What occurred to Indianola’s civil rights fee?

Indianola Faces Change is a three-part series that explores Indianola’s relationship to race and diversity. Part one, released on February 5, was about the creation of See Color-Be Change and its goals. Part two, released February 12, looked at the experiences of some children in the Indianola Community School District. This final edition focuses on the Indianola city government’s response to race and diversity

Tara Elcock and the other founders of See Color-Be Change in Indianola are urging the city to set up a new civil rights commission. So far these efforts are making progress.

See Color – Be Change is a new group based in Indianola that was formed in response to the Black Lives Matter 2020 protests.

The founders of the group have met with city officials on several occasions and the city has officially started to set up a new commission. Indianola Mayor Pamela Pepper and city administrator Ryan Waller said their meetings with members of See Color-Be Change are ongoing as the city and group continue to discuss bringing a civil rights commission back to the city.

“It’s not about whether we bring you back. It’s about when,” said Pepper on Thursday. “I am very confident that we will do that.”

Elcock, who co-owns the Elcock law firm in Indianola with her husband, said pushing the city to create a new civil rights commission is a big first step for See Color-Be Change.

“Indianola is not a terrible community to live in,” she said. “I just think there’s a lot of insensitivity that people need to talk about.”

Elcock said Indianola has a lot of work to do in both the city government and the police force to improve the city’s handling of race and diversity issues. She said it would start with the creation of a civil rights commission.

What happened to Indianola’s Civil Rights Commission?

The Indianola Human Relations Commission was dissolved around 1998 according to documents recently uncovered by Assistant Town Clerk Jackie Rafferty.

Pepper said the records found by the city show documents from 1992 to 1998 about the work of the commission and detail their purpose. Waller and Pepper said the group, comprised of six to nine members, was a community outreach organization that wiretapped complaints and allegations of abuse of civil rights and helped the Iowa Civil Rights Commission investigate civil rights violations.

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Waller said there is still nothing formal the city has uncovered that explains why the commission was disbanded.

“After what I’ve seen in the five years I’ve been in Indianola, the city just stopped some things. They were busy doing other things and just stopped doing things,” said he.

Efforts to revive this commission began in the summer of 2020 after mass protests began across the country after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers.

Former Mayor Kelly Shaw, who resigned in October 2020, said he believed former Mayor Jerry Kelley first created the original commission in the 1990s, but his successors, including former Mayor Kenan Bresnan, did not continue it.

Shaw helped organize an event to hear from the public on issues of race and diversity in the city in July 2020. It was moderated by Amy Duncan of the Independent Advocate in Indianola and the Deputy Dean of Simpson College for Multicultural and International Affairs, Walter Lain.

This event was held at the West Hill Brewing Co. in Indianola but was not an official city event. Southall and some members of See Color-Be Change also attended.

Shaw said one purpose of the town hall is to assess whether citizens would support repatriation of a civil rights commission after the death of George Floyd.

Elcock said some participants supported but many others did not.

Tara Elcock, an Indianola attorney, is the co-founder of See Color - Be Change.  This group wants Indianola as a community to fight racism by having healthy and productive conversations about race and diversity in the city government, police department, and school district (January 2021).

“There were people there who said things like ‘This city is not racist’ or ‘There is no racism here,'” Elcock said. “This is so wrong. You may not see it, but that doesn’t mean there is no such thing as racism.”

Discussions about repatriating a civil rights commission were suspended until Southall and the city looked at it again.

Shaw said, besides Southall, city council members have never been interested in his efforts to bring back a civil rights commission. He said he was glad Pepper and Southall are continuing their efforts to reinstate one.

“My first thought is, ‘why did it ever stop?'” Elcock said. “This is something that has always been a problem in our country.”

Where is the city’s commitment?

Indianola City Council passed a resolution recognizing Black History Month at its February 16 session, but it expired in the middle of the month.

Pepper said the decision was made in the middle of the month because it wasn’t worked out before the February 1 meeting. She said the city council felt it was important to officially recognize Black History Month.

“I couldn’t tell it was never recognized, but we went to see it and it hasn’t in the last few years,” she said.

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The city recently began recruiting and appointing new members to the previously defunct Fine Arts and Beautification Commission to bring more public art to Indianola. The council has since appointed six members to this commission without referring to the non-existent civil rights commission.

Councilor Bob Kling, a local artist, led efforts to revitalize the Art Commission. He welcomes the idea of ​​bringing a civil rights commission to Indianola, but feels it would be unfair to compare the two efforts to revitalize both commissions.

Pepper said she agreed that there was a need for public art and it was easier to appoint new members to an existing commission like the Fine Arts and Beautification Commission than to create a new one.

Like the Indianola Community School District staff, Waller said, city staff and police will have the opportunity to take part in the 21-day equity challenge. Outside of this training, he believes the city is doing a lot to ensure that people from different backgrounds are treated fairly, but that there could always be room for improvement.

Create new commission

“I think the purpose of the Civil Rights Commission would be to bring groups together,” said Elcock. “Not just people of color, but women, LGBTQ people and all kinds of groups.”

She said a new civil rights commission should be tasked with stimulating community discussions about inequality and finding solutions.

“Peaceful and constructive discussions. And I think we need to strive to reach out to the younger people in the community in our outreach,” she said. “I would love to see our group branch out into high school.”

Waller said the commission could also take over the responsibility of the old commission and work with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission to investigate civil rights violations in the city.

He said meetings with community members and members of See Color-Be Change will continue as their ideas are exchanged about what a new commission will look like and what the city needs to do to improve its policies.

Elcock said See Color-Be Change is still a fledgling group, but the founders want to continue efforts to bring race and diversity talks to Indianola, but the pandemic is hindering their efforts.

See Color-Be Change is mostly active on Facebook, but Elcock said members want to hold townhalls, make T-shirts and continue advocacy as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“We have a big hill to climb and (Indianola) has a lot of people who, I hate to say, seem clueless and maybe open-minded,” she said.

George Shillcock is the reporter for the Des Moines Register in the Southern Suburbs. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge

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