MUSCATINE, Iowa — One of the reasons for the Muscatine City Council's request to impeach Mayor Diana Broderson might be found in the cost of legal fees and additional costs tied to litigation filed by the Muscatine Mayor during the course of her tenure.
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.
The council voted unanimously last Thursday to authorize the city attorney to file written charges for removal of the mayor, but did not specify the reasons for the unprecedented action. However, Councilman Michael Rehwaldt, reading from an amended motion, specifically referenced disparaging remarks allegedly made by Broderson against council members and city staff — as well as an alleged “breach of fiduciary duties,” and maladministration in office.
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.
“That’s my job,” she said.
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.
Broderson said she has talked to the Iowa Public Information Board about actions of the city council, requested an audit of financial information from the previous administration from the State Auditor’s Office, and has spoken to the State Ombudsman’s Office.
According to Nancy Lueck, the finance director for the city, Brick charges $150 per hour.
Based in a Des Moines office, Brick attends some meetings, including closed sessions, by phone according to minutes of city council meetings.
For the calendar year 2015, before Broderson was in office, the city paid the Brick Gentry Law Firm $216,056.82, and in 2016 during her first year in office, paid $249,783.74, according to the city’s finance department. The amount, Lueck said, includes all “legal fees including labor-related services, fees charged to various capital projects, and those for special projects.”
The amount differs by $33,726.92. Brick has not returned calls from the Journal.
A request from State Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mt. Pleasant, was sent to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, and the response stated an opinion on Iowa code regarding mayoral appointment of civil service commissioners. The letter states the city is not exempt from Iowa Code section 400.1, which states the mayor is to appoint three civil service commissioners, with approval from the city council. After receiving the letter from Taylor, Broderson petitioned Muscatine County attorney Alan Ostergren to file criminal charges against the City Council.
"I would not prosecute," Ostergren said of his decision in December, arguing that the Attorney General opinion was simply a question of statute and not criminal law.
Ostergren also confirmed that, late last year, Broderson asked him to prosecute two members of the news media for recording and broadcasting an interview that Broderson considered off the record.
Muscatine residents expressed their mistrust of the Muscatine City Council’s motives for filing charges for the removal of Mayor Diana Broderson in last week’s meeting, many citing lack of information as to the nature of the charges. One resident, Ann Brumback, began a petition on change.org which had gathered more than 590 signatures by Wednesday afternoon, asking the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to investigate the council’s actions.
Quad City Times Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander contributed to this report.