The tension was thick in the Mason City Room Tuesday night.
Mayor Eric Bookmeyer and the City Council were set to discuss his methodology of appointing commissioners to the Mason City Human Rights Commission.| The tension was thick in the Mason City Room Tuesday night. Mayor Eric Bookmeyer and the City Council were set to discuss his methodology of appointing commissioners to the Mason City Human Rights Commission. Throughout the night, testy exchanges were traded between Council members, the Mayor and even some citizens in the audience.
The issue was added to the agenda by Councilman Don Nelson late last week. Nelson and others at City Hall had in recent weeks expressed concern over how the Mayor was handling making appointments to the commission. Currently there are three vacancies on the Human Rights Commission, which looks into possible discrimination cases in Mason City and the surrounding area.
In addition to how the Mayor makes his appointments, there have been accusations of age preferences by the Mayor towards adding younger people to the commission, and rumors that Bookmeyer and some Council members want the Human Rights Department and Commission shut down.
Bookmeyer denies wanting the Human Rights Department and its Commission closed, but has publicly stated that he is searching for “young talent” with “fresh ideas.”
These issues helped set the stage for Tuesday night’s meeting, and fueled the debate throughout the evening.
Before the meeting started, Councilman Don Nelson told NorthIowaToday.com “the Mayor isn’t going to let me speak on this subject tonight.” When asked why, Nelson replied “he doesn’t want this on the agenda.” Curiously, the agenda item was #22 on the agenda but was skipped over by the Mayor, who runs the meetings, typically on strict time limits and decorum. He went from item #21 to #23, and then closed the meeting with item #22, which was slated to be a discussion on appointments to the Human Rights Commission.
As the Council meeting got underway, several citizens made comments in support of the Commission, while some senior citizens made comments that they were offended by the Mayor’s remarks regarding age in his search to fill vacancies on boards and commissions. Pat Steinfort, a Mason City senior citizen, remarked during the public comments that “I’ve lived here since 1957, I like Mason City. I had considered filling out an application… but since I’m retired and old, I might as well not bother.”
The Mayor did clear the air on how he is handling making appointments to the Human Rights Commission, saying that he is doing his job. “I’ve been accused of having the audacity of doing my job.”
Bookmeyer outlined how the city code gives the Mayor the power of making appointments to the Human Rights Commission (who then have to be OK’d by the commission and then approved by the City Council).
He also said that he did not receive any applications until January 26th, and that only one of those applicants was truly qualified, according to his standards, to be appointed to the Commission. Bookmeyer says he will not appoint anyone to boards and commissions who does not live in Mason City or that serves on another board. Further, he requires a formal application to be turned in to him, and then an interview.
Bookmeyer also noted that he received a memo from the Human Rights Department offering up applicants who were already on the Commission.
Bookmeyer took issue with the funding increases at the Human Rights Department, saying “I question the quality of work given the resources provided to the Commission.” Bookmeyer also noted the backlog of cases that the commission is handling, and questioned how the commission was choosing cases to pursue. “All discrimination is unfair, but all things unfair are not discrimination.”
Watch a video of the Mayor’s speech regarding how he is going about making appointments to the Human Rights Commission and detailing his concerns with how it is doing its job. Video includes all Council feedback and public comments on the matter Tuesday night.