Lawsuit alleges Cedar Rapids discriminates against whites in choosing board members

By: - July 11, 2022 12:19 pm

A lawsuit against the City of City Rapids alleges that racial requirements for members of the police Citizen Review Board are discriminatory. (Photo by Getty Images)

A Cedar Rapids man is suing the city and mayor over an ordinance that requires five members of the police department’s Citizen Review Board to be people of color.

Kevin Wymore, a retired public health analyst, alleges that in February 2021, the City of Cedar Rapids adopted an ordinance establishing an independent, nine-member Citizen Review Board, with each member appointed by the mayor to staggered three-year terms.

The board is tasked with reviewing quarterly reports from the chief of police that include racial and ethnic data related to traffic stops by police officers and citizen complaints about police officers.

The ordinance requires the board to “include a minimum of five voting members who identify as people of color.” In addition, three voting members are to be selected from applications submitted by individuals who work for nonprofits focused on advocacy of, and racial justice for, under-represented citizens of Cedar Rapids.

Wymore, who is white, applied for a position on the board when its members were originally selected in May 2021. He holds a master’s degree in public policy and, in his lawsuit, says he is a volunteer teacher of English to adults who have recently come to the United States from West Africa.

He was passed over for membership on the board, and alleges he later asked Brad Hart, then the mayor, why he had not been chosen. The lawsuit alleges Hart indicated “there were only a few spots for the general public” on the board, suggesting that as a white individual Wymore was not considered for the five positions on the board reserved for persons of color.

In January 2022, Wymore applied for one of two vacancies on the board that he says were caused by “persistent nonattendance” by some of members. Wymore was rejected a second time. The lawsuit alleges a city official later informed him by email that he was not considered by Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell because he had no experience working with, or volunteering with, an organization for the city’s underserved populations.

Wymore’s lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges the city’s ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

“It makes no legal difference that the racial discrimination imposed by the City of Cedar Rapids might be claimed to be benign or motivated by ‘good’ reasons,” the lawsuit claims. “Under the ordinance, individuals who do not identify as people of color are categorically excluded from consideration for five of the nine positions on the board.”

The lawsuit seeks a judicial declaration that the ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution, as well as an order requiring the city to disband the board and reconstitute its membership without regard to race.

Wymore’s attorney is Alan R. Ostergren, a former Muscatine County prosecutor who now runs the Kirkwood Institute, a politically conservative organization that has taken the state to court on other issues. Gov. Kim Reynolds recently asked Ostergren to help represent the state in efforts to restrict abortion in Iowa through legislation that predates the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Ostergren also has filed a lawsuit challenging gender balance requirements for members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission.

The city has yet to respond to the lawsuit. The city attorney, Vanessa Chavez, could not be reached for comment.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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