Two former Davenport Civil Rights Commissioners who were kicked out of the group by the mayor publicly shared their grievances during a Friday afternoon hearing in City Hall, protesting their dismissal as an unfair and retaliatory action.
Eight aldermen and Mayor Frank Klipsch presided over the hearing, which was scheduled for the former commissioners to clear their names. In April, the mayor removed four members, accusing them of going into closed sessions illegally, preventing new appointees from participating in meetings and enabling commissioners whose terms had expired to remain on the panel.
Bettendorf attorney Mike Meloy, who is representing the aggrieved commissioners in a related court case, opened the hearing by calling on the council to decide on several proposed actions, including a reversal of the mayor’s decision. However, the city’s legal department and the presiding Scott County judge in the related case say the council is not authorized under Iowa law to make such decisions, and the hearings are merely meant to be substantive.
During an emotional speech, former Commissioner Shylee Garrett said she was surprised to be defending her reputation before the very body that had appointed her to the volunteer position only last year. She took issue with several of the allegations the mayor made in his dismissal letter, particularly a passage that accused commissioners of disrespecting the rule of law and the democratic system of government.
“The tone and language worked to belittle, attack and shame the recipient,” Garrett said of the letter. “To use such blanket statements and assert that one doesn’t respect democracy because they don’t agree with you is appalling.”
Also addressing the council and mayor was Nicole Bribriesco-Ledger, a commissioner for nine years before her removal. She attributed her dismissal to the commission’s decision not to discipline Civil Rights Director Latrice Lacey over assault charges she received last year, suggesting a desire by elected officials for Lacey to be fired.
“I think when we chose not to get rid of her is when it started,” Bribriesco-Ledger said, adding: “This is all retaliation because we did not do what you wanted us to do."
After Bribriesco-Ledger finished her statement to the council, the mayor moved to close the hearing as Susan Greenwalt, the former commission chair, approached the podium to speak.
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Klipsch said the hearing was meant to provide a forum for the aggrieved commissioners and their attorney, saying public comment was not part of that. The move prompted outbursts from a handful of attendees observing from the gallery, and one man stormed out of the room.
“I would just say under the circumstances, this will go to the court, they will make a decision and we will of course live with the results of the court findings,” Klipsch said, attempting to calm the crowd.
Last week, a Scott County judge decided to review a claim brought by Bribriesco-Ledger that the mayor’s removal action was illegal. That decision cleared a legal hurdle that otherwise could have left commissioners with no clear path to bring a case to the Iowa court system.
While the mayor has referred to the dismissals as unfortunate, he has for months relied in part on a unanimously agreeing city council to justify his action. But on Friday, two aldermen raised concerns over whether the process has been fair and transparent.
“As far as lack of communication and lack of transparency, I’ve always taken great pride in the city of Davenport for being transparent,” said Alderman Ray Ambrose, 4th Ward. “Boy, it sure wasn’t in this process and I apologize.”
Also apologizing was Alderman Mike Matson, 7th Ward, who is seeking to replace outgoing Klipsch as the city’s next mayor.
“I had concerns and I still do,” Matson said. “I look forward to seeing what happens in court.”