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On September 7, 2021, the Indianola City Council approved a proposed ordinance creating the City’s Human Relations Commission.  The purpose of this new Commission was to 

…recognize the authority of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and foster use of its procedures and programs; to increase awareness, understanding and appreciation of diversity, equity and inclusion within the community, and to proclaim a public policy of nondiscrimination by securing freedom from discriminatory practices based on a person’s race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, ancestry or disability as defined in Iowa Code Chapter 216 (“Protected Groups”), protecting individual dignity, ensuring their full productive capacities, preserving the public safety, health, and general welfare, and promoting the interests, rights, and privileges of individual citizens within the City. (1)

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On December 6, 2021, a majority of the City Council voted to approve three commissioners to serve various terms on this Commission.

However, there are a number of troubling issues involving the new Human Relations Commission that need to be addressed.

Equity vs. Equality

As stated above, the purpose of the Human Relations Commission included increasing “awareness, understanding and appreciation of diversity, equity and inclusion within the community…”

But as I pointed in more detail in a previous article, there is a problem with the word “equity,” because in the sense of the Human Relations Commission, equity means “racial equity.” (2) Racial equity is about ensuring that the results are the same across all racial groups, meaning people are not to be treated as individuals, but rather as only members of racial groups.  These results cover the spectrum of life’s activities, and if any of the results are not equal across the races, then it is by default the product of racist policies.  The only way to address the “inequity” of such racist policies is through “the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures.”

And who has the over-arching authority and ability to take such “proactive and preventative measures”?  Government, at all levels.  Government policies would then be race-based in order to achieve “racial equity.”

Andrew McCarthy summed it up well when he wrote:

It makes equity the antithesis of equality — the latter being the constitutional principle that government must treat everyone equally under the law, regardless of race…Equality is a social condition. Equity is social engineering…Equality is a defense against government, a mandate that everyone enjoy equal opportunity, free of discriminatory restrictions. Equity is government oppression, unleashing bureaucrats to impose equal results, which is conceivable only if opportunity is subject to discrimination based on race or other government-favored status. (3)

The focus of Indianola’s Human Relations Commission is on racial equity, not equality of individuals.

Residency

On September 19, 2021, Nia Chiaramonte applied to be on the Human Relations Commission by completing a Volunteer Application Form to Serve on a City Board or Commission.  This application form stated, “To be considered, interested individuals must live within City limits…”  This statement was highlighted in yellow.

Chiaramonte does not live within the City limits of Indianola.  Nevertheless, on December 6, 2021, she was approved to become a member of the Human Relations Commission by a City Council vote of 4-2 (Ayes: Hulen, Kling, Marchant, and Southall.  Nays: Parker and Schroder).  This happened for two reasons: erroneous information from a city councilman, and not considering Indianola City Council Resolution 2018-113.

Erroneous Information

During the discussion a City Council member brought up the fact that Chiaramonte did not live within the City limits.  Council Member Greg Marchant replied:

…the actual ordinance [Chapter 29 – Human Relations Commission] allows for someone outside the City limits as long as they’re not taking the place of someone within the City limits.

Marchant’s explanation was accepted by the other City Council members.

I looked at Chapter 29 and did not find what Marchant had claimed(4). So in a December 8th email I asked him where in Chapter 29 he found the above information?  Marchant has not answered my question, and he is no longer on the City Council.  Marchant’s lack of response is not surprising because Chapter 29 says nothing about a special circumstance in which a non-resident can be placed on Indianola’s Human Relations Commission.

City Council Resolution 2018-113

This resolution was passed in a City Council Special Session on June 13, 2018, and titled: Resolution No. 2018-113, Resolution Approving Revised Boards and Commission Membership Policy.  The resolution started out:

The intent of this policy is to provide a process for selecting citizens interested in serving on a City board and/or commission.

The Human Relations Commission was listed as one of those commissions “open to citizens.”  There was no mention of considering non-citizens of Indianola.  The requirement of being an Indianola citizen in order to apply to be a commissioner on the Human Relations Commission is plainly indicated in the wording of this document.

Additionally, in the Agenda package for the City Council’s Special Session on June 13, 2018, under a section title “Information,” we find this statement:

 Also attached is the volunteer application form to serve on a City Board and Commission. This form will be available on the City’s website as a fillable form.

