😬 'I was forcibly muted.'
Tensions run high on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But taking steps towards governance could offer a way forward.
March 3, 2021 | Letter No. 38
I told you the big news for Monday night’s special meeting of the Iowa City Truth and Reconciliation Commission was the contract with their new facilitator. I was wrong. To be fair, it was literally the reason the meeting was called, so I’ll hold on to my mea culpas.
As a late addition to the TRC packet, Commissioner Raneem Hamad wrote to her peers with some fairly cryptic allegiations about “concerning reports of outside conduct of the chair,” Royceann Porter. The email did not feature what this conduct invovled, only that Hamad had shared with some of her peers on the commission some information and they need to take “decisive action to condemn what has happened.”
Monday’s special meeting was called to give the commission a chance to question the now hired TRC facilitator Jess Case (he received unanimous approval from Council Tuesday night). And when the floor opened to questions, a motion was made instead.
“I would like to put forth a motion at this time to nominate new leadership for the chair of the TRC,” Commissioner Mohamed Traore said.
To this, Chair Porter laughed.
“We're going to move on with the agenda,” she said. “We're going stick to the agenda. Items not on the agenda, we're not going to discuss.”
It got really messy after that: After being on screen with an “UNMUTE ME” sign, Hamad accused city staff of purposefully muting her, preventing her from seconding Traore’s motion. There was quibbling about what Robert’s Rules of Order does and does not require, exasperation over the growing deadline for a budget, and eye-roll after eye-roll enraged younger commissioners which inturn enranged older commissioners.
By the end, members of the public were popping in to offer their two cents in the commission’s discussion, Case was being asked if he had a Black friend, and Porter was trying to get a motion started to limit the commission to residents of Iowa City, a shot across the bow at Hamad who is a student at now-in-session Columbia University in NYC.
As part of his spiel on his contract, a comment from Case stood out:
“From the 11 or 12 hours of audio I've listened to, there's been a lot of talk about the agenda. Not a single talk about the 245-page document that says ‘Restructure the Police Department,’” he said.
It’s clear from these meetings that there is deep distrust among some commissioners. Parliamentary procedure can’t fix that. Ask the House of Commons.
While I’m not a fan of Case’s belief that the Council should be having more discussions outside of public meetings, he seems right that there is some playing to the camera going on that doesn’t appear to get us closer to the commission’s namesake.
The fact is, the commission gets to decide its chair and vice-chair. It also gets to decide its facilitator. But if the jockeying for those positions is all they do, it makes challenges of governance like the budget deadline only harder to meet.
The aspirations for this work are daunting. Its execution pressure laden. When visions of justice are at stake, I don’t think it’s any wonder these conversations would be tense.
The majority of the commission's willingness to sit on those calls and continue to listen — multi-generational scoffing aside — is really impressive. And while I’m concerned about anybody and its willingness to prioritize governance, I also saw a hopeful sign.
On Tuesday, TRC Commissioner Traore spoke during public comment:
While I do agree with the sentiment that the TRC has been chaotic as of late, I would like to say that we are working really hard to make sure that the process going forward is a lot more smooth and that we can come to a concensus in terms of how the meetings are conducted.
We know that we may not always agree on all things, but at the end of the day, the thing that matters is we keep striving to come up with the best solutions possible for the most amount of people in not only Iowa City but those that come to visit Iowa City from the surrounding area.
Your friendly neighborhood reporter,
Zachary Oren Smith
‘We have a target on our head.’
In addition to shortening Iowa's early voting period and shortening Election Day by one hour, under a bill passed by Republicans last week, county auditors could face felony charges for failing to follow guidance from the secretary of state.
Historically, Iowa law has given some election decision-making authority to county auditors under home rule; in other words, if Iowa Code doesn’t specifically vest the authority in the secretary of state, legislature or other actors, the responsibility would be delegated to local officials. Under the new bill, failure to obey the secretary of state's guidance could result in felony charges being brought against an auditor. An auditor or other election official could face a fine of up to $10,000 for a technical infraction of state election law or failure to follow guidance from the secretary of state.
Johnson County’s own Auditor Travis Weipert—in Travis Weipert fashion—wrote on Facebook: “With the election bill being passed, I’ll work on setting up my GoFundMe page … I have a pretty good idea which auditors will be fined first.”
To which the Republican Party of Iowa’s spokesperson read an open challenge to the law.
“With his threats to break the law, Travis Weipert only proves the immediate need for (the bill) SF 413,” Kollin Crompton added. “This kind of arrogance is exactly why voters of this state need increased election integrity and protection from rogue auditors.”
In the P-C, I talked with some auditors about why this greater oversight is anxious business.
🌧️ Climate change unkinks “Midwest water hose’ - Riverbank flooding that caused $6.3 billion in damages in 2019 is part of a climate change-driven weather phenomenon that a new UI study says is happening more frequently. The Register reported rising greenhouse gas concentrations caused by human activity are producing an increased frequency of a weather phenomenon that researchers call the "Midwest water hose." The hose contributed about 7-% of the total Midwest precipitation in 2019 — the wettest year on record since 1973.
⌚️ Bombing the polls - The town of Ankney was weighing in on a penny sales tax when a pipe bomb was found near one of the polls. The Register reported the device’s discovery disrupted voting for three hours.
🎒 School voucher bill in the House - Gov. Kim Reynolds’ school voucher bill is back in the House, The Register reported. It would give some students taxpayer-funded scholarships to attend private schools, ease rules for creating new charter schools, expand some tax credits and make it easier for students to transfer between districts.
🔫 Permit-less carry passes House - With the deadline looming, the Iowa House passed a bill allowing people 21 years and older to carry a gun without a permit. If gains approval in the Senate a signature from the gov, Iowa will join 18 other states that already have this in effect.
🐝 Our honeyed history with Missouri - Love a newspaper that does history work. The Gazette had a great read on the “Honey War,” a boundary conflict between Iowa and Missouri over our border. While no shots were fired, militias were assembled. Honey was spilled.
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Zachary Oren Smith writes about government, growth, and development for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach him at email@example.com, at 319 -339-7354, or on Twitter via @Zacharyos.