Whether any members of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission will meet Tuesday at noon depends on who you ask.
Mayor Frank Klipsch says the three people he appointed to the panel in December – whom he described as the “duly-appointed commissioners” – plan to show up.
“The three new people are ready to work and they will be there tomorrow,” Klipsch said Monday. “And then after that as we move forward we’ll have to react to whatever we hear.”
But Susan Greenwalt, the acting chairwoman of a public body that city officials contend has gone rogue, said the meeting will not happen this week because too many members have scheduling conflicts. A posting on the city’s website also indicated the meeting is cancelled for lack of a quorum.
The disagreement about a routine meeting plays into a larger argument between governmental units as the city’s elected officials and the Civil Rights Commission remain at odds over who is actually on the commission.
The mayor and city council appointed three new members late last year to replace Greenwalt and two others. But since then, the three new members have not been welcomed to join the rest of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, which reviews discrimination complaints brought by people from the community.
Greenwalt, whose two-year term as a commissioner expired in November, has continued to lead the group despite calls from elected officials and the city’s legal department to step aside. She personally disagrees with the mayor’s appointments – calling them “corporate individuals” who don’t have the best interests of the community as a top priority – and thinks the commission is on the right side of the controversy.
Greenwalt said commissioners plan to send a letter to the mayor and members of the city council asking for a sit-down later this month to see “if we can’t resolve this amicably.”
“We would like to resolve this situation also,” she said, adding: “Each side I guess is standing firm and hopefully we can find a happy middle."
Public meetings are required to have a certain number of members present in order to take action. In the case of the Civil Rights Commission, which has seven commissioners, the minimum number is four. So, if only the three members appointed by the mayor and council come to City Hall on Tuesday, they’ll be one person short for holding a meeting.
Greenwalt said life circumstances prevented her and three others from attending this week, and another meeting will be rescheduled later in April. She said two members are out of town, one is in the hospital and she has a doctor’s appointment that can’t be rescheduled.
With the dispute lingering for months, both sides have called for a prompt resolution. And for the most part, the arguments from both sides cite the very same language in state and city code.
In February, the Civil Rights Commission passed a resolution rejecting the mayor’s new appointees, contending the city didn’t meet a deadline to approve them. Commissioners say the law requires the mayor to make an official action removing those whose terms had expired.
Meanwhile, the city’s legal department says the appointment process was correct. They also say decisions concerning cases handled by the commission will eventually be rendered void if non-appointed members are voting and directing business.
Asked about the differing interpretations of state and city laws, Greenwalt said she believes the commission’s position would be maintained under judicial review. She said she and the others would resign if a court ruling went against them.
“I think it will come out in our favor” though, she said.
Last week, a letter co-signed by the mayor and entire city council warned they would intervene if the three commissioners appointed in December aren’t included in future meetings. They’ve yet to commit to a specific action.
Asked about the sort of sit-down Greenwalt had suggested, the mayor questioned whether a meeting including the commissioners whose terms expired would be productive.
“At this point, the four appointed and ratified individuals and the three new ones would be the Civil Rights Commission, and if we were to meet with a group of people related to the Civil Rights Commission, it would be that group,” Klipsch said. “Any others are not duly appointed and have no standing.
But as citizens I’d be happy to meet with them and have a couple of aldermen sit in,” he added.