The hearing held by the Muscatine City Council on Thursday, March 23 was unlike any held before. The seven-member council convened to hear the presentation of evidence regarding the removal of Mayor Diana Broderson.
The council began the morning with discussion over a motion filed by Mayor Broderson’s attorney William J. Sueppel of Meardon, Sueppel & Downer requesting to move the hearing to district court, citing a violation of due process. The request was filed on Wednesday, March 22. In response to the request, special council for the city, retired judge and mediator/arbitrator John A. Nahra, filed a motion to resist moving the hearing. Nahra argued that there was no violation of due process as the council members themselves were not to be called as witnesses.
After much discussion, the council voted on the issue. By a slim 4-3 margin, the motion to move the hearing failed.
Nahra called for all witnesses to be sequestered outside of the council chambers while waiting.
Several left the chamber at this time, including City Administrator Gregg Mandsager, City of Muscatine Human Resources Manager Stephanie Romagnoli, City Finance Director Nancy A. Lueck, and the city’s attorney, Matt Brick of Brick Gentry.
Sitting in for Brick, Doug Fulton of Brick Gentry sat immediately to Council Member Bob Bynum’s right, providing legal counsel throughout the day.
Council Member Bob Bynum, as Mayor Pro-Tem, presided as council chair over the hearing.
Nahra and his assistant provided large black binders to each member of the council. Included in the binder were sworn copies of each witness statement. Nahra explained that he had previously met with each witness to collect their statement as part of his investigation. A copy of the statement was also provided to Sueppel.
Nahra call several witnesses throughout the day, including several City of Muscatine employees. Sueppel questioned each witness and entered several more pieces of evidence into record throughout the day.
Muscatine Community Development Director Dave Gobin testified via phone. Included in his testimony were questions surrounding the mayor’s request to meet with city department heads on a regular basis, an email sent by the mayor to Gobin offering an opinion of a company that might present a bid for a project, and a trip taken by members of the city staff to China.
The topic of the meeting with city staff recurred throughout the day. In question was the strictness of the city code line stating that the city administrator must be made aware of all communication between elected officials and city staff.
The email was once again brought up in questioning retired Public Works Director Randy Hill. Gobin stated he had forwarded the email to Hill and Mandsager before deleting it from his computer.
In addition the emails, other recurring topics throughout the day included the City’s social media policy, the city’s ethics policy, the retirement of Hill, and the subsequent work relationship with Hill, the responsibilities and duties of the office of the mayor, as outlined in the city code, a re-audit of the city’s previous budget, and potential gender bias within the city.
At the heart of the social media discussion was whether two City of Muscatine employees violated policy while posting on their personal social media accounts. Each of the employees took the stand to declare that each post made by them was on their personal devices and personal accounts. Mayor Broderson reportedly complained that their conduct was in breach of both the City’s social media policy and the City’s ethics policy.
Several witnesses were asked questions regarding the retirement of Hill. According to record, Hill retired in December from the City and was hired through Temp Associates in January. Hill was later hired as an independent contractor. Mayor Broderson reportedly contacted the Iowa Public Employees Retirement Service (IPERS) to report what she believed to be a break in the IPERS rule that a retired employee could not return to an IPERS-covered employer within one month of retirement and still collect a full pension.
The responsibilities and duties of the Mayor were discussed throughout the day, but arose most frequently in testimony from Mandsager and Brick.
The question had been raised whether the mayor stepped outside of assigned duties and responsibilities by discussing forming a Mayor’s taskforce, such as the Millennial Muscatine that was mentioned in open session. Brick stated that the Mayor did not have the authority to form such a committee.
Brick stated that every citizen has the ability to meet with other citizens to discuss area politics or ideas, but when the meeting is declared as “with the Mayor,” it would be easy for a resident to assume that the event is a city-sanctioned or city-sponsored event. An example of such meetings would be the “Coffee with the Mayor” meetings that have been held monthly.
Mayor Broderson reportedly contacted the State Auditing Board to request an re-audit of the city’s budget. City Finance Director Nancy Lueck testified that the mayor had not spoken with her about any questions in the budget and the first Lueck was made aware of the re-audit was upon being contacted by the state. Lueck explained that many hours of labor were required to collect and organize the documents requested in the audit, along with additional billing hours to the city’s accounting firm.
According to Nahra, an outside investigation firm, Home Protective Group of West Des Moines, was contracted by Brick Gentry to address allegations made by Mayor Broderson of gender bias, sexual harassment, and a hostile working environment within the City. Owner/Founder Louis Savelli stated that a thorough investigation was conducted by his team. At the conclusion of the investigation, Savelli stated in his report that all allegations were either “unsubstantiated or unfounded.”
Mandsager and Brick both testified that being involved in a potential sexual harassment investigation had impacted Mandsager in a negative manner, citing a recent application for Scott County Administrator. Mandsager stated he felt the allegations affected his application in that process.
The hearing will resume on Saturday, April 1 at 9:00 a.m. Testimony will continue, with Sueppel questioning Brick before moving on to call witnesses in defense of Mayor Broderson.
Mayor Broderson is expected to take the stand at that time.