It'd be nothing short of an abortion of democracy if the Muscatine City Council ousts Mayor Diana Broderson because of its so-called charges.
Broderson isn't a great mayor. She might not even be a good one.
But it's also obvious that local politics in Muscatine is a snake pit. And her Thursday impeachment trial smacks of the worst kind of small-town politics, unfitting of a city of 23,000.
Hurt feelings and political entitlement lurk behind all the legalese in the 24-page complaint drafted by City Attorney Matthew Brick. Broderson could be guilty of each and every count and still any case for her removal would be a coup, a slap in the face to the voters who, last year, overruled the entrenched establishment's will and elected the political newcomer.
These charges are, at best, nitpicky and, at worst, indications of a power structure in City Hall so averse to varied opinions and insecure in its power that you would find more open minds at a toddler day care.
Broderson spoke poorly of city staff in public, according to the charges. Apparently, the simple act of griping is an ethical violation in Muscatine. She sought probes from various state agencies about the actions of past administrations and sitting officials, against which the city had to spend $100,000 to defend itself, say the allegations. Broderson hosted coffee meetings with constituents without the council's OK because that's somehow an impeachable offense, too. And perhaps most telling, Broderson dared to speak to city staff without first seeking permission from Administrator Gregg Mandsanger, the council alleges.
Seriously? We tout more than a half-century of experience covering local governments among us. Never before have we encountered an ethics complaint lodged against an elected official for simply asking questions of staff. And it's this charge that's at the heart of all the unnecessary and damaging rancor.
No money is missing. No crimes were committed. Nope.
Challenging the good ol' boys is Broderson's crime. She asked questions. They won't stand for it.
They didn't approve of the liberals she appointed to various oversight boards, so they threw a tantrum and stripped her of her power to appoint anyone. Broderson challenged Mandsager's comfortable little fiefdom so, now, they accuse her of ethics violations for talking to staff.
Muscatine City Council might be waging the most expensive dog-and-pony show in history, all because Broderson beat the preferred candidate in 2015. Taxpayers would pick up an even bigger tab should a protracted lawsuit follow Broderson's ouster.
Take none of this as an endorsement of Broderson. She clearly lacks the chops necessary to navigate such a toxic political environment. Her calls for charges against two reporters, including Muscatine Journal's Emily Wenger, are an indefensible attack on a free press. Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren rightly told Broderson to pound salt.
But Broderson's bungles don't support an attack on the democratic process. They do, however, make a strong case against her in this year's election.
That's perhaps what's most confounding about the circus at Muscatine City Hall. Broderson's inability to grapple with such a fragmented political ecosystem makes her vulnerable at the polls. Waiting wasn't an option for the entrench political interests, however. Instead, they've mounted a community-fracturing assault on the voters of Muscatine. In so doing, they doubtlessly have improved Broderson's political standing.
A once bungling mayor is now a symbol of protest against those who want monopolized power over the city. In short, no matter what happens Thursday, this entire charade could blow up in the council's collective face.
It's exposed the pettiness of council members and administration. It's laid bare an unwillingness to share power. It's displayed a jaw-dropping disrespect for voters and democracy itself.
Any City Council member who votes to oust Broderson on this paltry list of niggles isn't fit for elected office.