Commission looks at listening posts

BY BEN MARKS | FEBRUARY 18, 2015 5:00 AM

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As a result of recent high-profile national events such as those in Ferguson, Missouri, local officials are working to develop ways for the City Council to receive public input regarding local racial disparities more efficiently.

Such efforts could include council “listening posts,” staff roundtables, and expanding “Coffee with a Cop.”

In its monthly meeting, the Johnson County Human Rights Commission examined the listening posts, discussed methods of improvements for them, and provided recommendations to the city councilors.

“If we sincerely want to be successful, we have to lay a foundation. We have multiple minority populations in the Iowa City area, and we have to start the foundation by identifying who the key players or leaders are in each of the communities,” said commission member Orville Townsend. “… We need to first communicate with them.”

The commission’s suggestions included having at least two members of the Human Rights Commission join city councilors during their listening posts or creating the posts with designated topics to avoid losing focus on relevant issues.

In addition, the commission also recommended adding housing choice vouchers as a protected characteristic.

Gender, race, sexuality, and ethnicity are all protected characteristics, and landlords cannot refuse to rent to people solely because of these aspects.

If the council follows the commission’s recommendations, housing vouchers would obtain the same protected status.

Bad credit or rental history would still remain valid reasons for refusing to rent, however.

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