MUSCATINE — Muscatine City Administrator Gregg Mandsager released a statement Thursday saying he intends to take legal action against Mayor Diana Broderson for defamation during her term and removal from office.
Broderson, who took office in January 2016, was removed from office by a unanimous city council vote in May. The council claimed she violated city code, overstepped her authority and made false accusations, costing the city needless money.
A Muscatine County district court judge ruled Tuesday the council's removal of Broderson was a violation of her right to due process and "fundamentally unfair" because council members had an interest in her impeachment.
Throughout Broderson's first term, Mandsager has been at the heart of the controversy, claiming Broderson has made false allegations against him and damaged his reputation.
He submitted a draft petition Thursday to the Muscatine Journal, saying he may sue the mayor, as well as the city of Muscatine, for defamation, requesting a jury trial in Muscatine County District Court. In an interview, Mandsager said he would include the city of Muscatine in the suit because the city is the insurance holder.
"Enough is enough," Mandsager said in his statement. "I am tired of the attempts to bully my family and me. I am tired of the lies. I am disgusted by Broderson's attempts to trash the reputation of my family and me. She has abused her position as Mayor of Muscatine and must be held accountable."
In multiple interviews with the Muscatine Journal, Broderson has said upon her first meeting with the city administrator, Mandsager aggressively told her "I run this town, not you. What I say goes, not you ..."
In an interview Thursday, Mandsager said he cannot recall such a meeting and said speaking aggressively or in a threatening manner is "not my style."
"That is totally false," he said. "My family, people who know me, and mayors and council members with whom I have worked will tell you that I would do no such thing. This is but one in a string of lies that impeached Mayor Broderson has told about me since taking office."
In his draft petition, Mandsager also claims Broderson asserted the city administrator caused her to be undermined in her position and subjected her to a hostile work environment. Mandsager alleges she accused him and the city council of gender discrimination.
"In an ideal world, you wouldn't have your name and reputation discussed, or frankly trashed, in a public setting," he said. "That's what happened when I had to testify to things at the hearing ... gender bias was brought up at the hearing. To have a claim like that made against you and have to speak against that at a public setting is, at a minimum, unfortunate. Nobody should have to deal with those kind of false claims."
According to the written charges of removal, on Feb. 19, 2016, Broderson complained she had been discriminated against because of her gender. In an interview, Broderson said she never filed an official complaint, but made an "off-hand remark" in an email, asking if they were treating her poorly because she is a woman. Council members have said the comment was also discussed in closed session, and the city eventually hired an outside firm to investigate gender bias.
After several allegations, in the spring of 2016 in closed session, Mandsager discussed the possibility he would sue Broderson for defamation, according to court documents.
Mandsager said Broderson's claims and "lies" against him have hurt his position in the community and also affected his family. He alleged a threatening letter was sent to his home, and, in part, he is taking action to protect his family.
In an interview Thursday, Broderson said, "I'm hopeful and believe the community is hopeful we can all move forward past this negativity and get back to the business of the people. As far as defamation goes, the truth is the 100 percent defense to defamation."
Broderson also believes it would be difficult for a public figure to prove defamation under Iowa law. Mandsager said he is speaking as a private individual, and not in his capacity as city administrator.
Mandsager claims Broderson's conduct caused him mental pain and suffering, damage to his reputation, loss in past and future earnings, loss in employment opportunities and punitive damages.
The city administrator is asking Broderson to retract the statements she has made regarding her first meeting with Mandsager. He also requests an apology and additional remedies. Mandsager said he would like to reach a "respectful decision" with the mayor and city to avoid taking the case to court.
"It is my sincere hope that the parties will be able to come together and reach a mutually respectful and fair resolution in this matter as I view litigation against a city I love as a last resort," Mandsager said.