Muscatine voters issued a mandate on Tuesday night. Perhaps, this time, those left on the City Council will listen.
Embattled Mayor Diana Broderson cruised to victory, receiving 59 percent of the vote weeks after a local court ruled that the City Council violated her constitutional rights when it impeached her. The two incumbent City Council members on the ballot who supported Broderson's ouster were easily defeated -- At-large Alderman Scott Natvig and 2nd Ward Alderman Michael Rehwaldt. Perhaps most telling was Natvig's defeat to Kelcey Brackett. Like with the mayoral vote, Natvig's loss wasn't confined to local ward politics. It was, in a very real sense, a city-wide referendum on the toxic politics that have cast a shadow on this city for almost two years.
Come January, Broderson will keep her seat. The City Council will feature three new faces, since Alderman Bob Bynum chose not to seek re-election. In a very real sense, Muscatine has an opportunity to move beyond the petty, partisan and, frankly, unlawful behavior that resulted in an assault on Broderson's rights as a citizen. It can cease with the spats about who can talk to city employees and who can't. It can end the manufactured scandal over whether Broderson's morning coffee meet-and-greets require City Council approval.
Muscatine can, finally, get back to serving its citizens. The voters demanded precisely that on Tuesday.
The new City Council has two options in January: It can, in good faith, get down to the minutiae of local governance. Or it can devolve into a fractured, raucous do-nothing body that trades lawsuits like baseball cards.
The latter would continue shaming Muscatine in front of the entire state. The onus is on everyone, Broderson included, to ensure the former happens.
There can be little doubt that Broderson feels vindicated after Tuesday night's drubbing of the men who would stop at nothing to undermine her. For the first time in her two years in office, she will have allies on the council. But engaging in a payback campaign would end badly for the citizens of Muscatine and Broderson's nascent political clout.
At best, the City Council will be divided between those who engineered Broderson's impeachment and those elected because of it. It's very possible, maybe even likely, that Broderson's new wing will be outnumbered more often than not. Broderson never had a chance to prove herself an effective mayor nor an astute politician in her first term. The City Council saw to that. Her second term is more likely to offer that opportunity. Broderson would be wise to reach out to the very men who chased her with pitchforks in an earnest attempt to build legitimate consensus on the issues.
Both sides must dial down the rhetoric and, for once, focus on roadwork, taxes and economic development. In the process, the city should initiate an immediate review of its compliance with Iowa's Freedom of Information Act. The city used excessively high prices to cloak the costs of its actions, throughout the impeachment process. Wielding financial disincentives like a club flies in the face of the very spirit of FOIA.
It's been an ugly two years in Muscatine. The past 11 months were an utter embarrassment. The basic tenets of good governance gave way to self-interest. Both practically and philosophically, the taxpayer and citizenry picked up the tab.
But those very same people sought retribution at the polls on Tuesday against a City Council that rejected their collective will when it ousted Broderson on trumped-up charges. They issued a mandate: The lawless, unconstitutional behavior of the City Council is neither supported nor acceptable. In so doing, they offered Broderson's new political faction an opportunity to prove that it's more than a victim of entrenched local politics.
Voters turned out and screamed from the rooftops that they want functional, honorable governance. It's left to those atop Muscatine to follow through.