City to dissolve Human Rights Commission

The Marshalltown Human Rights Commission may be nearing its final days after being adopted in 1984.

The Marshalltown City Council discussed repealing Chapter 94 in its code of ordinances requiring the city to fill a Human Rights Commission to investigate complaints of violations to the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Cities with a population of more than 29,000 or more are required to have a local civil rights group but Marshalltown’s population is 27,951 according to the newest census data.

City Administrator Jessica Kinser said the main reasons to dissolve the commission are it is difficult to find people to serve on it and without members it is difficult to adequately investigate complaints.

“We really have not had an active commission for probably more than five years,” she said.

Kinser acknowledged Pastor Gregg Davison of Trinity Lutheran Church is the lone member of the commission at the moment.

“It’s something that’s been near and dear to his heart for many years,” she said. “The Iowa Civil Rights Commission does call him when they receive complaints of active discrimination in Marshalltown.”

Kinser clarified the dissolution of the commission does not mean members of protected classes — based on race, heritage, gender and sexual orientation — are not served or represented if complaints are made. All complaints of Civil Rights violations and discrimination are reported to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

“I am very cautious and careful about the perception of taking an avenue away and taking protections away from the community,” Kinser said. “Over the last few months there’s been more conversations I’ve been involved in about diversity, equity and inclusion in the community that have had a very positive tone. That is a string to start to tug on that I definitely think we should have more conversation about in our next strategic planning session.”

Kinser said larger cities often have a staff member assigned to handling human rights issues which may exist within the city’s policies. Those staff members try to remove anything in policy that could create inequity in the community.

“That’s something we as an organization should start looking at too,” she said. “This is something where a number of organizations are already doing this internally. I do think there is an opportunity to do something at a community level to make sure that we are providing an environment where people feel they are welcome; they feel like they are treated equally; they feel they can be included in decisions that are being made.”

The council directed staff to bring back a resolution dissolving the commission.

The city council approved using $29,500 in council-designated Local Option Sales Tax for the Riverview Park Master Plan.

Previous plans for the park were changed greatly when about 400 trees were damaged in the derecho in 2020. The city unanimously voted to contract Bolton and Menk to analyze the park and develop concepts for its improvement.

“We have a different situation than what we had when those plans were first designed,” Kinser said. “We thought that this was now the time before coming to you with a request for future borrowing to look at what is a new vision for Riverview Park; knowing it’s our biggest and probably most important park in the community.”

She said the target for receiving concepts from the engineering firm is January with the intent of including the park in next year’s capital improvement plan discussions.

The Marshall County Arts and Cultural Alliance is also eyeing a new master plan. Director Amber Danielson discussed the pros of creating a coordinated plan with the alliance, city and other organizations in and around the community.

“The Arts and Culture Master Plan will align with and contribute to the influential plans and organizations already guiding Marshalltown,” Danielson said. “Plans like the Downtown Master Plan, parks and recreation plan, trails placemaking plan, the Highway 14 corridor all name beautification and public art as priorities and strong recommendations.”

Danielson said the plan would be an actionable tool used throughout the city to achieve the city’s overall strategic goal of adding more public art.

The Alliance requested a $5,000 contribution from the city to go toward the development of the plan. It has already raised $14,000.

Councilor Gary Thompson asked whether the plan would include murals on businesses. Danielson answered this would be just one of many ways art would continue to be implemented.

The council agreed to include a resolution on the next council agenda approving a $5,000 contribution from council-designated LOST toward the plan.