On this volunteer application form was printed: “To be considered, interested individuals must be Indianola residents.”  Simply put, as of 2018 only citizens of Indianola could serve on Indianola’s boards and commissions.   

The current City of Indianola website makes it clear that Resolution No. 2018-113 is still in effect and only citizens of the City of Indianola can serve on City boards and commissions.  This is because on the City website we find an entry titled Boards and Commissions Membership(5).  By that entry is written:

Boards and Commissions [sic] Membership The intent of this policy is to provide a process for selecting citizens [sic] interested in serving on a City board and/or commission [sic]

Clicking on the Boards and Commissions Membership link takes one to a two-page document, dated June 13, 2018, titled Boards and Commissions Membership (6).  This is the afore-mentioned Resolution No. 2018-113.  As can be seen on the City’s website, Resolution No. 2018-113 has not been amended or rescinded.

However, there has been a slight word change on the volunteer application form.  In 2018 the form stated: To be considered, interested individuals must be Indianola residents.  The current form, the one completed by Chiaramonte, states: To be considered, interested individuals must live within City limits; this is highlighted in yellow.  At the Indianola Human Relations Commission website, the link for “Application” takes one to this current application form (7).  And on the second page of this application form is a list of boards, commissions, and committees for which this application is to be used; included in this list is the Human Relations Commission.

So the requirement to live within the City limits of Indianola is still a pre-requisite to apply for the Human Relations Commission.  In spite of this, four City Council members (three of whom are no longer on the City Council) voted to allow a non-resident of the City of Indianola to become a member of that commission.  Nia Chiaramonte is to serve on the Human Relations Commission until July 1, 2022. 

See Color – Be Change

The other two members of the Human Relations Commission, Nick Mahlstadt and Tara Elcock, are among the six co-founders of the group See Color – Be Change.  This group was established in Indianola in 2020.  The other co-founders were: Detavious Smith, Amanda Zwanziger, Mekisha Barnes, and Noelle Nelson.  

In explaining why this group was formed, Nick Mahlstadt

said the group’s founders have family members who are of multiple ethnicities and they’ve all had to speak with principals about smatterings of racism against their kids and families…He said the group decided they should formalize their discussion and began See Color – Be Changed [sic]. The group was named intentionally because its goal is to host conversations specifically about race.  Color blindness is detrimental.  When you have conversations about race with white people in a predominantly white community, being colorblind gives people a chance “to stay [sic] they’re not racist without doing the work of listening to people,” Mahlstadt said. “So we named this group on purpose.” (8)

Co-Founder Detavious Smith also believed skin color was important to recognize:

Smith said they chose See Color-Be Change as the name because he hates when people say they don’t see color.  “I can walk around and say ‘I don’t see color,’ but someone is always going to see my blackness when I walk into a room,” he said. “I need you to be able to see it and I need you to understand it and be okay with it.”  (9)

Smith showed the importance he placed on skin color with his November 21, 2021, Facebook reposting of “White Peoples Thanksgiving Dinner” versus “Black Peoples Thanksgiving Dinter [sic].” (10)

The white people’s dinner lasted from 11 AM to 2 PM, and included 10 different types of food and two beverages (sangria and lemon tea).  There were 4-10 people in attendance, “Not including dogs and cats that sit at the table,” and no prayer.

The black people’s dinner lasted “all damn day” and included over 100 different types of food and 13 types of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.  In attendance were: 

Anybody who likes Seasoning Salt and Ex’s and new boo/bae and a 18 minute prayer over the food/NO DOGS OR CATS ON OR NEAR THE KITCHEN

So compared to the black people’s Thanksgiving dinner, the white people’s Thanksgiving dinner had few in attendance, minimal food items and beverages, no prayer, and allowed dogs and cats to sit at the table.  To this Smith had written, “For real!!!”

It’s interesting that Smith had joined Mahlstadt in claiming that the goals of See Color – Be Change “are not to sow discord and division by talking about race and diversity, but to make Indianola a more inclusive city as it continues to grow.” (11)

I find it hard to imagine that Smith’s endorsement of the idea of White Peoples Thanksgiving Dinner versus Black Peoples Thanksgiving Dinner is going to do anything other than to help sow that discord and division.

