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Bruce Teague: “Being engaged with the community is vital”

October 19, 2021

Mayor Bruce Teague recalled that the second he heard about George Floyd’s death, he joined with three other elected officials and a pastor to create Speak Up, Speak Out, a series of listening sessions in early June, to create a healing space.

“What I appreciated during that time was people coming together and grieving together, sharing their frustrations authentically,” he said. “It was a time that we needed to — even in the midst of COVID — come together and grieve as a nation. Not only as a nation, but especially within our own community.”

Teague said one of the most important things to come out of the Black Lives Matter movement in Iowa City was kickstarting a conversation with the whole community.

“Being engaged with the community is vital,” he said. “Having the conversation to make sure that what we’re doing as a community, we are doing in unison to the best of our ability. We know it’s a hard subject, there’s a lot of facets to it.”

Teague said some of the demands on the 17-point resolution were easy to check off right away, such as the ban on chokeholds and establishing Juneteenth as a city holiday, but some ongoing acts “will always be there,” like the work to restructure the police, which Teague said is still underway.

The city passed a 2.5 percent budget increase as part of its restructuring plan to include two community positions: a full-time Street Outreach and Engagement Specialist, and a part-time Community Outreach Assistant to engage with the city’s immigrant and refugee population.

By August, Teague said, the city had appointed a new Public Safety Informational Specialist and replaced one of the officer positions with a civilian Victim Support Specialist, as part of the council’s priority to introduce more mental health response into the department.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague encourages people to vote during a rally for voting rights at the Pentacrest on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (Jerod Ringwald)

He said making changes within the city’s ordinances and policies takes time, it is important to make intentional changes that will prevail and not just “Band-Aid changes.”

“The most crucial is hearing the voices of people in our community, as well as seeking out some of those voices that are often unheard, don’t seek out, haven’t been historically connected with city government,” Teague said. “And those are typically the ones that, in this instance, are most affected by some of the policies that we’ll be changing.”

He added that over the past year, people have become more knowledgeable about steps the council has to take and red tape to break through before action can be taken, which he believes is why the council cannot move as fast as people would like.

“…People know that their city government wants to hear from them, their city government wants to make real changes,” he said.

During that summer, he said tears were shed and the body felt fatigued. However, he said he is glad that what came out of that summer were discussions at both the local and national level.

“When it comes down to Black Lives Matter, I do believe that we have a council that is dedicated to change,” he said. “Now, there are differences of opinions on various things on this council, but I really believe that the heart of the council and the intent is to really make systemic changes within Black lives.”

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