There are six types of city government possible in our state. Muscatine has the “Mayor-Council with appointed City Manager” type and is nominally non-partisan. In this form, the City Manager is the person who “runs the city” on a day-to-day basis, and the Mayor’s position is largely ceremonial. The Council’s role is to approve or disapprove the actions of the Manager and Mayor. Not satisfied with the status quo, one local resident put herself forward to gain a position from which she could affect change. She is certainly to be commended for taking this course of action instead of just complaining (as most of us do when faced with a similar situation).
In the November 3, 2015 election, Diana Broderson defeated incumbent Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins in spite of having no prior elected-office experience. However, she also appears to not have had the benefit of counsel from mentors along the way in her career. They would have given her the following advice: do not take drastic actions for at least six months when entering a new position (unless you are brought in as a house-cleaner or change-agent with a clear mandate from your boss); keep your ears open and your mouth shut until you are familiar with the culture, customs, and norms of the position; and when you do feel it is time to put your stamp on the position, seek to bring others along through consensus rather than trying to impose unpopular edicts.
Although there was no language on the subject in the city code until recently, City Council Member Scott Natvig has stated that for many years it has been the custom in Muscatine for the Mayor to consult with members of the various departing boards and commissions, the members of the City Council, and the City Manager about potential appointees’ suitability for the position before making an appointment, according to a Muscatine Journal Editorial. The Muscatine City Code simply stated that, “The Mayor, with the approval of the Council, shall appoint members . . .”
Shortly after she took office on January 1, 2016, Mayor Broderson began making appointments without such prior consultation, and the Council reacted by tabling or defeating some of her nominations, citing the candidates’ lack of appropriate education, training, or experience for the positions in question. The Mayor cited her reason for the appointments as a desire “to bring more diversity” to Muscatine government, according to a Muscatine Journal Editorial, but since her appointments were often union organizers and other active Democrats, it appears she may have instead been bringing partisan politics into non-partisan local government.
Her claim resulted in 16 female employees of the city submitting a letter to the editor of the Voice of Muscatine, stating that, “In our collective experience as employees of the City of Muscatine, gender bias does not exist within the administration.” Also on the topic of local government being nonpartisan, the current Mayor of Cedar Rapids “says the job is about solving problems rather than advancing a partisan agenda. Local government is about potholes and about the storm water and sewer department and all these basic infrastructure, police and fire, that historically have never been partisan . . . People don’t expect partisan solutions at the local level,” Corbett stated in a Des Moines Register article.
In September 2016, the Muscatine City Council voted to amend the city code to provide that a four-person committee composed of the Mayor, City Manager (or designee), and two members of the City Council would make nominations for boards and commissions for Council approval or rejection. The Mayor vetoed the measure, but her veto was overridden on a 6-1 vote. Subsequently, the Council members of the committee were unanimously approved, and the new system has been utilized for filling vacancies since then.
However, this disagreement on how to proceed between the Mayor and Council has cost the taxpayers of Muscatine over $100,000 according to City Manager Gregg Mandsager. To give some perspective on how much this amount is in relation to various ongoing expenditures in Muscatine, it has been calculated this sum would cover the annual salaries for two police officers or two fire fighters, pay for two police cruisers, pay for all the salt used on city streets for the winter of 2015-2016, or cover all of the salaries of the entire staff of the Muscatine Aquatic Center.
And after all the tax dollars were wasted paying city staff and attorneys to go back and forth, the end result is the Council is again making appointments as they had been doing for many years. The Mayor has failed to bring the change she wanted to Muscatine City Boards and Commissions, has suffered an embarrassing political rebuke, and will probably draw a strong challenger in the next election. Would that this were all as Shakespeare wrote, “Much Ado About Nothing,” but those are a lot of tax dollars that got wasted in the fray and could have been better used elsewhere.
Editor’s note: The Muscatine City Council voted unanimously last week to hold a hearing to hear the results of an investigation that was conducted of Mayor Broderson’s conduct, as well as, hear from her attorney. This is the first step toward removing her from office. (Updated: The Quad City media reported that the vote was to remove her from office that was inaccurate.)