Nick Mahlstadt

Mahlstadt’s application to become a member of the Human Relations Commission was approved on December 6, 2021, by a City Council vote of 4-2 (Ayes: Hulen, Kling, Marchant, and Southall.  Nays: Parker and Schroder).  This went into effect immediately and Mahlstadt is to serve on the Human Relations Commission until July 1, 2024. 

But on November 1, 2021, a few weeks before that vote, The Iowa Standard had an article looking at some of Mahlstadt’s posts on his personal Twitter account; here are some of those posts: (12)

  1. In 2019 Mahlstadt quoted a claim from a book that lynching in America “could not have 

endured without the relative silence, if not outright support, of one the most significant institutions in America – the Christian Church.”

  1. In 2020 Mahlstadt shared a Black Lives Matter video and wrote: “This is our revolution. 

Transformation is happening. Change is coming — and we’re only just getting started.”

  1. In 2020 Mahlstadt wrote: “It’s wild to me how racist America remains.”

On November 4, 2021, three days after The Iowa Standard article, I went to Mahlstadt’s Twitter page.  On that page was written:  “These Tweets are protected.  Only approved followers can see @Nickmahlstadt’s Tweets. To request access, click Follow.”  I clicked Follow, but my request is still “Pending.”  Why does a member of the Human Relations Commission want to restrict who can see what he is expressing on his Twitter account?

However, Mahlstadt’s Instagram account is still accessible.  On June 4, 2020, he posted a notice of a rally in Indianola with the heading: “White Supremacy: The Most Dangerous Virus Infecting America Since 1492.” (13) On July 8, 2020, he posted a meme from the Black Lives Matter Global Network about defunding the police. (14)

Considering these divisive statements by Mahlstadt, it is interesting that of the three new commissioners, he was appointed to serve the longest term on the Human Relations Commission. 

Tara Elcock

Elcock’s application to become a member of the Human Relations Commission was approved on December 6, 2021, by a City Council vote of 4-2 (Ayes: Hulen, Kling, Marchant, and Southall.  Nays: Parker and Schroder).  This went into effect immediately and Elcock is to serve on the Human Relations Commission until July 1, 2023. 

What beliefs does Elcock bring to the Human Relations Commission.  Consider these: (15)

Elcock said Indianola has a lot to work on in both city administration and in the police department to improve how the city handles issues of race and diversity. She said it starts with creating a civil rights commission.

“There were people there who said things like, ‘This town isn’t racist’ or ‘There is no racism here,’” Elcock said. “That’s so false. You may not see it but that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist.”

“I think the purpose of the civil rights commission would be to bring groups together,” Elcock said.

“We have a large hill to climb and (Indianola) has a lot of people who, I hate to say it, but seem unaware [of racism] and maybe close-minded,” she said.

It appears that Elcock believes there is a large amount of racism in Indianola, and she believes there are many folks in Indianola who deny it or are simply closed minded about the subject.

Questions

Here are questions that should have been asked of the three Indianola Human Relations Commissioners before the December 6th City Council vote was taken:

Nia Chiaramonte

Knowing that you do not live in the City of Indianola, why did you complete a Volunteer Application Form for the Indianola Human Relations Commission that clearly stated you had to live within the city limits of Indianola in order to apply?

Nick Mahlstadt

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the posting by your See Color – Be Change co-founder

Detavious Smith about the difference between a White Thanksgiving Dinner and a Black Thanksgiving Dinner?  Please explain.

  1. Considering your Twitter and Instagram postings, please explain how you can be objective 

toward Christians, police, and those who think America is not a racist country and/or do not believe that White Supremacy is the “Most Dangerous Virus Infecting America Since 1492”?

  1. Why did you restrict access to your personal Twitter account after some of your tweets were 

mentioned in The Iowa Standard?  Do you think this is an appropriate action for one who is a member of the Human Relations Commission?  Please explain.

Tara Elcock

  1. You stated that the purpose of the “civil rights commission” (now known as the 

Human Relations Commission) was to bring groups together.  With this in mind:

Do you agree or disagree with the posting by your See Color – Be Change co-founder Detavious Smith about the difference between a White Thanksgiving Dinner and a Black Thanksgiving Dinner?  Please explain.

Do you agree or disagree with the statements by Nick Mahlstadt, your fellow Commissioner and See Color – Be Change co-founder, about the importance of the Christian Church in the perpetuation of lynching in the United States, that police should be defunded, and that White Supremacy is the “Most Dangerous Virus Infecting America Since 1492”?  Please explain. 

