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Chair resigns during heated Iowa City reconciliation commission meeting

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Royceann Porter
Royceann Porter during an interview with KWWL in January 2020

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - The Ad Hoc Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Iowa City got new leadership Thursday night, after a heated conversation about the body's trajectory and ideal makeup.

The commission was authorized by the City Council in September as a tool to investigate claims of racism, provide reparations for groups that have been discriminated against and do community outreach.

The group has been meeting since late December but commissioners say they have been held up by several arguments.

Royceann Porter stepped down as chairperson for the commission Thursday night, after one commissioner and members of the public accused her of inappropriate behavior.

Community member Nicolas Theisen accused Porter of silencing members of the public during the City Council meeting of February 16.

In a recording of the meeting, Theisen called members of the City Council "cowards" and "incompetent" for not listening to protest group The Iowa Freedom Riders in their police reform discussions.

Two speakers later, Porter said she was proud of what the city council had done, such as adding mental health workers to police calls.

She addressed Theisen, saying, "For anybody to come on here and try to put these people down and call them cowards, no. You are the coward. You are the cowards because you can't even face the people to stand up for what they have stood up for for us."

Commissioner Mohamed Traore also said he wants the commission to be majorly comprised of young people, not the older generation.

Porter is well-established as a leader of the Black community in Iowa City. She's the vice chair of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the president of the Iowa City Black Voices Project.

As a motion was brought to have a vote of no confidence against her as chair, she said she would rather resign.

Traore was elected as chair and commissioner Amel Ali was elected as vice chair in the following minutes. Porter will stay on as a regular commissioner.

"This commission has plenty of work to do to reconcile itself to you, the members of the public," commissioner Kevin John Rivera said after the vote. "It's going to be really hard for us but that's okay because I still think we can get there."

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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