Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Muscatine City Council Begins Impeachment Effort Against City's Mayor // Updated Report: $100,000 in City Legal Fees May Be Used to Justify Impeachment Effort // More Updates... // Updated on 05/11/17: Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson Has Been Removed from Office by Unanimous Vote of her Accusers, the Muscatine City Council // Updated on 06/16/17: Court Reinstates Diana Broderson as Mayor

(Originally written on 01/13/17): This is interesting. Last night, the mostly Republican City Council in Muscatine, IA, unanimously approved impeachment proceedings against the city's Democratic mayor, accusing her of unspecified incidents of misconduct and neglect, as well as making disparaging comments towards city employees.

I've been reading the sordid conflict between Mayor Diana Broderson and the Muscatine City Council with interest. She unexpectedly won an election against the incumbent mayor back in 2015 and has since struggled for achieve any of her limited mayoral duties, which pretty much consist of making appointments to city commissions, as well as appointing the Police and Fire Chief. In fact, the City Council voted last summer on an ordinance that stripped the mayor of those duties. Mayor Broderson challenged this new ordinance and received a decision from the state Attorney General's Office back in October 2016 indicating that the City Council lacked the authority to make these changes and that it was potentially criminal. However, the Muscatine County Attorney declined to act on the state Attorney General's opinion last month.

Which leads us to this week. The Muscatine City Council announced that it would vote on a request to impeach the city's mayor at its 01/12/17 city council meeting. According to the Muscatine Journal, none of the Council members wouldn't offer any explanation for this move and instead referred the reporter to the city attorney, who conveniently couldn't be reached for comment.

Last night, Councilman Michael Rehwaldt read the following motion:
An elected City official may be removed from office for, among other reasons, misconduct or maladministration in office, and willful or habitual neglect or refusal to perform the duties of the office; and

Willful misconduct or maladministration in office and include, but is not limited to, conduct such as repeated public criticism of the City or staff; repeatedly engaging in defamatory attacks against the City, staff or public; breach of fiduciary duties; or other conduct which tends to erode public confidence in the City or staff.

Habitual neglect or refusal to perform the duties of office an include, but is not limited to, such conduct as repeated breaches of the public official's fiduciary duties and/or repeated failure to follow established city ordinances or policies;

It appears the Mayor may have engaged in some of the foregoing conduct to the detriment of the City and in contravention of her established duties and, as such, written charges for removal should be filed to determine if the Mayor should be removed from office as a result of such conduct.

Therefore, the City Council of the City of Muscatine, Iowa, hereby motions to instruct the City Attorney to draft and file written charges for the removal of the Mayor as provided for by Iowa Code Chapter 66 and City Code section 1-7-6.
The Council members continued to avoid any specific accusations. Hopefully, they have evidence of willful misconduct or maladministration. Certainly something more substantial than vague suggestions that she "may have engaged" in detrimental conduct.

About 60 citizens attended the meeting and all appeared to denounce this impeachment effort.

I'm not a citizen of Muscatine, but this really doesn't pass the smell test. The Muscatine City Council better watch out or they might engage the citizens enough to vote out its incumbents -- particularly those like Councilmen Rehwaldt, Bynum, and Natvig -- all of whom are up for re-election later this year.

Updated on 01/19/17: We're beginning to get an idea about what the Muscatine City Council plans to use to support their impeachment effort against Mayor Diana Broderson:
The Muscatine city attorney said in an email to City Administrator Gregg Mandsager Wednesday that the city has incurred more than $100,000 in unbudgeted expenses in fighting what he says are "unproven claims and allegations" made by Mayor Broderson...

City officials said the official charges could be released as early as Friday.

City Attorney Matthew Brick detailed the 2016 attorney fees in an email to Mandsager. That email was in response to an inquiry Mandsager received from Broderson requesting more information about costs and attorney fees. Brick's email stated that complaints filed by Broderson against city officials, staff, contractors, and citizens resulted in about $64,000 in unbudgeted legal fees and $43,600 in staff time during the 2016 calendar year.

