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Sixth Member Of Cedar Falls Human Rights Commission Resigns, Slamming Board For 'Inaction'

Another member of the Cedar Falls Human Rights Commission has resigned, the sixth in recent months to do so. The resignation of board member Evan Renfro came just two weeks after he was appointed to the embattled commission, which has been plagued by turnover and core questions about its responsibilities going forward.

The turmoil comes after city officials changed the board’s mission from investigating discrimination allegations to focusing on outreach and education.

In a scathing resignation letter addressed to Mayor Robert Green and members of the city council, Renfro lambasted both the commission and city leaders as seized by inaction and unable to address “real issues of racism” in the northeast Iowa city of about 41,000.

“There are real issues of racism and other serious human rights concerns in this great city. Unfortunately, the commission and the senior most level of leadership in the city, remain caught in a vortex of impotency and inaction,” Renfro’s letter reads in part.

Renfro made clear he believes the issues extend beyond the Human Rights Commission.

“It is a sad time in Cedar Falls: devoid of mayoral leadership; bereft of humor; self-serious and confused; pedantic and shallow,” Renfro wrote. “The commission I was appointed to is unlikely to make any level of impact; [its] dysfunction is total.”

Green for his part issued a statement accepting Renfro's resignation and wishing him well. This latest resignation comes just days after commission Chair Nicole Winther resigned her post, stepping down after serving on the board for 17 years.

In her resignation letter dated Jan. 30, Winther didn’t specify precisely why she was leaving but hinted at the board’s efforts to transition into its new mission of focusing on “advocacy, education and outreach” rather than investigating complaints.

In his response to Winther’s resignation, Green noted that “[t]urbulence is to be expected during a time of significant change”. Green said he does see a lack of urgency among some in his community to address civil rights concerns, an issue on which he says Americans are “clearly split along partisan lines”.

Green points to a survey by the Pew Research Center which found that while some 72% of Democrats said that “addressing issues around race” should be a top priority for President Joe Biden and Congress this year, only 24 percent of Republicans agreed.

“I’m not saying this to stoke party divisions further, only to appreciate that a significant percentage of Americans don’t believe that racism is a problem worth addressing right now. I disagree,” Green said in a written statement dated Feb. 1. “It was a problem worth addressing 400 years ago, and a hundred years ago, and today, and in all the years ahead. Racism might not affect you day in and day out, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that it can be safely ignored.”

In addition to the recent appointments of new board members, the commission is also slated to soon have a new staff liaison, a transition that Green said “had been planned since last year."

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area has long been plagued by systemic segregation and some of the most pronounced racial disparities in the country. In 2018, the outlet 24/7 Wall St. named Waterloo-Cedar Falls the worst metro area in the country to be Black, based on a host of “race-based gaps in socioeconomic outcomes," including income, poverty, educational attainment, unemployment, incarceration and mortality.

“No U.S. metro area has larger social and economic disparities along racial lines than Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa,” the 2018 analysis read.

The commission’s next meeting is slated for Feb. 8.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter