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CF Human Rights hopes to fill vacancies, but worries about complaints languishing

CEDAR FALLS — Though they’re no longer investigating complaints themselves, eventually nine members of the city’s human rights commission will assist residents in filing and appealing complaints of discrimination to the state’s civil rights board.

But with four vacancies to fill and the remaining members not yet trained, at least one Cedar Falls Human Rights Commission member is worried one resident isn’t getting the help they need in time.

Commissioner Susan Langan said at Monday night’s meeting she received an email from a woman who knows “a person who needs help right now with getting a complaint in,” Langan said.

“Evidently, she had already submitted it (to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission), but has not gotten any kind of reply,” Langan said. “I didn’t know for sure what to tell her.”

Colleen Sole, the city’s personnel specialist and commission liaison, said Langan could send information to her for now, since time was a factor.

“She only has a specific amount of time to appeal that,” if the complaint was decided, Sole said, usually around 10 days. “It is very time-sensitive, and (the ICRC is) not very forgiving.”

Commission member Teri Jorgensen asked Sole if that’s how she wanted members to address all complaints.

“At this time, if it’s a claim, direct them to me and I can direct them to the right person — or direct them specifically to the ICRC,” Sole said.

The Human Rights Commission’s mission was officially changed by the City Council on Jan. 4 to remove the duty of directly investigating complaints.

The commission will now assist residents in submitting those complaints to the ICRC, and refocus on “outreach, education and advocacy,” according to the new mission decided on by the commission.

That refocus had divided the commission in the past year, resulting in four commission members stepping down.

Mayor Rob Green, who attended Monday’s meeting, told members he was planning to interview candidates for three of the four vacancies by phone, and appoint them at an upcoming council meeting for approval.

“Fingers crossed we can get it done for this next council meeting” on Jan. 19, Green said.

Green told The Courier the appointments may be delayed until February if he can’t reach the candidates in time. He said the selection committee was selecting the three and would not know who they were until later this week.

Commission members also must be trained on how to properly and legally assist residents in filing claims to the ICRC, but are waiting on that training until the three new members are seated, possibly not until next month.

Commission chair Nicole Winther noted she would “love” having all commission members receive the same training, and floated the possibility of an on-call calendar for members to be able to help when complaints come in.

“Some of these things you can answer, some of these things you cannot advise on,” Sole said of the training. “I think our job is to organize their thoughts.”

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Reporter covering Waterloo, Black Hawk Co. and politics

UNI political communications/journalism grad. Alum of The Calumet (MCC), The Northern Iowan (UNI), Fergus Falls (Minn.) Daily Journal and KWWL. 4-time award-winner while at The Courier. Interested in exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account.

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