Mandsager had forwarded the email to the mayor and city council members early Wednesday morning. The email was also forwarded to the Muscatine Journal and Quad City Times.

As to the allegations that she caused funds to be spent by filing complaints, Broderson said she was just doing as the citizens asked...

Her reaction to the amount of costs paid to the city attorney was to wonder how much had been spent changing the city's appointment process. The council passed an amendment earlier in 2016 that created a nominating committee made up of the mayor, the city administrator or his appointee, and two council members to review candidates for city appointments.

"My take would be most of the money has been spent trying to reduce the office of mayor," she said.
By the way, I was listening to this Muscatine-based podcast earlier tonight and was shocked to learn that City Administrator Gregg Mandsager has apparently banned the city's employees from speaking or interacting with Mayor Broderson, outside of basic greetings. It's apparently been this way since shortly after Broderson's election in 2015.

Updated on 01/25/17: I'm not even sure that the Muscatine City Council actually has a clue about Mayor Diana Broderson's impeachable offense. Check this out:
Muscatine City Attorney Matthew Brick says charges for removal of Mayor Diana Broderson may not be filed for weeks, and the nature of the charges has yet to be determined. Brick said he will continue to investigate, and "slow equals fair. I want to make sure if there are relevant issues that they get looked at," he said. 
The Muscatine City Council two weeks ago voted to take the first steps toward ousting the mayor. Councilman Michael Rehwaldt cited "habitual neglect" and "willful misconduct or maladministration in office" as two possible reasons. State law says elected officials can be removed by two-thirds vote of the council. 
"It would be nice for not only me but for the people of Muscatine to know sooner rather than later so both sides could work to prepare," Broderson said. 
If evidence for removing the mayor under state law is not found, Brick said at the end of the investigation he would report back to council.
It sounds to me like the City Council members are just biding their time until after the next election cycle. Pretty shady, Muscatine...

Updated on 02/17/17: Muscatine City Attorney Matthew Brick filed a list of complaints early this morning, which are being used as the basis for Mayor Diana Broderson's impeachment:
Broderson is accused of ignoring Brick's legal advice when he told her that she was stepping outside of the boundaries of her power as mayor, listed in the document as "willful misconduct or maladministration … habitual neglect or refusal to perform the duties of her office..."

In the document, Broderson is accused of "making baseless complaints” that cost the city as much as $100,000 in legal fees and staff time to investigate, including asking for an investigation into whether she had been discriminated against on the basis of her gender and requesting investigation into actions of the city that were later determined to be unfounded.

Also outlined is an alleged breach of fiduciary duties, failure to comply with city code, defamation and/or false allegations and misuse of power and/or abuse of discretion.
These charges have been filed with the city and could appear on the agenda for the next Muscatine City Countil meeting. That is scheduled for 03/01/17.

Updated on 03/10/17: The Muscatine City Council scheduled the date for Mayor Diana Broderson's impeachment hearing at their council meeting last night. The hearing will begin at 8:00 AM on Thursday, March 23rd.

According to news reports, residents approached the Council and expressed disappointment with this whole process. One particular resident suggested that they should have waited until the next election when Mayor Broderson's term expired and just run a better candidate against her instead of going through the time, money, and embarrassment of impeaching her mid-term:
Although advised by City Administrator Gregg Mandsager to answer “no comment” to residents’ questions, Councilman Santos Saucedo responded to Nathan Baker, of Muscatine, after Baker said the recent actions of the council were making Muscatine a statewide laughing stock. Baker said that the mayor would not have retained her seat through the next election in November, and the council should have waited instead of trying to impeach her. "I wouldn’t vote for her again except for that you guys have created this problem," he said. "The right thing would be to let her finish her term, and for you guys just to do your thing." 
Saucedo was visibly upset after Baker’s remarks. Saucedo said he was doing what he felt was right and promised that the reasons behind the charges filed for the mayor’s removal would be revealed at the March 23 hearing. "All the information is going to come out," Saucedo said.
The problem is that the Muscatine City Council has been so cagey about why they are impeaching her that there is little else for residents to do except assume that there's something under-handed, political, and nasty about this whole affair.

