Editorial | Don’t disband the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — let them get to work

The City Council should not suspend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission another time.


DI Editorial Board

The Iowa City City Council is preventing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from doing any meaningful work in the city.

On Sept. 21, the council voted against appointing an out-of-state firm to facilitate the work of the commission, citing concerns that a non-local group wouldn’t have the expertise to work in the Iowa City community.

This was in spite of the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners supported hiring the firm, Kearns & West, as the facilitator.

This denial was the latest in a yearlong series of council roadblocks preventing the committee from doing the fact-finding and truth-telling work it is charged with doing.

The council has given the Truth and Reconciliation Commission a June 2022 deadline to deliver a report of recommendations to the council, though the council can choose to extend this date.

With a rapidly approaching deadline, the council needs to work as quickly as possible to give the commission the funding and the support it needs to do its work, then get out of the way.

Instead, some council members are considering a complete reset of the commission — which it has already done once before.

The council paused the commission in March, following the resignation of several of its members.

“I’ve said it time and time again — we need to restart, reimagine how we get the goals set forth by the TRC,” Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague said at the council’s Sept. 21 meeting. “I am not giving up. I am fully dedicated to the goals of the TRC,”

The commission came forward with a budget proposal in July, which was stalled by the commissioners’ proposal that they be paid for their work, which the council could not come to an agreement on.

Councilors pushed a vote on the budget proposal off for several meetings, before eventually agreeing to approve $200,000 to hire a facilitator to support the commission’s work — and then promptly denying the choice that the commissioners were in support of.

The council meets again on Oct. 5 — and there’s nothing on its meeting agenda related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, leaving the commissioners to go at least another two weeks without a facilitator.

The constant bureaucratic red tape City Council has applied to the commission has created an environment that makes it nearly impossible for commissioners to make real progress on the assignment the council has tasked them with.

At their meeting on Sept. 30, several members of the commission spoke about how frustrated they are with the City Council.

“We’re coming into these meetings knowing that any one of them could be the last one,” Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Mohammad Traore said at the meeting. “To preempt that, we’ve got to make sure we have as many people on board as possible, because it’s a lot harder to stop us if we have a lot of people behind us.”

Commissioner Kevo Rivera said at the meeting the reason the commission can’t move on with its work is that it has to “play the circus” of the City Council’s demands.

“I’m absolutely not interested in wasting any more time through those means,” Rivera said. “I understand we are appointed by the city, and ultimately our recommendations will go to them. But I don’t think that this commission should be for the city. It should be for the community.”

The Iowa City City Council should be ashamed that a commission is created to fulfill an essential need for the community has to actively fight the council to get any work done at all.

Throughout this debacle, councilors have bemoaned the importance of community input — but when it comes to matters of how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will conduct its own business, why do the voices of others constantly outweigh what the commissioners say they need?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in support of Kearns & West to be its facilitator — and it’s the members of the commission that work closest with this facilitator day-to-day.

If the council is at all serious about supporting the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it needs to stand up for them and give them what they need to do their work.

The council has let a year of bureaucratic squabbles derail the important work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. By design, this commission is intended to do transformative work Iowa City desperately needs — and work like this means not every single member of the community will agree with its decisions.

If the commission is going to succeed, the City Council needs to stop standing in its way and start listening to what its members say they need to do their work. At the end of the day, they’re the ones charged with the difficult task of uncovering the truths of injustice in our community.

Keep the commission going. Approve a facilitator as soon as possible — the facilitator the commissioners want — and then let them get to work.

Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the publisher, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.

Editorial board members are Caleb McCullough, Rylee Wilson, Josie Fischels, Hannah Pinski, Shahab Khan, and Sophie Stover.