A months-long fight between City Hall and Davenport's panel for settling civil rights disputes reached full gridlock Tuesday, when board members appointed by the city were met by former board members who've refused to give up their seats.
All seven members of the Civil Rights Commission have been replaced against their will recently under actions taken by the mayor and city council. But three have refused to step aside, contending they are still legally appointed because the city didn't make the proper legal maneuvers to have them removed.
Davenport Civil Rights Director Latrice Lacey is backing the former board members. Supported by protesters who repeatedly interrupted the proceedings, she accused City Hall of political meddling and argued with city lawyers over whether the board's new members had a legal right to meet.
In December, the city council added Lee Gaston, Randy Moore and Patricia Hardaway to the Civil Rights Commission as replacements for three others whose terms had expired. Another four were later removed by the mayor for refusing to allow Moore, Gaston and Hardaway to participate in meetings. And then another four — Michael Liendo, Ruby Mateos, Erie Johnson and Linda Gilman — were added last month to fill the open spots.
Each time, Lacey has opposed the moves, as well as an earlier city proposal to give the city council more authority over the panel. Under Iowa law, cities are required to form independent civil rights commissions that investigate local complaints, but how the boards are formed and function vary from city to city.
Lacey's relationship with the city has grown increasingly toxic over the past year. The spat turned more public after Lacey was charged with domestic battery, accused of attacking a former boyfriend with a hammer. A trial ended in a hung jury in March. Lacey has also accused Mayor Frank Klipsch of sexually harassing her, producing an image of them posing together for a photo at a public meeting as her evidence.
One point of agreement is that the most recent appointees are legally entitled to be commissioners. But the legality of Gaston, Moore and Hardaway continues to be questioned by Lacey and the commissioners whose terms expired.
One of those who has not yielded her seat is Susan Greenwalt, who continued to act as the commission’s chairwoman during recent meetings despite the city’s position that her term ended in November. Greenwalt said Tuesday that a noon meeting was supposed to take place, but that notice was suddenly removed from the city’s website and replaced with a different one for 1:15 p.m.
“We’re confused,” Greenwalt said of the two posted meetings. “We drew up the agenda yesterday, posted it, and somebody had went out and our agenda had been taken down and a different agenda had been posted. … Now there’s two agendas up on the board.”
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During the later meeting, back-and-forth arguments erupted between Lacey and members of the city’s legal department over whether a meeting could in fact take place. Lacey said the commission’s agenda for that afternoon had not been approved by the commission, and accused the city of attempting to overpower the commission’s authority by putting together an agenda that was not disclosed to those who work in the civil rights office or approved by commissioners.
“For the commissioners to not make that decision is inappropriate and it’s illegal,” she said. “It’s usurping the commission’s authority and dictating what their staff has authority to do. It is usurping the commission’s authority to plan their own meeting.”
“We don’t know what’s going on, I don’t think you all fully know what’s going on and we’re all in the dark on what’s happening,” Lacey added. “I have no idea who posted this agenda, I don’t know who authorized it, I don’t know who authored it.”
Meanwhile, the four commissioners appointed last month got their first front-row seat to the longstanding argument. They were repeatedly cut off by outbursts from the audience as they tried to ask questions of Lacey concerning what action they should take and how to move forward.
“This is our first non-meeting,” Johnson, a commissioner appointed last month, told one audience member. “We can’t even get to the point of being commissioners.”
At the close of the meeting, Greenwalt defended all of the commissioners involved in the dispute.
“We are all here in good faith,” Greenwalt said. “We want to do what’s best for the residents of Davenport, and by our conscience we try to do what is right. And I think with all these commissioners, and with all these commissioners, they are giving up their time and their resources to be here, and I think it’s something (that) should be appreciated.”
Clyde Mayfield, another of the commissioners whose terms expired in November, called for those on the commission to question how seven people were abruptly removed. And he suggested that the actions of the mayor and city council were politically motivated, warning future commissioners that they might face the same fate if they step on the wrong toes.
“It is appalling to me that we’ve got to this point even to begin with,” Mayfield added. “I’ve been here and I’ve seen disagreements, but I’ve never seen such an action that has taken place to pit many good people against each other who are trying to do the right thing.”