MUSCATINE — A Muscatine County district court judge will consider why Mayor Diana Broderson was removed from office, and if it was constitutional, at a final hearing Monday at 9 a.m. in the Muscatine County Courthouse.
She was removed from office by the City Council May 11, but on June 14, a district court judge ruled she should be reinstated temporarily, until the case could be heard in court.
How did Broderson become the first mayor in recorded Iowa history to be impeached by a city council?
Aldermen and City Administrator Gregg Mandsager have alleged Broderson made unfounded allegations about city leaders and staff, violated city code and sparked investigations into Muscatine’s government, which drained taxpayer money and city time.
Broderson has argued she was doing her job — looking into citizen complaints and speaking up when she saw something wrong. She argued the council has worked to reduce or remove her powers since her first day in office, and it has been the council’s choice to spend money on investigations and the removal process.
Among the issues were if she was being discriminated against based on her gender, if she had improper contact with city staff, her appointments to boards and commissions, and if she improperly created an ad hoc committee to hear residents concerns, among others.
20 hours of testimony, 3 minute meeting
In March, after a year of allegations, investigations and the spending of more than $100,000 of taxpayer money, aldermen voted to have City Attorney Matt Brick file written charges to remove the mayor. The charges included 36 instances where Broderson had made “false accusations” or “violated city code.”
Iowa code sets out two procedures when a city moves to impeach a mayor: Immediately take the case to district court or have the council run the proceedings and vote on the removal.
Broderson’s lawyer, William Sueppel, asked aldermen to take the case to court right away, which the council voted down 4-3.
“Although it was a mixed vote, we felt the hearing would put a lot of daylight on these situations that before had been behind the curtain,” Alderman Michael Rehwaldt said in an interview. “That was the best reason to do it in the world, so people could understand what was going on.”
Rehwaldt said “in retrospect, I’d do it the same way again,” because residents needed a “vehicle” to find out what was going on between the mayor and council.
There were 11 hours of testimony and legal arguments, with Mayor pro tem Bob Bynum presiding and retired judge John Nahra was retained as special counsel by the city. He called more than 10 witnesses, mostly city employees.
Following the hearings and the filing of briefs by the lawyers, on May 11, in a Muscatine City Council meeting that lasted less than three minutes, aldermen voted 7-0 to remove the mayor from office. Alderman Harvey read a written statement before the council voted. There was no discussion.
“There are no winners as a result of the removal process,” Alderman Tom Spread said, in an interview. “There are those in town who believe that elections have consequences and that the council should have not acted as it did. I respectfully disagree, all elected officials are accountable for their words and actions; the waste of city resources is not an acceptable consequence.”
Broderson was out of office for about a month before her case was first heard in Muscatine County District Court, and District Judge Mark Smith ultimately ordered her reinstated while her case was pending.
Broderson said not much has changed.
“They never spoke to me before so it’s nothing new,” she said.
On Monday, District Judge Mark Cleve will consider whether the council’s removal proceedings were constitutional.
Lawyers for Broderson and the city will present evidence and testimonies from the removal hearings and argue whether Broderson deserved to be ousted.
Rehwaldt said the main point is Broderson violated city code with intent.
“After being counseled, she kept doing these things over and over again, willfully,” Rehwaldt said. “The first time can be a mistake, but after all that counseling, she willfully violated the code of ethics and other portions of the city code.”
Broderson said her main issue is the council violated her right to a fair trial. In the ruling to reinstate Broderson, the judge said there is a “probability” the council’s proceedings will be found unconstitutional.
The judge could rule from the bench or issue an order. If he rules in her favor, it could void her impeachment. The city council and administrator would then have to decide whether to accept the ruling or appeal.