposed change to Davenport’s civil rights commission, the director of the city’s civil rights office has accused Mayor Frank Klipsch of inappropriately touching her on two occasions and has called on him to resign.

Davenport Civil Rights director Latrice Lacey on Wednesday accused Klipsch of a pattern of harassment, retaliation and disregard for inappropriate behaviors by others within City Hall. She said the mayor’s actions demonstrate “a failure of leadership,” saying the behavior is not what “we would like to see from a public official.”

“It’s completely inappropriate and I think he needs to be held accountable,” Lacey said.

Reached by phone late Wednesday morning, the mayor denied the accusations, saying “there has been nothing said or done that has been inappropriate.”

One of the incidents in question took place publicly during an April meeting in City Hall, where Lacey was presented with a certificate from the city. Lacey posted a screenshot on the liberal blog Bleeding Heartland which appears to show the mayor placing his hand on her backside. A video recording from that meeting shows Klipsch briefly move his arm behind Lacey as they posed for a photograph.

Lacey also accused the mayor of touching her “on the behind” on a separate occasion, but declined to provide further details of the encounter.

Klipsch encouraged people to watch the video of the encounter at City Hall on the city’s webpage “to review it for themselves.” He declined to comment further or say whether he planned to resign.

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The accusations come as the city is seeking to change the structure of the civil rights commission, a resident-led panel that oversees the employment terms of Lacey and a handful of employees in her office. Lacey and the commission have fought against the proposed changes, saying they are not in line with state law and would undermine the commission’s ability to act independently.

Meanwhile, city officials backing the proposal have maintained that an ordinance changing the commission would improve its independence, saying commissioners would have more time to concentrate on reviewing civil rights complaints. They also say the ordinance fully complies with an Iowa law that establishes civil rights commissions in larger cities.

Wednesday night, the city hosted the first public hearing on the issue. Speaking in favor of the proposed ordinance, Brandon Wright, assistant city administrator, said if passed “the civil rights protections of Davenport citizens remain unchanged.” He also said the change to the commission actually “increases its independence” and reduces the potential for conflict with staff members who review casework.

Late Wednesday, dozens were still packed in the City Hall chambers to speak out against the proposal. Among those present was Lacy, who said the council members “ought to be ashamed” of bringing forward the proposed changes. The comment prompted a short spurt of chants from some of the audience members, who cried “shame!”

Without mentioning him by name, Lacey also doubled down on her earlier accusations against Klipsch, saying “for all the people who have concerns about me bringing forward someone touching me on the behind today, I don’t need to lie.

“The truth is stranger than fiction,” she added.

The meeting was punctuated by several outbursts from the audience. One man stormed out, calling the council members “despicable.”

Late Wednesday, several members of the public were still waiting share thoughts with council members. Davenport Civil Rights Director Latrice Lacey has accused Mayor Frank Klipsch of inappropriately touching her on two occasions and is calling on the mayor to resign.

One incident Lacey described took place at an April 4 public meeting in City Hall, during an awards presentation. A screenshot of video from the meeting appears to show the mayor briefly placing his hand on her backside as they posed for a photo. In a video recording, Klipsch appears to be moving his arm behind Lacey.

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Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Klipsch denied Lacey’s accusations, saying “there has been nothing said or done that has been inappropriate.”

“I would ask anyone to go on our April 4 committee of the whole video to review it for themselves,” the mayor said.

He declined to comment further or to say whether he would resign.

Lacey also accused the mayor of touching her on the behind on a separate occasion, but didn’t provide any details.

Lacey, who has run the city’s civil rights office since 2014, accused the mayor of engaging in a pattern of harassment, retaliation and disregard for inappropriate behavior by other city officials. She also said the mayor’s actions demonstrate “a failure of leadership” and questioned whether Davenport residents could maintain faith in his ability to run the city.

“That is not the behavior we would like to see from a public official,” Lacey said. “It’s completely inappropriate, and I think he needs to be held accountable.”

The accusations come as the city seeks to change the structure of the civil rights commission, a resident-led panel that oversees the employment terms of Lacey and a handful of employees in her office. Lacey has resisted the proposed changes, saying they don’t align with state law and would undermine the commission’s independent status.

City officials backing the proposal have maintained that an ordinance forwarded last week by several aldermen would improve the commission’s independence by allowing commissioners more time to review civil rights complaints. They said the ordinance fully complies with a state law establishing the commission.

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