“I’m excited,” Mayor Bruce Teague said at the end of the Iowa City Council’s special formal session on Tuesday night.
The almost four-and-a-half-hour meeting followed the city council’s two-hour-long normal formal meeting, and was devoted to developing a plan to address the social justice issues that have come to forefront as a result of local and national protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.
“We’re not all the way there, don’t get me wrong,” Teague said at the end of the special formal session. He added, “This is amazing.”
The city council unanimously passed a 17-point resolution that covers topics from affordable housing to police reform, and even added a new holiday to the city’s official calendar. It also approved a resolution empowering the mayor to send a letter to the Johnson County Attorney asking her to drop all charges against people involved in the protests led by the Iowa City Freedom Riders (IFR).
The resolution was drafted largely in response to a list of demands IFR published last week. At the beginning of the special session, Mayor Teague thanked Councilmember Laura Bergus for her work in drafting the resolution. Bergus is the only practicing attorney on the city council. (Councilmember Janice Weiner briefly practiced law before her career in the diplomatic service.)
The full name of the resolution indicates the width of its scope: “Resolution of Initial Council Commitments addressing the Black Lives Matter Movement and Systemic Racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police and calls for action from protesters and residents.”
In addition to the demands published by IFR, Teague said the resolution had been influenced by hundreds of emails the city has received in the past three weeks, as well as many conversations with Iowa Citians, both in person and on the phone.
The resolution calls for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission by Oct. 1. The commission is intended “to bear witness to the truth of racial injustice in Iowa City and to carry out restorative justice through the collection of testimony and public hearings.” Details regarding the commission will be determined during future city council work sessions, but Mayor Teague made it clear he considers the commission to be essential in helping the city council determine policies regarding topics such as affordable housing, policing practices and increasing diversity among the city’s staff.
As part of the resolution, the city council committed to spending $1 million during the fiscal year that begins on July 1 “to promote racial equity and social justice” through, among other things, supporting the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and creating a new affordable housing plan.
While all the councilmembers were in agreement about the commission, there was some disagreement regarding the new affordable housing program.
Councilmember Mazahir Salih wanted to add wording to the resolution to make sure the plans would address the need for affordable housing downtown and in Iowa City’s core neighborhoods (which the city has previously defined as the Northside, College Green, Bowery, Longfellow, Mark Twain, Riverfront Crossings East, Riverfront Crossing West, Miller/Orchard, and Brookland/Roosevelt neighborhoods), but Councilmember Susan Mims pushed back against the idea.
Mims said she wasn’t in favor of naming downtown and the core neighborhoods in the resolution because “that is the most expensive place for providing affordable housing, because land costs are the highest. So, I guess we have to make a balance between the number units [of affordable housing] we’d like to provide and location.”
Salih responded that the expensive nature of the real estate is “exactly why we want affordable housing there.” She added, “the core neighborhood is not only for people who have money, it’s not only for business people, it’s supposed to be for everyone.”
The language in the resolution was adjusted to say the affordable housing plan would include but not be limited to downtown and the core neighborhoods.
Another part of the resolution provoked more uncertainty than disagreement.
The resolution calls on the city to “elevate” its “commitment to racial equity and social justice and increase resources devoted to those efforts as needed.”
After some discussion of what particular actions could be taken, Bergus said, “I think the intent of our resolution tonight is to be that initial commitment. It makes sense to me that it will be broader than ultimately where we want to land. We will get the specifics, and I think we’re counting on each other and the public to hold us accountable.”
“I view it a little bit as a constitution,” she said. “Like an overarching guiding document that that will be essentially our loadstar as we work on each of these items.”
Teague added that is will be one of the issues the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will consider.
Most of the resolution focuses on police issues.
City Manager Geoff Fruin has been tasked with preparing a report on the involvement of the Iowa City Police Department in the incident on June 3, when law enforcement officers under the command of the Iowa State Patrol used flash-bang grenades and tear gas against protesters on Dubuque Street who were marching to I-80.
Fruin said he intends to ask the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) to review the incident. The DCI is often used to investigate actions of local law enforcement agencies, and reviewed both shootings of suspects by ICPD officers that occurred in 2019.
The resolution calls from Fruin to deliver his report by Aug. 1.
Other parts of the resolution call for:
• a report on any military-grade equipment ICPD has
• a prohibition on “the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and flashbangs against peaceful protesters”
• a total ban on the use of chokeholds “or any other maneuver that cuts off oxygen or blood flow”
• a review of how ICPD is ensure its officers comply with its policy on the use of body cams
• requiring ICPD officers to intervene and stop any use of excessive force by another law enforcement officer and immediately report the incident to a supervisor
• ensure that ICPD hiring practices prohibit employment of anyone who committed “serious misconduct” at another law enforcement agency
• prepare a report on how the Community Police Review Board can more effectively provide oversight of ICPD
• publish online a detailed expenditure summary of the ICPD budget
• ask Iowa City’s state legislators to work on any changes in state law needed for the city to make the changes included in the resolution
But the biggest change regarding the police department was addressed in the first of the resolution’s 17 sections.
By December 15, 2020, develop a preliminary plan to restructure the Iowa City Police Department (ICPD) towards community policing, including, but not limited to, reduction of the public’s reliance on police in non-violent situations through the use of unarmed professionals, and consideration of community policing initiatives in other cities, including, but not limited to, Minneapolis, MN, Camden, NJ, Los Angeles, CA and San Francisco, CA.
The Dec. 15 date is intended to provide enough time to develop a thorough preliminary plan, but make sure it is presented to the city council before it starts work on the ICPD’s next budget.
At the end of the special session, Councilmember Weiner said she had one addition to make to the resolution. She suggested making Juneteenth — an annual occasion commemorating the news of the abolition of slavery reaching enslaved people in Texas, the last major stronghold of the Confederacy — a city holiday. The council unanimously approved the addition.
Staring next year, Juneteenth — which is celebrated on June 19 — will be an official city holiday, replacing one of its existing holidays.
In addition to the resolution, the city council also approved a measure empowering the mayor to write a letter to the Johnson County Attorney, asking her to dismiss all outstanding charges against people who participated in the protests.
Councilmembers Pauline Taylor and Susan Mims were unsure if all the charges should be dropped, since some — including two OWIs and one charge of possession of firearms under the influence — were more serious than simple traffic violations. Salih insisted that all the charges be dropped, because she believed they were the result of the police targeting protesters.
Councilmember John Thomas said he had “gone back and forth” on whether all the charges or just some of them should be dropped. But he eventually decided the “historic moment” the city is experiencing made dropping all the charges appropriate.
Mayor Teague said he agreed, and he also pointed out that Iowa City and Johnson County frequently use a light hand when it comes to policing some infractions.
“We see it all the time for football games here,” Teague said. “There’s an acceptance of behavior that would not tolerated any other time. And of course, once the game is over, things are back to normal.”
Teague said he and other officials had been having discussions regarding safety with IFR organizers, and those conversations would continue.
All the councilmembers voted in favor of the letter, except Bergus, who abstained because voting on an issue regarding criminal charges was a potential conflict of interest for her as a practicing attorney.
By the end of the special formal meeting, the city council had addressed all the demands IFR had directed to the city. (IFR has other demands directed to the Iowa City Community School District and Gov. Kim Reynolds.)
On its Instagram page, IFR celebrated the quick action by the city council.
IFR announced on Sunday, it had no protests scheduled for either Wednesday or Thursday.