City Council holds special meeting
By Joel Kraushaar
Last Thursday, June 23, a special meeting of the City Council was held in council chambers at City Hall. The evening began with protesters outside City Hall demonstrating in support of Mayor Diana Broderson.
On April 23, 2016, Councilman Tom Spread made a motion to investigate making changes in the city code and ordinances regarding how citizens are appointed to various city boards and commissions as well as employment recommendations for the Fire and Police Chief. The motion would change responsibility for making hiring and termination decisions of the office of Police and Fire chief from the Mayor to the City Administrator, and would also take the responsibility for nominating members to serve on boards and commissions away from the Mayor. Nearly 40 protestors stood outside and picketed.
Shari Leader, who was among those protesting in support of the Mayor, stated, “I’m here because I am tired of partisan politics, on the national level, and here at home. This needs to stop. I support the mayor in doing what she is elected to do.” A Muscatine resident added, “The council should support the mayor and her appointments. As long as a person meets the legal requirements of the position, the council should approve them.” Martin was then asked if he felt the same way should the candidate be considered not the right fit or not qualified for the position. Martin’s response was, “They should approve whoever she nominates.”
Protesters were dispersed by the Muscatine Police Department as they didn’t have a permit to assemble.
Muscatine City Attorney Matthew Brick, of Brick Gentry P.C. in West Des Moines, IA, addressed the council and the over 50 citizens in attendance. Brick stated, “The purpose of tonight’s meeting is three-fold. First, I will provide the council with feedback on their request to change the appointment process of city board and commissions as well as the Police and Fire Chief. Second, I will be providing an update regarding outside claims and appeals. And third, there will be two closed sessions to discuss pending or threatened litigation with the city.” Brick also stated, “To clear up any miscommunication, the closed sessions have absolutely nothing to do with the request to change the appointment process.” Brick also reiterated that at no point in this meeting would any motions or votes be made to make changes to the city ordinances or codes. “After tonight, depending on how the council gives me direction, if they stay steady with the direction, I will prepare changes to the city code and/or the city council rules and then, at a later date, that is when the council would vote to take action.”
As the discussion was opened up between the attorney and the council, Councilman Phil Fitzgerald asked, “Would it be possible to form a subcommittee to handle appointment recommendations?” Brick said, “I can investigate that as an option and report back to the council.” Councilman Scott Natvig stated, “Whatever we come up with, we have to avoid what we have now, which is a stalemate and having no candidates for appointment.”
Mayor Broderson did state in the public meeting that one of the reasons people aren’t applying to be on the commissions is because the “council has sullied the reputation of previous nominees.” Fitzgerald also added, “The city administrator evaluates all other department heads, including the Police and Fire Chief. He makes employment recommendations [on] all other department heads. There is no reason why police and fire should be different.”
Community members were then provided the floor for comment. John Dabeet of Muscatine spoke and said, “Brothers fight sisters fight. But the time has come to put the differences aside and work together.”
The meeting then went into closed session for over an hour. As the session opened back up to the public, the meeting was opened up to comments from the council. Councilman Santos Saucedo stated, “We are all elected by the people to do what is best for this community.”
When asked by the Voice of Muscatine after the meeting adjourned if she would be in favor of a subcommittee for nominating appointees for boards and commissions, Mayor Broderson said, “I would be in favor of it as long as I was on the subcommittee, and if council members are on that committee to make appointments, the only way to make it fair would [be] then to award me to vote along with the council for final approval.”