Amid an escalating fight between the city of Davenport and its Civil Rights Commission, lawyers from the city have demanded audio recordings of several closed-door meetings be turned over on the basis that the hearings should have been conducted in public.
Commissioners were hand-delivered letters by the city’s attorneys Tuesday saying they must “retain and preserve all records and documents” that “may be relevant to litigation” as the city considers its legal options. The letter, obtained by the Quad-City Times, accuses commissioners of holding at least eight meetings since January 2017 in violation of Iowa’s open meetings laws.
Meanwhile, Civil Rights Director Latrice Lacey says the commission only holds closed meetings as allowed under state law, which gives units of government the ability to privately discuss certain matters. She also said she does not know "what the purpose is" of requesting the information.
“There was no frame of reference for the requests that were made,” Lacey said of the letter. “I’m really not sure how it relates to the ability to appoint people to the commission.”
The letter asks the commission to turn over the information by Feb. 26 or provide an explanation for the delay. Other information requested includes service contracts with outside legal counsel, which the letter suggests would be used by the commission “against the City” in court.
In such a scenario, the commission does not have attorney-client privilege and must comply with their request, the city’s lawyers contend.
The letter comes as the city and seven-member commission are in dispute over who is and who isn’t a commissioner after three people were replaced against their will late last year.
Under city code, commissioners are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by members of the city council to two-year terms beginning in December and ending in November. In December, Mayor Frank Klipsch chose three new appointees to replace three commissioners whose terms were expiring, a move that drew rebuke from critics who accused the mayor of dumping commissioners who didn’t do what he wanted.
But over the last two months, new commissioners have not been allowed to sit at the table and participate in meetings. Sitting commissioners whose terms expired have refused to leave, saying the mayor has no authority to make them give up a job they want to keep. Commissioners also contend Davenport's city code concerning vacancies affirms that the mayor's appointment process was invalid.
The city's legal department maintains the new commissioners were appointed lawfully and are entitled to participate in meetings. Further, the city’s lawyers say the commission's decisions will be rendered void if unofficial commissioners continue to participate.
Earlier this week, Klipsch said he was “baffled” by this development, calling it “a first.” He added the city followed the same appointment procedure in place for decades “to the letter of the ordinance.”
“People come, people go, you embrace the new people, bring them on board and do that important work,” he said. “And that’s the way it’s been from the beginning, and that’s all we really want to have happen.”