Iowa City legal staff expresses concerns with Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The commission desires to hire three new consultants to assist with their work, which city legal staff worries could bring defamation and accountability issues.


Darren Chen

The Iowa City City Council listens to community members during a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

Some Iowa City legal staff is questioning the risk of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s request to hire additional consultants.

The commission plans to hire three new consultants — including Think Peace, Healing Partners, and Three Native Partners — after hiring one consultant through Kearns & West to assist with its goals in restorative justice. In a memorandum sent to the council, Iowa City City Attorney Eric Goers said that bringing on more than one consultant to assist the commission could lead to issues of accountability and potential defamation.

The three new groups will work alongside Kearns & West, the commission’s current consultant.

Goers wrote that having more than one consultant on board without the presence of a general contractor, an entity that is responsible for the actions of a project’s consultants, will make it more difficult to hold a singular entity accountable for the work they perform.

“The present proposal calls for city staff to coordinate the work of all consultants,” Goers wrote. “This makes holding the various consultants responsible for their work, or the ultimate outcome of the endeavor, much more difficult.”

Without a general contractor, Goers wrote that city staff will have more work that they are not qualified or trained to do.

Additionally, Goers expressed legal concerns with the commission itself, noting that collected testimonies of alleged racism could incriminate the city.

In his memo, Goers wrote part of the commission’s work to achieve social justice in the city is to collect testimony relating to issues of racial injustices. Established in 2020, the commission seeks to address racial injustice and carry out restorative justice in Iowa City.

If the city were to publicly publish any testimonies that accuse local businesses or other city entities of racism without first investigating the claim, those entities could sue the city for defamation, Goers wrote.

However, Goers wrote that allegations against unidentifiable individuals or organizations would present less of a legal risk than allegations in which the accused party is able to be identified.

“This will complicate the work of the TRC,” Goers wrote. “No doubt this limitation will be disappointing to many.”

Alongside approving the consultant contracts, the Iowa City City Council will vote to extend the timeline of the commission to the end of 2024 during Tuesday’s formal meeting. Without renewal, the commission’s term will end in June.