Iowa Freedom Riders denied seat on Iowa City City Council for second time

City councilors said while they appreciate the work the IFR has done for the community, they do not believe giving them a seat will accurately represent all Black voices in Iowa City.


Nichole Harris/The Daily Iowan

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague addresses the crowd at an Iowa City City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.

Rachel Schilke and Brian Grace

The Iowa City City Council signaled their opposition to a recommendation from the Human Rights Commission to allow the Iowa Freedom Riders a seat at the table for discussions related to the city’s racial-justice initiatives, marking the second time the request has been denied. City councilors said during their Tuesday meeting that the Iowa Freedom Riders weren’t representative of the entire Black community in Iowa City.

The Iowa City Human Rights Commission voted 7-2 in an October meeting to recommend that the Iowa Freedom Riders have a seat with the council on any decisions related to the racial-justice resolution the council passed in June. The Iowa Freedom Riders led protests throughout Iowa City during the summer and the resolution was passed in response to the group’s demands.

City Councilor Susan Mims said during Tuesday’s city council work session that her stance on denying the Iowa Freedom Riders a seat on the council has not changed from the first discussion in July. She said it was not fair to give the group a seat, but not other groups in the community, such as Black Voices Project.

She echoed Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter’s comment that “if you want a seat at the table, you run and get elected.”

This is the second time the group has requested a seat on the council, the first occurring in early July. Mayor Bruce Teague said July 7 that he did not believe Iowa Freedom Riders had been the elected group to represent all Black individuals.

The council’s June resolution committed to 17 actions including a plan to restructure the police department, creating the truth and reconciliation commission, attempting changes to the Community Police Review Board, making Juneteenth a city holiday, and more.

City councilors Laura Bergus and Janice Weiner were designated as liaisons between the IFR and the city council on June 30, the same day the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established.

City Councilor Pauline Taylor said she believes the city council provides many opportunities for the public to discuss issues and opinions with the council.

“As far as one group having a specified seat at the table, there’s many other groups that have interest in items that come before the council,” she said. “And we listen to them, we’ve always listened to them. It’s a key thing to listen.”