As the city of Davenport and the members of its Civil Rights Commission remain at odds over who should sit in on meetings and make decisions, newly appointed Commissioner Lee Gaston on Tuesday called for the two sides to cooperate "to resolve the dispute as rapidly as possible.”
“(That) doesn’t mean you have to agree on the terms of the matter,” he added, speaking during a portion of the meeting reserved for public input. “But I’m gonna ask each of you: Would you commit to cooperating with city attorneys if they will also agree to fast track this to whatever is the proper authority, which I assume would be an Iowa court."
Commissioners declined to commit themselves to agreeing with something that’s yet to be decided outside of the room. But they did say they’ll follow the direction of a court if it comes to that.
“If it came down to an outside court, yeah, we would abide by whatever they would say,” said Susan Greenwalt, the commission’s presiding chairwoman. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t."
Gaston is one of three commissioners who were appointed to the panel in mid-December by the mayor and city council to replace Commissioners Greenwalt, Helen Roberson and Clyde Mayfield, whose terms were set to expire in November. But he and the others have not been allowed to take their place at the table because the old commissioners — Greenwalt, Roberson and Mayfield — have refused to leave.
For their part, the old commissioners say the city made mistakes in its appointment process, and they must be officially removed by the mayor before any new appointments can be made. The city’s legal department and others, however, disagree with that conclusion.
The other mayoral appointees who haven’t been allowed to join are Patricia Hardaway, a human resources executive with Palmer College of Chiropractic, and Randy Moore, president of Iowa-American Water Company. Gaston said Tuesday that the new members aren’t getting information about meetings and called on the commissioners to work alongside the new appointees if the dispute is resolved in their favor.
The legal question surrounding who should serve as a commissioner was also recently reviewed by area law firm Lane & Waterman, which found the commission’s position to be flawed. The opinion cites state code and case law to support the firm’s conclusion that the mayor’s three new picks are legally entitled to participate on the panel. Davenport often hires Lane & Waterman for legal advice and assistance.
Last month, the city’s lawyers asked for information from commissioners that they say must be preserved as the city weighs its legal options. Davenport spokeswoman Jennifer Nahra said Tuesday the legal department had not received any of the requested information, and the city’s attorneys are still debating what step to take next.
In the meantime, city lawyers have also said any official Civil Rights Commission decisions that are made by people who aren’t legally appointed commissioners will be rendered void. Commissioners, meanwhile, took several actions Tuesday, including one that would’ve changed the venue of future meetings to the City Hall chambers.
City officials say they want all of Davenport’s boards and commissions to hold meetings in the chambers because doing so will make it easier to record and put them online. The commission unanimously voted against that proposal, saying that making meetings available online could discourage people from speaking openly.