Updated on 03/21/17: The impeachment hearing begins first thing Thursday morning. Here are some new details. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:00 AM in the council chambers in Muscatine. The hearing will be open to the public, but they will not allow any public comments at the meeting. They will not broadcast the hearing on their local government channel, so you won't have any televised footage for use during future campaign commercials (unless someone in the audience records something on Facebook Live).

Muscatine has brought a retired judge and mediator in to act as special counsel for the city and to act as prosecutor. Mayor Broderson will be represented by her own attorney, presumably at her own expense. Council members will hear the arguments for and against Mayor Broderson's impeachment. Two-thirds of the Council will need to vote for her impeachment. It's unclear if they will actually vote on Thursday or not.

The Muscatine City Council is walking on fragile ice here. This is the first case of a mayoral impeachment in Iowa history. There is an election in a few months and three of the seven Council members are up for reelection. There are already efforts to vote out all three Council members this fall.

Updated on 03/23/17: Mayor Broderson's impeachment hearing dragged on for eleven hours today. You can follow the #musmayor hashtag on Twitter, but it's not clear to follow most of the testimony because there's very little video or written coverage (outside of some tweets and 2-minute clips). Eventually, the hearing was postponed until 9:00 AM on Saturday, 04/01/17.

Updated on 03/24/17: Hear are some details on the testimony, courtesy of the Muscatine Journal. It offers more substantial reasons for the impeachment hearing:

Gender Bias Complaint: Mayor Broderson had initiated a gender bias investigation against the City Council and City Administrator Gregg Mandsager. It was later determined that there was no basis for her allegations:
When he was called as a witness, City Administrator Gregg Mandsager said he may have been negatively impacted by the investigation during a recent job search, because he was required to say he had been the subject of an investigation into gender bias. He also said his health had been negatively impacted by the investigation and allegations made against him and council members during her term.
Misuse of Campaign Funds: Mayor Broderson has been accused to spending $500 of her campaign funds to pay for her attorney. She is also alleged to have spent $1200 in campaign funds to send letters to residents that attack the character of Council members. For example, she referred to the Council members as "good old boys."

Complaints Against City Staff: Mayor Broderson allegedly claimed that two staff members violated Muscatine's Code of Ethics for negative comments made on Facebook about her during their free time. For example, she was called an "asshat" by a city accountant. She also questioned the employment status of a retired city engineer who was hired as a temporary independent contractor while also drawing from his IPERS pension.

Mayor Broderson still hasn't testified on her own behalf. She will presumably have the chance defend herself on April 1st.

Updated on 04/02/17: Testimony resumed and concluded yesterday in Musatine. I was traveling this weekend, but monitored the impeachment hearing as much as I could on Twitter. Testimony was split between City Attorney Matthew Brick and Mayor Diana Broderson.

We learned more of the complaints against Mayor Broderson:

Coffee with the Mayor: Mayor Broderson is accused of violating city code by forming an ad hoc committee, i.e., her monthly Coffee with the Mayor chats. These informal events were characterized by the city as a committee or task force.

Contacting City Staff: Mayor Broderson was accused of contacting city staff without permission by the city administrator. Broderson claimed that she was permitted to contact city staff by email as long as she cc'ed City Administrator Greg Mandsager. She noted that other city counselors were not required to cc the administrator on emails.

Misspending Campaign Funds: Mayor Broderson is accused of using her campaign funds to fund letters to Muscatine residents, which violates the city's code of ethics.

Lastly, it's been reported that Mayor Broderson stated that there is some sort of political deal in the works. If true, it would dismiss the impeachment charges -- with some strings attached:
Broderson dropped that bomb Saturday at the very tail end of another marathon hearing of her impeachment trial. "I don't understand this, since you'll give me back my appointment power if I agree not to run again in November," Broderson responded when acting City Council Chairman Bob Bynum asked if she had "anything else to say."

