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Iowa City tables vote to remove Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner over disparaging comments

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The chair of Iowa City’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is in hot water over disparaging comments she made in a now-deleted podcast. But for now, it appears she’ll keep her seat.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague called a special meeting Thursday morning solely to vote on whether to remove Amel Ali, the chair of the city's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, over comments she made disparaging, among other people, Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter. After a long public comment, the council was split and decided to table the issue until the next regular meeting.

The inciting issue was a number of comments Ali made on Rock Hard Caucus, a local podcast that features commentary on Iowa news, politics and culture. In the now-deleted episode – a portion of which Teague played during the special meeting – Ali voiced her frustration about working with older Black activists in Iowa. In it, she calls Porter a slur, implying that she sells out other Black people in service of white people. Both Ali and Porter identify as Black.

The Press-Citizen reported that a minor altercation occurred Tuesday night after a City Council work session. In it, Porter was approached by members of the TRC about setting a time to talk and a shouting match ensued. Porter can be heard screaming expletives on the Zoom footage from Tuesday’s regular city council meeting.

Commissioner Clif Johnson said taking issue with Ali’s use of vulgarity, required the same attention to Porter’s behavior Tuesday evening. This was later echoed by council member Laura Bergus who called the incident “unprofessional.”

“It was a lot of cussing and a lot of things that were just unnecessary in every shape or form,” Johnson said. “And in that same breath, we cannot say that we have an issue with Amel (Ali) and now this is how we are going to handle it. That’s inappropriate.”

Council members Shawn Harmsen, Pauline Taylor, Megan Alter, as well as the mayor, all agreed that there needed to be some action taken in response to Ali’s comments. Taylor offered that Ali could be removed as chair – though the TRC members are vested with the ability to choose their own leader.

The opposition to Ali’s removal found their voice in council members Laura Bergus, Janice Weiner and John Thomas. They argued that it should be handled by the commission without council involvement and certainly shouldn’t be dealt with so quickly. They proposed a restorative process, with the TRC doing the bridge-building work the commission is tasked with in the first place.

“Imagine if we were to take this opportunity to model this to the community. Imagine how powerful that could be,” Weiner said.

It was Alter who eventually moved that the item be tabled until the council’s August 16 meeting.

The TRC will meet again Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at Iowa City Hall.

Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa