It was quite a week last week with the buzz about impeachment.

Relax. I’m not referring to President Donald Trump.

I’m talking about the mayor of Muscatine.

Diana Broderson was removed from office by a 7-0 vote of the city council on Thursday. The meeting lasted 3 minutes. There was no discussion by the council members, and they offered no explanation of their votes.

Earlier this year, the council directed the city attorney to prepare a statement of impeachment charges against the mayor. Then the council heard two days of testimony during a “trial” this spring.

The charges involved an assortment of supposed violations of city policies or city ordinances — infractions like holding a monthly “coffee” to meet with city residents without first getting the permission from the city council, or failing to obtain permission from the city administrator before speaking with city employees, or criticizing the motives of council members or city staff.

I’m not making this up. The charges were categorized as “willful misconduct and maladministration of office.”

Those violations should leave most Iowans wondering if they were asleep when the First Amendment was repealed in Muscatine. The charges should have people asking whether this was the first time the Muscatine mayor and other city officials were not in lock-step about how to run the city.

Broderson was elected by residents in November 2015. It’s fair to say that she upset the status quo when she arrived at City Hall.

She was a newcomer to political office, and she comes from a family of union members. But voters chose her by a comfortable margin over the incumbent mayor.

The first signs of trouble surfaced when the former social worker decided that she was going to bring new voices onto city boards and commissions instead of appointing people who had received the blessing of local business leaders and a majority of council members.

That didn’t go well.

And almost from the beginning, Broderson found herself crosswise with the city administrator and the council.

The city council decided to strip the mayor of her appointment power. The mayor asked the Iowa attorney general’s office whether the council could take away that authority, and the state said the council had not acted properly.

The mayor asked the state auditor’s office to re-audit Muscatine’s finances, and the auditor agreed. She tried to create an informal task force to study possible changes to the city’s form of government. She complained about a contractor chosen by the city administrator for a project in Muscatine after problems in Davenport with the same contractor.

It’s certainly possible Broderson was naive about the actual power the mayor has. One of her supporters later said city government in Muscatine envisions the mayor being “just a ribbon-cutter.”

And it’s true that at times she was rather clumsy in what she was trying to accomplish and in how she was trying to achieve her goals — such as asking the Muscatine County attorney to charge two journalists for quoting her in conversations she said were off the record.

But does rocking the boat or being something of a bumbler equate to impeachable offenses? After all, she was elected by the people, and her term expires in seven months.

Do we really want a mayor to be removed from office for failing to get the council’s approval before she meets with constituents? Do we really want a mayor to be punished for talking with city employees without the city administrator’s permission?

Broderson’s lawyer, William Sueppel of Iowa City, summarized her case this way: “Breach of etiquette, stern language, breach of decorum, public disagreement and conflicting opinions do not come close to the intent of the law warranting removal of an elected official. Greed, corruption, fraud and other serious crimes of moral turpitude call for removal.”

You can bet the Iowa Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether the Muscatine City Council acted properly.

But before that happens, it will be the voters of Muscatine who will have a lot to say — when they go to the polls in November for the 2017 city election and elect a mayor and three council members.

Until then, just sit back and watch the events that are playing out in Washington, D.C. Now that makes Muscatine look like a finely tuned instrument.

 

by Randy Evans
Reprinted from Bloomfield Democrat
Photo via Wikipedia
Posted 5/19/17

9 thoughts on “The First Amendment Is Dead In Muscatine

  1. I’ve been following this closely and am glad to see you guys drawing attention to issues affecting municipal governance. I absolutely agree that the council is abusing their power and has some very strange policies and procedures in place, especially the insistence that the city admin be the gatekeeper for every interaction between the mayor, council, and attorney.

    That said, I fail to see how this is a 1st Amendment issue.

  2. If I were a resident, I’d vote for Broderson as mayor again – just out of spite. If those reasons given were the real reasons, and she wasn’t sharing sensitive information (say, about ongoing negotiations somewhere), it IS a 1st Amendment issue. She, as mayor, was constrained more than, say, an “ordinary” citizen is by the nature of her position, but “requiring City Council Approval” sounds like prior restraint. I’d say (IANAL, by the way!) the City Council is on dicey legal ground.

  3. The city council is a group of “good ole boys” who think they are the almighty power and no one should question their actions even if questionable. They all need voted out!

    1. They need some fresh ideas that Diana tried bringing into the mix. Some people just seem to be stuck on old ways or their ways. Time for Diana to take a bow, and run again in November….She has my vote, and feel she’s exactly what the residents of Muscatine needed many, many years ago! I’ve had many occasions with city officials in the past over questions, or concerns I was having….Nobody seemed to take my concerns seriously . Diana took the time to listen and did try her best to find resolutions for those who contacted her…myself included. New ideas are always welcome in my world!!

  4. It is a 1st Amendment issue, in that we all have the right to speak freely as long as we do not make up false or slanderous statements or yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. So Lauren Whitehead, do you believe a mayor should be restricted by the city council from speaking just because the mayor disagrees with the city council? If there are many other people that believe that the city council can restrict the speech of the mayor, then this helps me understand how we elected a man as president of the USA who has had some real problems distinguishing the difference between facts and fiction. Then for the next comment from Wesley Struebing, saying they would vote for this mayor “just out of spite” is still troubling. Please, let us stick to the facts and issues. We have divided our United States or America by fighting over non-issues, while ignoring the facts and real issues. The city council is trying to restrict the free speech of their own mayor. That is incredibly wrong and a violation of the “abridging of freedom of speech” as stated in the 1st Amendment of our US Constitution if they are trying to making it un-lawful for the mayor to speak freely. In my opinion, if Whitehead’s statement were to be up-held then we could restrict the tweeting of our president and the world would be much better off.

  5. It is a 1st Amendment issue, in that we all have the right to speak freely as long as we do not make up false or slanderous statements or yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. So Lauren Whitehead, do you believe a mayor should be restricted by the city council from speaking just because the mayor disagrees with the city council? If there are many other people that believe that the city council can restrict the speech of the mayor, then this helps me understand how we elected a man as president of the USA who has had some real problems distinguishing the difference between facts and fiction. Then for the next comment from Wesley Struebing, saying they would vote for this mayor “just out of spite” is still troubling. Please, let us stick to the facts and issues. We have divided our United States or America by fighting over non-issues, while ignoring the facts and real issues. The city council is trying to restrict the free speech of their own mayor. That is incredibly wrong and a violation of the “abridging of freedom of speech” as stated in the 1st Amendment of our US Constitution if they are trying to make it un-lawful for the mayor to speak freely. In my opinion, if Whitehead’s statement were to be up-held then we could restrict the tweeting of our president and the world would be much better off.

  6. It is a 1st Amendment issue, in that we all have the right to speak freely as long as we do not make up false or slanderous statements or yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. So Lauren Whitehead, do you believe a mayor should be restricted by the city council from speaking just because the mayor disagrees with the city council? If there are many other people that believe that the city council can restrict the speech of the mayor, then this helps me understand how we elected a man as president of the USA who has had some real problems distinguishing the difference between facts and fiction. Then for the next comment from Wesley Struebing, saying they would vote for this mayor “just out of spite” is still troubling. Please, let us stick to the facts and issues. We have divided our United States of America by fighting over non-issues, while ignoring the facts and real issues. The city council is trying to restrict the free speech of their own mayor. That is incredibly wrong and a violation of the “abridging of freedom of speech” as stated in the 1st Amendment of our US Constitution if they are trying to make it un-lawful for the mayor to speak freely. In my opinion, if Whitehead’s statement were to be up-held then we could restrict the tweeting of our president and the world would be much better off.

  7. I love the way the article talks about how the first amendment is being eroded in Muscatine because of the city council, but then describes the former Mayor trying to have two journalists arrest for printing something she didn’t like. It’s seems odd that Mr. Evans describes that as clumsy when it is in fact a greater attempt as the suppression of free speech than anything he describes the city council doing.

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