Broderson's power to appoint Muscatine residents to its various commissions and committees is at the heart of the legal and political battle that, for the past year, has fractured the city of 23,000. Last spring, just months into her tenure, the City Council stripped her of unilateral appointment power. It set off an all out war, with Broderson alleging all kinds of malfeasance on the part of City Administrator Gregg Mandsager and City Council members.
It's worth reading this article so that you can visualize the shocked responses from those in the room -- including Broderson's own attorney.

Updated Again on 04/02/17: Someone who was watching Saturday's impeachment hearing in person noted a slight difference in Mayor Broderson's final comments:
As I heard it (and heard again thanks to the Muscatine Profile recording), she says it this way: "It surprises me that the Council is acting like this is such a big travesty, some of the things that I've done, yet they were willing to make this all go away and give me back my appointment powers if I would just agree not to run again in November. And I think that that is such a terrible thing for the people—"
This latter quote rings more true to me.

Updated on 05/11/17: It took three minutes. The Muscatine City Council voted unanimously to impeach Mayor Diana Broderson. There was no discussion. No input from the various citizens in the room.

Four months ago, the Muscatine City Council moved forward with plans to impeach the city's mayor, citing unspecified charges of misconduct. Eventually, we learned that the mayor held informal gatherings with constituents. We also learned that she spoke to city staff without getting permission first from the city manager. We learned that she made some unwise decisions as mayor, but we also learned that she was pretty much cut off from the rest of the city staff. Which means that nobody pulled her aside to help her through her growing pains.

The Muscatine City Council accused her of misconduct. The Muscatine City Council acted as judges and jury. The Muscatine City Council then voted her out of office. And now they get to appoint anyone they want as the city's new mayor. Mayor Broderson might have been a mediocre mayor, but the optics on this look bad.

There is an election later. Three of the council member are up for reelection and they've managed to piss off and energize a sizable chunk of the voters. I can't wait to see the results of this election.

Updated on 05/13/17: Muscatine has a new Mayor Pro Temp: Alderman Bob Bynum. Bynum will act as mayor for Muscatine until the City Council makes a decision about how to replace impeached Mayor Diana Broderson. Bynum is one of three City Council members who is up for reelection later this year.

Updated on 06/16/17: Oh my! Diana Broderson has been reappointed as Mayor of Muscatine, IA, while her impeachment appeal moves on.


Last month, Broderson filed an appeal in court, arguing that the impeachment process was improper and that it was a conflict of interest for Muscatine's City Council to preside over her impeachment, given that they were her accusers. And, it appeared from news report of the initial court hearing that Judge Mark Smith agreed with her attorney:
"I counted 17 allegations in the decision where Mayor Broderson was accused directly affecting the city council, can you tell me why that isn`t a conflict of interest," said Judge Mark Smith. Judge Smith didn't hand down a decision in court and didn't say when he will. He did leave the door open that the former mayor may return to office, "The likelihood of success is pretty good on this case in terms of the plaintiff, in terms of being successful."
Judge Smith issued an order this morning that reinstated Broderson as mayor, pending final hearing on this case:
The judge said there were "inherent conflicts of interest" throughout the council's removal of the mayor, and to ensure a fair trial, "no man is permitted to try cases where he has an interest in the outcome."
Of course, that means that Mayor Pro Temp Bob Bynum is no longer Muscatine's mayor.

It's been reported that the City of Muscatine has spent more than $107,500 in their effort to remove Mayor Broderson from office. Ironically, one of their complaints about her was bad decisions that cost the taxpayers a lot of money.

Updated on 06/26/17: The political drama continues to unfold down in Muscatine, IA. Earlier this month, Judge Mark Smith returned Mayor Diana Broderson to office, pending a July 17th hearing. But don't assume that the City of Muscatine is sitting back and letting her run over them. And why would you?

