Washington for Justice asks council to create committee

WASHINGTON — Washington for Justice presented its proposal for a new city committee, with a focus on diversity and inclusion while reviewing city policies.

During the Tuesday night City Council meeting, Mayor Jaron Rosien said he would like the council to have a unanimous vote to create this committee.

It is not a legal requirement, and Rosien said on some issues it’s OK to vote differently, but on this particular issue he wants to make the decision together.

“It is my desire and requirement because I believe that in this case we have to find our common ground to be successful,” Rosien said.

Dan Henderson presented the proposal. In it, the group talks about different forms of racism and how the new committee would function.

The newly proposed committee would be called, IDEA – or inclusion, diversity, equity and accountability committee. The group would like the committee to report to the City Council.

In the plan, the mayor and council would appoint members, suggest areas of focus and consider recommendations. The committee would review city policies, identify educational events and make recommendations to the council.

Millie Youngquist said she appreciated how the group has been objective, organized and respectful. She asked why the group wants the city to run it and not create a nonprofit organization.

Henderson said there are two reasons why it is better suited as a council-run committee.

He said the nonprofit would have no authority to make changes to ordinances and being housed under the council creates a sense of legitimacy.

He said it would send a message to the community that the council stands for what the group wishes to change.

City Council members asked questions of the group such as how many members the committee would have and how they would encourage people of color to join the committee.

When discussing the experiences of non-white residents, Washington for Justice members said there are individuals who have spoken about events they have experienced, but don’t feel comfortable publicly sharing the comments for fear of retaliation. Henderson said the committee will be the bridge between the community and council.

In the presentation, Washington for Justice gave two examples of times residents have experienced racism within the county. Vani Tschantz said she has been followed in stores by clerks, stared down and been called the N-word.

“I have been talked down to and treated like I don’t matter, but my white counterparts are treated with respect,” Tschantz said.

Lori Minor, a now resident of Iowa City, said when her family adopted a Haitian daughter in 2010, they changed their view of Kalona.

“We were repeatedly asked why we wouldn’t adopt a person from the United States,” Minor said.

Other attendees, both in-person and virtual, spoke in favor of the committee.

Rosien said the council and the community made major progress during the meeting, moving beyond “finger wagging” and blame and instead toward shared goals.

The proposal will be discussed at a future City Council meeting.