Lee Gaston, left who was appointed to the Davenport's Civil Rights Commission by Mayor Frank Klipsch's and approved by the City Council in December of 2018 addresses the Commission in February about the division being created in the community for not allowing him, and two other new commissioners, to be seated on the Civil Rights Commission yet.

As tensions remain high amid a months-long dispute concerning membership on the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, elected officials say the commission must seat three members appointed late last year or the city council will step in. 

In a letter co-signed by Davenport’s 10 aldermen, Mayor Frank Klipsch says state and city laws do not allow the commission “to determine its own membership.” The letter also says business conducted that includes “non-appointed individuals” or excluding those he appointed “harms the rights of all parties engaged in the civil rights department.”

“I ask for your support in upholding the laws and ordinances of the City of Davenport. Please recognize the legally appointed Civil Rights Commission, as appointed by the Mayor and City Council of the City of Davenport, at all future Commission meetings,” the letter says.  “Action taken contrary to this direction compels Davenport’s elected officials to intervene to preserve those civil rights guaranteed to all of the citizens in our community.”

Commissioners are scheduled to meet next on April 9. A request for comment was not returned by Susan Greenwalt, the commission’s acting chairwoman. Greenwalt’s eligibility is one of those in question.

The mayor’s letter comes more than three months after the city council appointed three new members to the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, to replace three others — Greenwalt, Clyde Mayfield and Helen Roberson — whose terms expired in November. But since then, Greenwalt, Mayfield and Roberson have refused to step aside, and the other commissioners have steadfastly remained in their corner.

Davenport’s Civil Rights Commission is a seven-person panel of residents that evaluates local civil rights complaints. Unlike some of the other resident-led arms of government, the commission is established under Iowa law and has oversight of the city’s civil rights director.

Commissioners contend the city made procedural errors when the three new members were added. In February, the commission passed a resolution rejecting the three “alleged commissioners,” saying they were illegally appointed.

On Monday, Civil Rights Director Latrice Lacey said the commission’s resolution speaks for itself.

The city’s legal department, meanwhile, has maintained the commissioners were appointed properly. An opinion by area law firm Lane and Waterman, which frequently represents the city in legal matters, also arrived at that conclusion.

The mayor’s letter does not say what action city officials would take should the commission refuse to comply. Klipsch says the city is reviewing its options but hopes the commission will simply seat his appointees.

Iowa law spells out some paths elected officials could take.

Appointed officers can be removed from their positions by the appointing authority — in this case, the mayor and city council — under a state law concerning the power of municipal officials. That means the city’s elected officials could theoretically gut the rest of the commission and replace them with all new members.

Such an action must be made by a written order that lists the reasons why the appointed officer is being removed, and the affected person can get a public hearing with council members to discuss all issues connected to the removal.

Another option could involve calling for criminal charges to be levied against the three people the city says are not legally entitled to sit at the table. Under state law, impersonating a public official is an aggravated misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

City officials and commissioners have been on opposite sides of other arguments recently.

Last summer, fiery protests were held in City Hall over a proposed ordinance that would have taken some power from the commission — including its oversight of civil rights office employees — and placed those duties under a three-member panel of aldermen. That proposal was abandoned after the mayor labeled it too divisive.

Davenport: Civil Rights Commission must turn over recordings from ‘illegal’ closed sessions
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