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Judge asked to order Davenport commissioners to 'stand down'
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Judge asked to order Davenport commissioners to 'stand down'

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Civil Rights Commission 3.10.20

At the Tues., March 10 meeting of Davenport's Civil Rights Commission, appointed commissioners sit at the table with individuals who claim to be commissioners despite the city saying they are not.

A Scott County District judge is considering whether to grant Davenport’s request for a temporary injunction that would bar four people from acting as commissioners on the city’s Civil Rights Commission.

For more than a year, a debate has raged over the rightful makeup of the all-volunteer body. The commission investigates allegations of civil rights abuses and is often an authority sought before filing civil rights litigation. 

During a conference-call hearing Thursday morning, Judge Henry Latham heard arguments by attorney Dick Davidson, representing the city and Mayor Mike Matson.

Latham also heard from the four former commissioners named as defendants in the city’s action — Susan Greenwalt, Nicole Bribriesco-Ledger, Clyde Mayfield and Helen Roberson.

The four argue they still are “qualified commissioners,” even though their terms expired. The city and mayor argue the four no longer have the legal authority to serve.

While the dispute has not yet been resolved in the court system, the city and Matson asked Latham to order the foursome to “stand down” for now and permit the current commissioners to conduct business.

“No business has been conducted by the Civil Rights Commission because of this deadlock,” Davidson said. “Right now, the city has no Civil Rights Commission … because the commission cannot function.”

Iowa law requires larger cities like Davenport to have standing civil rights commissions.

Davidson said Greenwalt, Bribiesco-Ledger, Mayfield and Roberson could continue to attend meetings, along with other members of the public.

Before the four spoke, they asked Latham for a continuance, saying they were given insufficient notification the previously scheduled hearing on the motion would be heard Thursday by conference call.

Replied the judge: “I know this is difficult. The fact is, this is necessary, due to the pandemic we have.”

Davidson and the commissioners argued their interpretations of city code as it relates to the appointment of commissioners. One point in dispute is whether the current five commissioners (two seats are vacant) did and/or should have taken an oath.

“None of the people appointed have been sworn in,” Bribiesco-Ledger said, adding, “There was no vacancy created. We never stepped aside.”

Davidson argued the terms expired, saying their claims of “lifetime appointments” represent an “absurd interpretation of the (city) ordinance.”

He also said an oath of office is not required for the new commissioners and, “... they simply take their seat.”

Greenwalt disagreed, saying she took an oath of office when she became a commissioner and the absence of the oath deems the current commissioners “unqualified.”

Latham concluded the hour-long hearing by telling the parties he is taking their arguments under advisement and will rule on the motion, “as quickly as I can.”

The petition states, "This is a matter of great public importance because the democratically elected mayor has the right to appoint whomever he chooses as a DCRC commissioner, subject to city council confirmation, and the defendants are defying the rights of the democratically elected public officials to appoint whomever they choose.

"This Court should declare that only the legally appointed and duly confirmed and authorized commissioners are empowered to act for DCRC and that the defendants have no legal authority to act as, or to continue to hold themselves out as, commissioners of the DCRC."

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