Four representatives of the NAACP and the U.S. Department of Justice met with Norfolk Mayor Sue Fuchtman Thursday to talk about a controversial float in the Fourth of July parade.
The meeting included the mayor, city administrator Shane Weidner and members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which organized the parade.
The Justice Department official is a member of the Community Relations Service team that handles discrimination disputes.
The float in question depicted a distraught looking mannequin in overalls in front of an outhouse with the words Obama Presidential Library on the side.
"The state area NAACP has received numerous concerns and inquiries about this issue," Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty C. Andrews said in a news release.
Weidner said the meeting was very positive and, for him, more of a listening session.
"We listened to their recommendations and realized that we have folks that are feeling underrepresented in our community," Weidner said. "It was a wake-up call."
On Sunday, the committee that put on the 39th annual Odd Fellows parade said it won't change its policy on entries in the wake of an uproar over the outhouse float. The current policy only bans lewd and sexually explicit floats.
Following the meeting with the NAACP, the Odd Fellows said it will consider adding more diversity to the committee.
The outhouse float won an honorable mention by three volunteer judges and was registered as political satire.
Dale Remmich of rural Norfolk made the float and has said the mannequin depicted him, not President Barack Obama. Remmich has said he made it to represent his frustration with the president’s management of the Veterans Affairs Department.
He did not intend for the float to make a racial statement, he said.
“I’ve got my bibs on, my walker, I’m covering my ears and I’m turning a bit green. I intended it to look like a zombie who has had enough,” Remmich said.
The response to the float has proved a lesson in the power of social media more than anything, Weidner said.
"I feel like people were trying to light the fuse of a bomb buried in Norfolk," he said. "The truth is that bomb is not there — we really have no huge looming problem here."
But the controversy has opened up a discussion, he said.
"Can we get better at serving all of our residents?" he said. "Absolutely. We are starting slow, but we will grow from this."