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CornField Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 10:22 AM
Original message
Yesterday DMR: Delays lengthy in civil rights battles
Did you read this article on the front page of yesterday's Register?

According to the article:

  • Almost 7 months for the Iowa Civil Rights Commission to assign investigators
  • Average of 10 months to resolve a complaint
  • In Des Moines, dozens of complaints have been sitting for more than 4 years without investigators being assigned
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IA_Seth Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 01:51 PM
Response to Original message
1. Question...
I am not very familiar with the Civil Rights Commission, how people are chosen for it, etc.

Is there anything we can do as activists to fix the situation? I read that article and it is absolutely ridiculous to have to wait years to get an issue addressed.
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CornField Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 09:33 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. About the Commission(s)
We're really talking about several commissions when discussing Iowa Civil Rights. There is the broad state commission and several local commissions throughout the state.

The State Commission has seven members, appointed by the Governor (subject to Senate approval). They are supposed to be scattered throughout the state in order to provide somewhat equal representation and no more than four can share the same political party. They are appointed to four year terms (slightly staggered). Commissioners can be removed by the Governor for just cause. (Paraphrase of Iowa Code 216.3 -- Chapter 216 is the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965)

The confirmation procedure is covered in the Iowa Code 2.32

The Code hops you around if you want to find out what the Commissioners are paid. From 216.4: Commissioners shall be paid a per diem as specified in section 7E.6 and shall be reimbursed for actual and necessary expenses incurred while on official commission business. All per diem and expense moneys paid to commissioners shall be paid from funds appropriated to the commission.

7E.6 says the rate is $50... if I'm reading that correctly, that's over $18,000 per year, plus expenses. (I really hope I'm reading that wrong.)

Those who currently serve on the commission:

David Leshtz, Chair
(319) 351-2973 - Iowa City
(Term expires May 2007)

Dinh VanLo
Des Moines
(Term expires May 2007)

Alicia Claypool, Chair
West Des Moines
(Term expires May 2007)

Constance Gronstal
Telephone: (712) 322-7354
Council Bluffs
(Term expires May 2009)

Rick Morain
(Term expires May 2009)

Timothy Tutt
Des Moines
(Term expires May 2009)

Nancy Witt
(Term expires May 2009)

The Iowa Code also mandates that cities with a population in excess of 29,000 create their own local Civil Rights Commission and model it after the state agency. So, you have the state agency and several local agencies throughout the state.

If a person takes their case to the state, the state can defer it back to the local agency. If a person takes their case to the local agency, they are stuck until that agency makes a determination on the case. Rulings are reviewed by the state agency.

In Cedar Rapids, there is an 11-member commission which is appointed to 3-year terms. Those who serve on the CR Commission do not have compensation, but are reimbursed for expenses.

The following 24 communities have local Commissions: Ames, Bettendorf, Burlington, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fort Doge, Fort Madison, Grinnell, Indianola, Iowa City, Marshalltown, Mason City, Mount Pleasant, Muscatine, Ottumwa, Sioux City, Urbandale, Waterloo, and West Des Moines.


All this being said, the register article was most critical of the Des Moines local commission -- that's the group that has complaints that have been sitting around for over 4 years without investigation.
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IA_Seth Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 09:14 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. Wow
Thank you VERY much. I really appreciate the time you put into this explaining everything!

I knew Cedar Rapids had a Civil Rights commission, but I have never really heard of them doing much of anything? This may or may not be because I have just not known anyone involved with the commission.

From what I recall this is a mayor-appointed the with the knew part-time mayor/council being elected we may see some changes?

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CornField Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 09:57 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. Hopefully -- but not guaranteed
The members are appointed, but they also require Council approval. Just changing the mayor does not guarantee a big shake-up in the appointed boards and commissions. From experience I can tell you that trying to find citizens who are willing to serve on such boards without compensation is a difficult task.

In CR, the Commission members can serve for three consecutive three-year terms. What usually happens is you have the same people serving over and over and over again. For instance, Jane Doe will be appointed and serve for her three terms. Then Wilma Doe will be appointed and begin her service. In the interim, John Doe uses up his three terms. Since Jane is no longer considered 'consecutive,' she is once again re-appointed to the Commission. John is re-appointed when Wilma has used up her time... Wilma is re-appointed when Jane's time is up... and on and on.

Barring someone moving from the community or flat-out refusing to serve again, you'll end up with a pool of about 15 people who continually serve the same board/commission.

Some corporations will insist that their upper management or higher-ranking employees serve on various civic boards/commissions and/or join local service clubs or non-profits. In most cases, this is done with the best of intentions. A person who places roots in many areas of a community is much less likely to leave that community (and the employer maintains its investment in the individual). A company which has individuals who are active in the community has a much better understanding of that community (and is in a much better position if it ever needs permits, waivers or code changes).

In the case of the Civil Rights Commission, however, the practice is cause for some concern.

Hypothetical: You are an employee at Planes-R-Us and have a discrimination complaint. How likely are you to take that complaint to the Civil Rights Commission if you know that the VP of the company sits on the board (along with his corporate cronies)? You could file it with the State Commission, but you still have the risk of it being deferred back to the local one.

Civil Rights Commissions are in place to help the little guy. I wonder about the potential conflict of interest when the person sitting on the commission is an employee of the big guy in question. It wouldn't even have to be a direct complaint against the employer the person represents. It could be a case against a certain non-profit in town that the employer supports or a case which is expected to cause bad press for the community (thus affecting the employer).

The article in the Register pointed to decreased budgets and fewer staff as the root cause of the huge back-log in Des Moines. The former journalist in me really wants to get a look at the complaints that have been sitting for so long and compare them to the current members of the Commission. My guess is there will be lots of connections to be made between the employers of the individuals on the Commission and the cases.
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