City councilor proposes temporarily suspending Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Following three commissioners’ resignations and the departure of the recently-approved facilitator, City Councilor Laura Bergus proposed to city council that the commission be suspended to fill vacancies and decide on training


Nichole Harris/The Daily Iowan

The Iowa City City Council is seen at an Iowa City City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (Nichole Harris/The Daily Iowan

Rachel Schilke, News Reporter

Tensions are continuing to grow between the Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Iowa City City Council, after City Councilor Laura Bergus informed commissioners of her proposal to temporarily suspend the commission for the purpose of filling vacancies and administering team building training.

Over the last week, former chair Royceann Porter and commissioners Anthony Currin and T’Shailyn Harrington resigned from the commission. Recently-appointed facilitator Jesse Case also declined to sign his approved contract. 

On Wednesday, Bergus said in an interview with The Daily Iowan that she emailed the city council with her proposal to be considered for the agenda at the March 16 meeting. 

She said she reached out to commission chair Mohamed Traore, vice chair Amel Ali, and commissioner and Iowa Freedom Riders representative Raneem Hamad, to inform them of her proposal.

The three commissioners were contacted for comment but did not respond.

The exchange between Bergus and one commissioner, who Bergus declined to name, was posted on social media via Twitter. Bergus said she was recorded without her knowledge and permission. 

Nicholas Theisen, who runs a Twitter account dedicated to commenting on various Iowa City community issues, posted the thread of tweets on Thursday that discussed the conversation between Bergus and the commissioner.

In her proposed resolution, Bergus suggested to city council that the commission be temporarily suspended pending the filing of vacant positions; open applications for commissioners; and direct staff to provide recommendations for training to assist with “creating and maintaining safe spaces for dialogue, building trust, and committing to consistent meeting procedures to enable the TRC to function as a group in carrying out their substantive charge”.

RELATED: Truth and Reconciliation Commission elects new leadership after chair resignation

The reason for the proposal, Bergus said, is that she believes the commission needs to learn how to work cohesively moving forward and have a shared understanding on procedural details, such as the order of operations and when and how public comment is taken.

“If you look back to like the first meeting, it was very abstract at that point. Some of them, I think, are meeting each other for the first time, it’s all over Zoom, and I think in retrospect the city didn’t provide sufficient support on what the parameters for the operation of the commission are, including that procedural stuff,” she said. “So what you end up seeing in the meetings are just a lot of disagreement about how motions come forward and how things are voted on. It just didn’t seem to me like there was a shared understanding about those things.”

She said the inability to work together stems from a lack of trust.

“It’s a commission that was created by the city council and needs to procedurally follow what city commissions need to do,” she said. “I think there’s just tension with that, there’s a lot of distrust between at least one commissioner and the city…I think it’s hard to reconcile the city commission with individuals’ visions for how it should operate.”

Bergus added that she feels the suspension is necessary to fill the vacancies, as she believes the larger the group, the more it represents the broader population in Iowa City.

RELATED: Former chair, vice chair resign from Iowa City’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

“We know that there’s a lot of different experiences, backgrounds, or attributes that people can have to bring to the table to add to the depth and context of the work that the commission is doing,” Bergus said. “I just think the fewer people you have, the less of that you have.”

The city council will consider the resolution to suspend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission until further action at its meeting on March 16.

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