Muscatine's city manager, Amy Reasner, filed a motion last week asking Judge Smith to reconsider his order. She argued that the City Council has the full authority to accuse, try, and sentence its mayors when it comes to impeachment. In fact, she actually challenged the court and questioned its own ability to interrupt the execution of their impeachment conviction.

Meanwhile, Mayor Broderson has resumed her "Holding the Coffee with the Mayor" chats last weekend -- much to the chagrin of the City Council! Roughly 50 people showed up to cheer her on and to share local concerns. During the event, Mayor Broderson indicated that she plans to run for re-election.

Updated on 07/02/17: There was a court hearing late last week, where the City Council tried to get Judge Mark Smith to change his mind and uphold their impeachment decision. Judge Smith reviewed the cases and then sent everyone home, with Mayor Diana Broderson still the mayor of Muscatine.

It's not looking good for the Muscatine City Council:
In the judge's ruling, Smith wrote there is a probability the council's impeachment proceedings will be found to be unconstitutional and in violation of the 14th Amendment. 
It's ironic that the City Council and City Manager argued that Mayor Broderson wasted the city's money. Meanwhile, they've seemingly pissed away $107,500 (and probably more by this point) over the past six months in their effort to kick her out of office!

A final hearing is schedule with Judge Smith on July 17th.

Updated on 08/15/17: The court hearing to determine the legality of Mayor Diana Broderson's impeachment continues to drag on. We learned this week that Judge Mark Cleve (Jon's Note: I thought it was Judge Mark Smith??) has ruled that transcripts from several closed session meetings held by the Muscatine City Council will be used as evidence in court. The city had been fighting to keep these transcripts inadmissible as evidence:
In the ruling, Cleve decided the recordings of the closed meetings are necessary in determining whether the council violated Broderson's right to due process when removing her from office. Broderson argued the council violated her 14th Amendment right by acting as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury... 
The judge said the city also waived attorney-client privilege by allowing third parties to be present during the meetings, as the mayor was allowed to attend the initial meetings and Mandsager also was present, despite threatening litigation against Broderson. 

The transcripts, Cleve said, could also show if the council had "personal animus or bias" toward Broderson, which would result in a due process violation.
The transcripts are to be submitted to the court by Friday. The judge will then issue his final ruling.

Updated on 08/16/17: We learned earlier this evening that City Administrator Gregg Mandsager is fighting the court order that would make public five recent closed session Muscatine City Council transcripts, arguing that his personal performance information as a public employee would be revealed if the transcripts were released.

Updated on 09/12/17: Yesterday, the Iowa Supreme Court granted a stay on last month's district court ruling that ordered the public release of five recent closed session Muscatine City Council transcripts. Now we will have to wait for the Iowa Supreme Court to make a final decision on this matter. In the meantime, Diana Broderson will continue to serve as mayor of Muscatine until the court case is decided or until her term ends in November. Which means that this entire year of political turmoil has most likely been a huge waste of time and public resources.

Updated on 09/28/17: The Iowa Supreme Court denied the City of Muscatine's appeal to a district court ruling that they turn over five transcripts to five closed session meetings. The city's administrator was concerned that the release of these tapes would damage his professional reputation. Interestingly, the district court judge had already prohibited the transcripts from being released to the public.

Because of today's Supreme Court ruling, this case has returned to the district court level and we can hopefully find out once and for all if Mayor Broderson's impeachment was constitutional or not -- just in time for November's election!

Updated on 10/04/17: It was reported earlier this month that the Muscatine City Council finally turned over the minutes to five of their closed session meetings to Mayor Diana Broderson and her attorney. They were fighting this order for two months but finally ran out of options for withholding the material from the impeached-yet-reinstated mayor.

Everyone will return to district court again on 10/20/17 to (hopefully) resolve this case.

Updated on 10/24/17: District Court Judge Mark Cleve issued his final ruling, which vacates the Muscatine City Council's impeachment vote and requires the city of Muscatine and the City Council to pay for Mayor Broderson's legal fees. You can read more about it here.

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