Dubuque Human Rights Department renamed; director transitions to new role

Dubuque’s Human Rights Department has undergone a significant change this week, resulting in a new name and new leadership.

City Council members this week voted to officially change the name of the department to the Office of Equity and Human Rights.

Additionally, the department’s director, Kelly Larson, is transitioning to a new role: development and training manager in the city’s Human Resources Department.

Collins Eboh, who formerly served as organizational equity coordinator, will serve as acting director of the Office of Equity and Human Rights. The other two staff members also will be given revised titles.

The name change comes amid a shift in focus for the city department, which previously focused on addressing and investigating reported human rights complaints made by residents.

Larson said that while the city will continue to investigate human rights complaints through the city attorney’s office, the Office of Equity and Human Rights will take a more active role in advancing initiatives designed to promote equity within the city and the community, though, it still will accept and file complaints of discrimination.

“Now, we are in this position of looking directly at disparities and trying to address them at a broader level,” Larson said. “Before, we were just addressing individual complaints, but, now we are looking more at what is driving those complaints.”

Larson said the newly-named city office is in the midst of several initiatives to improve equity, including working with city police officers on hate and bias incident response. The department also aims to work with targeted populations on heart-related health issues, a focus inspired by the disproportionate number of cardiac arrest incidents in the Marshallese and Black communities.

Larson stressed that the new role of the Office of Equity and Human Rights will be separate from the efforts of the newly formed Office of Shared Prosperity, which will focus directly on implementing the proposals found in the city’s Equitable Poverty Reduction and Prevention Plan. The two offices will collaborate, however.

“The Office of Shared Prosperity is looking at overseeing this larger plan about poverty reduction,” Larson said. “This new office will prioritize on-the-ground projects that address equity and human rights in the community.”

City Council Member Brad Cavanagh said he believes the transition of the office is a natural next step.

“This seems to me to be the progression of the department,” Cavanagh said. “I think it makes sense if you look at the work they have been doing over the last decade.”

Reached by the TH on Tuesday afternoon, Council Member David Resnick was in the middle of a work commitment and not immediately available to comment.

Shelley Stickfort, director of human resources for the city, said it has not been determined if the city will hire an employee to replace Larson in the Office of Equity and Human Rights, but there will be a review of the current structure of the department.

“There is going to be an evaluation of the department and determination of what the next steps should be,” Stickfort said.