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Human Rights Commission appointments have City Hall buzzing



This news story was published on January 6, 2011.
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All is not going smoothly down at City Hall with the pending re-appointment of three Human Rights Commissioners. NorthIowaToday.com has learned that Mayor Eric Bookmeyer has no intention of re-appointing three Commissioners whose terms are due to expire.|NorthIowaToday.com has learned that City Hall is buzzing over the re-appointment of three Human Rights Commissioners.

In a memo from Human Rights Department Director Lionel Foster to Mayor Eric Bookmeyer on December 14, Foster submitted the names of three active Commissioners for re-appointment to three-year terms. Apparently, the names on the memo were incorrect, and the three Commissioners actually named should have been Dennis Wilson, Cameron Sarjeant, and Christine Friederich.

NorthIowaToday.com has learned that some members of the City Council and other officials are up in arms over the delay from Mayor Bookmeyer to put the re-appointment of these three Commissioners up for vote on a City Council agenda. In fact, the three re-appointees may not keep their spots on the Commission at all, as NorthIowaToday.com was also told today by City Councilman Don Nelson that the Mayor has no intention of re-appointing any of the three to the Commission.

“I was just told that the Mayor will not be bringing these three Commission members in front of the Council to be re-appointed to the Commission, due to their age,” Nelson said. “Now I am wondering if he wants me off the Council due to my age,” Nelson continued.

NorthIowaToday.com spoke with Kathy Loeckle this afternoon, Chairwoman of the Mason City Human Rights Commission. She told NorthIowaToday.com that Mayor Bookmeyer told her that he “wants younger people with a fresher perspective” on the Commission. “He also wants to interview any new candidates, limit them to one term, and allow them to sit on only one board or commission at a time,” she said.

Loeckle explained that the Human Rights Commission is a “working board” with no pay that entails a serious time commitment from its members. “There’s lots of paperwork, training, meetings and hearings that are on-going. Meetings are up to two hours long and hearings can be over six hours long, sometimes eight hours.”

Don Nelson said this Commission needs people with wisdom and experience on it. “Young people may have those qualities, but so do older people, why exclude them for that?” he said.

The Mason City Human Rights Commission is nine members. The Mason City Human Rights Department currently serves Mason City and other nearby areas, recently taking action on a case involving Oak Haven Mobile Home Park in Clear Lake. That case involved the Mason City Human Rights Department investigating the mobile home park management regarding the eviction of families with children from the park.

NorthIowaToday.com did speak with Mayor Bookmeyer on Thursday afternoon and he explained that the comment about wanting younger people on the Commission was taken out of context. “I just want to expand the pool of persons to select from,” when choosing potential Commissioners, he said.

There are also grumbings in City Hall that the Mayor wants to close the Human Rights Department and wants to load the Commission with people who may feel the same way. NorthIowaToday.com is told that the Human Rights Department could be closed up by the Human Rights Commission, by voting the department closed. We asked the Mayor and all six Councilmembers if there was any truth to the rumor of the Mayor wanting the Human Rights Department closed.

City Councilman Jeff Marsters said “I have the same question! Just wonder, if it’s related to someone planning elimination of this department in the city like was attempted last year. I guess, only the mayor can give you a true answer.”

Max Weaver told NorthIowaToday.com “‘The mayor appoints Council approves’ Typically If the Director recommends someone or recommends a reappointment the mayor usually goes along with it. I’ve worked with 5 mayors and watched how 3 other mayors have handled these appointments. The delay or putting off is more about control. I’m sure Mayor Bookmeyer want’s his people put in place, thats pretty typical too, it builds political capital. Also, the insiders (politicaly engaged person’s) know this mayor is not a fan of the city’s having a human rights department. To my knowleged the Council has said no to the mayor’s recommendation only 3 times in 12 years.”

Mason City Councilman Scott Tornquist disagreed, saying “Nobody tried to ‘eliminate’ the Human Right Commission or the Human Rights Department last year. There was an effort to cut the budget of the Human Rights Department, cuts which would have brought the MC Human Right Department more in line with Human Rights Departments of peer groups around the state.”

Mayor Bookmeyer gave NorthIowaToday.com an official statement, saying “I have zero intention of ‘pushing’ for the elimination of the Human Rights Commission or Human Rights Department. I actually attended their meeting today. There is no question, for me, that the commission and department helps people preserve our citizen’s civil rights and saves our courts time that they don’t have.”

NorthIowaToday.com will continue to follow this developing situation, as the three Commission positions will have to be filled in the near future.

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