  1. You stated that a lot of people in Indianola seem to be unaware of racism in that City and 

may be close minded.  What is the basis for this claim?  Please explain.

  1. You stated that racism exists in Indianola.  How did you quantify the extent of this racism?  

Please explain.

And here are two questions for the newly constituted Indianola City Council and the new Mayor:

  1. The current focus of the Human Relations Commission is on “equity,” that is treating people 

as members of racial categories instead of individuals.  Wouldn’t it be better to have the focus of the Commission on “equality” and treat people as individuals?

2. Why does the City of Indianola need a Human Relations Commission?

Conclusion

As we have seen, there are a number of issues involving Indianola’s new Human Relations Commission that need to be addressed.

With the start of 2022 Indianola has a new Mayor, and three new members on the City Council.  In their actions regarding the Human Relations Commission, I hope they are not guided by those who categorize people by race and focus on skin color, but rather are guided by these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream, speech given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., August 28, 1963.

Dr. Stephen M. Kirby is the author of six books about Islam. His latest book is Islamic Doctrine versus the U.S. Constitution: The Dilemma for Muslim Public Officials.

1 http://www.indianolaiowa.gov/1045/Human-Relations-Commission

2 Steve Kirby, “Indianola Human Relations Commission, Quo Vadis?” The Iowa Standard, November 14, 2021, https://theiowastandard.com/indianola-human-relations-commission-quo-vadis/.

3 Andrew C. McCarthy, “Merrick Garland Misleads on ‘Equity’ and ‘Equality,’” National Review, February 23, 2021, https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/02/merrick-garland-misleads-on-equity-and-equality/.

4 https://codelibrary.amlegal.com/codes/indianolaia/latest/indianola_ia/0-0-0-742

5https://www.indianolaiowa.gov/Search?searchPhrase=citizen%20commission&pageNumber=1&perPage=10&departmentId=-1

6 https://www.indianolaiowa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/8170/Boards-and-Commissions-Membership?bidId=

7 https://www.indianolaiowa.gov/1045/Human-Relations-Commission

8 Paige Godden, “New Indianola group, See Color – Be Change, puts focus on diversity and inclusion,” Indianola Independent Advocate, December 8, 2020, https://www.indianola-ia.com/news/new-indianola-group-see-color—be-change-puts-focus-on-diversity-and-inclusion/article_e448319c-399d-11eb-ad59-df3a3457e5d4.html.

9 George Shillcock, “Indianola Faces Change: How one Indianola group is trying to make this small Iowa town inclusive amid diversity,” Des Moines Register, February 5, 2021, https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/local/indianola/2021/02/05/indianola-see-color-be-change-improve-race-relations-diversity-city-schools/6547246002/.

10 https://www.facebook.com/detavious.smith.  In case there are problems accessing Smith’s Facebook page, a copy of Smith’s reposting of these Thanksgiving dinners is available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1s3AdVgOS0KPUgL9AkogFpS1mDmW5V5RE/view?usp=sharing.

11 “Indianola Faces Change: How one Indianola group is trying to make this small Iowa town inclusive amid diversity.”

12 Jacob Hall, “BLM activist running for Indianola School Board says police responsible for ‘modern day lynching.’” The Iowa Standard, November 1, 2021, https://theiowastandard.com/blm-activist-running-for-indianola-school-board-says-police-responsible-for-modern-day-lynching/.

13 In case there are problems accessing Mahlstadt’s Instagram account, here is a copy of that post: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tAqdmCydxrdd50LILwu-PYHZibQrbgKG/view?usp=sharing.

14 In case there are problems accessing Mahlstadt’s Instagram account, here is a copy of that post: https://drive.google.com/file/d/13ID4QHo_SJOLIMQlvMJmvYQm6jxEE-Qf/view?usp=sharing.

15 George Shillcock, “Indianola Faces Change: Is this small Iowa town fully committed to civil rights?,” Des Moines Register, February 19, 2021, https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/local/indianola/2021/02/19/indianola-race-relations-civil-rights-commission-pamela-pepper-mayor/4331265001/.

Author: Steve Kirby

Dr. Stephen M. Kirby is the author of six books about Islam; the latest one is Islamic Doctrine versus the U.S. Constitution: The Dilemma for Muslim Public Officials.

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