Truth and Reconciliation Commission elects new leadership after chair Royceann Porter resigns

Following several weeks of internal conflict and contentious meetings, the Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission has elected new leadership following Porter’s resignation. Porter will remain as a member of the commission.


Jeff Sigmund

Johnson County Supervisor RoyceAnne Porter addresses the crowd on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Supervisor Porter held a victory for Biden party at Mercer Park.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

Royceann Porter, former chair of Iowa City’s Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission, resigned from her role as chair Thursday night prior to a planned vote from the commission to remove her from the position.

A no-confidence vote was put on Thursday’s agenda during the commission’s meeting on March 1, after multiple commissioners expressed concern about Porter’s conduct with members of the public.

Traore said Porter supported a culture of bullying and intimidation within the commission, which is why he felt she was unfit to serve as chair.

During the commission’s meeting on Thursday, the commission appointed and elected new leadership for both the chair and vice chair position.

Traore was elected chair by a 6-3 vote, and Commissioner Amel Ali was elected vice chair by a 5-4 vote, replacing Commissioner T’Shailyn Harrington who was serving as vice chair.

This vote occurred after Traore announced that he had received allegations of misconduct against Porter during the commissions’ meeting on March 1.

The allegations were unknown to Porter and the public before the meeting on March 4.

Traore invited the source that came forward with allegations, Des Moines Black Lives Matter activist Jaylen Cavil, to speak at the meeting on March 4.

Cavil was set to share his experience with Porter, then the commission would vote whether or not to remove Porter from her position and elect new leadership.

Before that discussion took place, Porter resigned from her position as chair of the commission. Porter will remain as a member of the commission.

“I am so involved with so much in Johnson County,” Porter said. “I don’t have to be the chair of this commission. I’m so full, I don’t know what to do. Y’all don’t have to come and make allegations against me that are not true. Any one of y’all could have come to me and talked to me about anything, but to sit here and falsely accuse me of some stuff and tell me that this is what I did is not right.”

Cavil said he criticized the disorganization at a Truth and Reconciliation commission meeting on Feb. 18, which he said prompted Porter to personally call him in a 20 minute phone conversation.

Cavil said Porter addressed him in a hostile manner, belittling him, questioning his intelligence, and made him feel uncomfortable.

“I felt like she had called me because I gave a public comment at the meeting the day before,” Cavil said. “It made me wonder if I can give a public comment without having to worry about things like hearing from the chair. I wondered if other people who were giving public comments that criticized the commission were also receiving phone calls from the chair or other people in the commission that were hostile.”

Cavil said he informed other commission members of the interaction between him and Porter, which then caused Traore to propose the motion seeking new leadership within the commission.

Coralville resident Nicholas Theisen, who actively participates in city council and truth and reconciliation commission meetings, also recounted a time where he felt disrespected by Porter during a public comment section during a city council formal meeting.

Theisen had called Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih and Mayor Bruce Teague ‘weak’ and ‘cowards’, to which Porter responded by saying he was a coward for disrespecting the Black leadership within the city council.

Theisen also mentioned that Porter had said to ‘get over’ the events of the June 3 protests, which resulted in Iowa City protesters being tear gassed by law enforcement officers.

“You explicitly said that people have got to get over June 3,” Theisen said. “It’s literally in the minutes. Even if you don’t remember it – you can shake your head all you want. It’s literally transcribed. So, I’m sorry but it’s there. You did say it and you said it publicly.”

Porter gave her accounts for both situations included in the allegations against her, but found herself being interrupted or spoken over by other commissioners.

“I just wanted to tell my story and then I’m done, that was the end of my story,” Porter said. “I don’t even know how this is even happening when we talk about truth and reconciliation – I’m not even able to tell my truth.”

Following the election of Traore and Ali to serve as chair and vice chair, the commission emphasized their desire to make their meetings a safe and welcoming environment for all community members wishing to attend.

“My desire for new leadership on this commission was again directly related to my commitment to providing a safe space and inviting all marginalized voices to be heard,” Commissioner Kevin Rivera said.