Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague against allowing Iowa Freedom Rider representatives a seat in City Council meetings

At a work session Tuesday evening, Teague said he was hesitant to allow representatives from the Iowa Freedom Riders, who have organized protests and brought demands before the city council, a seat at council discussions on the group’s demands.


Hayden Froehlich

Mayor Bruce Teague speaks at a city council meeting over Zoom on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Items included the possible building of solar panels in Waterworks Prairie Park and the COVID-19 City Employee Pay Plan.

Caleb McCullough and Rylee Wilson

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague said he’s hesitant to allow the Iowa Freedom Riders (IFR) to sit in on City Council discussions of their demands, saying they shouldn’t be the only voice for the Black community in Iowa City.

The IFR, a group leading protests in Iowa City that pushed for the council to pass a 17-point resolution responding to demands from the group, has asked to be present for conversations on the resolution.

In an email to The Daily Iowan after the council’s special work session on July 30, Wylliam Smith, a Black activist who works with the IFR, said the group did not want the predominantly white council to be the driving decision maker on matters relating to Black and Indigenous people of color.

“The IFR are upset with the city council because we have requested a seat at the table when discussing our demands since the beginning of our protest,” Smith said. “The city council meeting seems to be running in circles trying to ‘decipher’ our demands when the easy solution would be to extend [a] table seat to us for clarification.”

Editor’s note: Wylliam Smith is a former columnist for The Daily Iowan.

Teague said he appreciates the work the IFR has done and is supportive of their mission, but he mentioned that there are other groups representing the Black community in Iowa City, such as the Black Voices Project, who should also be part of the council’s conversations.

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“When we’re talking about the community of Black people, people of color within our community, IFR is only one portion of that. We have the Black Voices Project that has been out there advocating…I don’t believe personally that Iowa Freedom Riders has been that elected person to represent all Black people,” Teague said.

Councilors Laura Bergus and Janice Weiner, who met with members of the group on Monday, as well as Councilor Mazahir Salih, said it would be helpful to have a representative from the group present to be part of the council’s discussion on topics related to their resolution.

“I think it would be helpful to make sure that they are included in these conversations going forward. Certainly, I learned a lot – it was very insightful to be able to have that real time conversation with them,” Bergus said. “To the extent of when we’re discussing things that relate to what they may be able to provide on those aspects of this overall project with Black Lives Matter, I think it would be good to make sure they are included.”

Salih advocated for creating a temporary position to allow an IFR representative to speak during council discussions. She noted that when other groups propose decisions on council matters they’re invited to make a presentation and speak on the topic.

“Whoever brought the proposal is usually the one who will give us a presentation. Usually they are the ones we go to and ask for that,” Salih said. “This is the same, why we are treating this differently — they try hard to reach out to all of the Black people in the community.”

Salih said the IFR has reached out to work with other Black activist groups in Iowa City, and since the group is the one that brought the demands before the council, they should be present for the council’s decisions.

Councilors Susan Mims and Pauline Taylor concurred with Teague, saying they’re willing to reserve positions for the group on any boards that are set up addressing the resolution, but they’re not comfortable letting the IFR speak for the whole community.

Mims, who also said she met with the group, said she would support giving the IFR a seat if she thinks they’re working with the whole Black community in Iowa City, but she hasn’t seen evidence of that.

“There are lots of constituents within the Black community, and I don’t think there’s any one person or any one organization at this point that can represent the entire Black community to us,” she said.