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Moving forward with the City of Ottumwa’s Human Rights Commission

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 10:30 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - Tuesday saw a meeting over 90 minutes long as City leaders and a dozen community members talked about how to make a human rights commission a reality in Ottumwa.

A local human rights commission already existed in Ottumwa, about 16 years ago, but City Administrator Phil Rath says it faded out as more and more issues were handled by the state. “There was less work that the commission at the time was able to take on.”

Currently, the Iowa Department of Human Rights handles Ottumwa’s civil rights complaints - the majority of which deal with alleged workplace discrimination. A local branch would not only take over investigation some of those claims, but also potentially deal with more proactive work, like educating and informing. That, Rath says, being one thing they needed to decide at the meeting. “Was it going to be more of a human rights commission...or was it going to be more focused on the civil rights?”

Human rights deals with systematic, overarching problems, while civil rights deals more with enforcement to cases. And Tuesday night’s meeting showed people wanted both - a hybrid system of the two.

However, Rath says that still leaves an issue - would under-represented Ottumwans come to a city body with problems? To answer, that, he’s been talking with community members, including Ottumwans for Racial Justice, LULAC, and O! Pride.

Rath says they’ve been asking those organizations questions the City can’t answer. “What do you see? Where can we improve this? Where are we missing?”

Cara Galloway, a LULAC member, has been meeting with Rath. She brought up the importance of local commission at Tuesday’s meeting. “Let’s shop local, let’s keep this local, let’s bring the money into Ottumwa. So why wouldn’t we do that with something as important as a human rights commission?”

And Rath agrees - wanting to fill the commission with diverse faces to represent this diverse city.

“If we can do those things and reach the communities where they are, on their time, then hopefully we’re going to build that trust.”

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