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Chaos erupts at Davenport Civil Rights Commission meeting

Chaos erupts at Davenport Civil Rights Commission meeting

Two meetings

Two meetings continue simultaneously during a scheduled Davenport Civil Rights Commission gathering. Two groups of people, each saying they are the rightful commission members, met separately at the same table. 

Chaos erupted Tuesday afternoon at a Davenport Civil Rights Commission meeting, including shouting, accusations and finger-pointing. Two meetings, each with a different group of people who say they are rightful commission members, were held simultaneously. 

Tuesday's meeting was the latest installment in a more-than-yearlong disagreement over who belongs on the commission. It marked an escalation in the disagreement, and the two camps were no closer to a resolution by the end of the dual meetings.  

While Moline residents Laura Helena Rodriguez and Brian Wingert asked which meeting was valid, two meetings — amid shouts and accusations — went on at the same table.

The first meeting

Janelle Swanberg led the first meeting with newly appointed members, including Rabbi Henry Karp. While the two meetings continued at the same table in the Davenport Civil Rights Commission meeting room, Rodriguez and Wingert continued to ask questions.

“Which meeting is valid? I’m a member of the public,” Rodriguez said, accusing the first group of silencing the public. “This is outrageous, and lack of transparency is apparent everywhere I look here. I need to know who the real commissioners are."

Swanberg said the public can speak during the public-comment portion of the meeting.

“Which meeting?” Wingert asked. 

The second meeting

The first meeting, led by Swanberg, eventually adjourned while the second meeting reviewed minutes of previous meetings.

“I don’t think any of us wants to sit in a room with shouting people," Swanberg said. "That’s not going to get anybody anywhere.”

The second meeting, held by people who contend they are still members of the commission, continued under the leadership of Susie Greenwalt, with Helen Roberson, Clyde Mayfield and Nicole Bribriesco-Ledger also participating.

After the second meeting, Rodriguez addressed the four at the table.

“I don’t feel the new commissioners are on the team of the public,” she said. “The way that they’re consulting with the city attorney, knowing damn well that is a conflict of interest, just strikes me the wrong way. I wish you continued success in court. I would hope this goes to court and is settled and you all can get back to work as soon as humanly possible.”

What is going on?

The dispute, dating back to November 2018, is over which people are rightful members of the Civil Rights Commission. 

The argument began when outgoing Mayor Frank Klipsch replaced three members, with Davenport City Council approval. When that became contentious, he replaced four more who agreed with the ousted three. The council approved them, too.

When four terms expired in November 2019, the mayor reappointed one and named three new appointees, all of whom were approved by the council. Some of the ousted members say Klipsch's actions were illegal and done as retribution against Latrice Lacey, commission director. 

If a commissioner does not step down, no appointment can be made because there is no vacancy, Greenwalt said after the second meeting.

“This is going to have to go to court,” she said. But “legal action is not ours to take,” she said. “It’s the city’s responsibility to prove we are not true commissioners.”

She feels the mayor’s actions were a “personal vendetta,” she said. “The mayor was against (Lacey) and to get to (her) they came through us.”  

“I should not be in the middle of this,” Lacey said after the second meeting in an office apart from the gathering space.

“We’re still doing our work in the office,” she said, adding she is concerned the public thinks the office is not functioning.

Now she says new Mayor Mike Matson, elected in November, needs to step in.

Now what?

Wingert plans to continue attending the commission meetings (he has attended 10 previously.) He and Rodriguez, of Moline, have family and friends in Davenport, he said after the second meeting.

“I’m continuing to fight for them,” he said. “They might need the Civil Rights Commission someday."

“We didn’t choose to move back to Davenport,” Rodriguez said. “This is part of the reason.”

Meanwhile, the Rev. Richard Pokora, part of the newer group, feels “surprised, stressed and disappointed” after the meetings.

“I have participated in many activities, including serving on the human-relations commission in Bettendorf many, many years ago, and I have never seen people act like this and be so disruptive,” he said.

“We will have to discuss our options with the city attorney,” Pokora said after the meetings. “We have not met as a group to determine the next step to take.”

The individuals who disrupted the meeting, “both who previously served on the commission and the public,” were loud and aggressive, he said.

“I see no reason for their behavior,” Pokora said. “They are anti-democratic, meaning they do not respect the democratic government process. I think actions like this make the city look bad.”

The next regular meeting of the commission is set for Feb. 11.  


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