Muscatine official hides cost of crusade against mayor

Going into tomorrow’s mayoral and city council elections, citizens of Muscatine have no idea how much city leaders spent on the unsuccessful and unconstitutional attempt to remove Mayor Diana Broderson from office. Key internal correspondence related to the long-running power struggle and “kangaroo court” removal proceeding has also been shielded from public view.

City administrator Gregg Mandsager has thwarted records requests from local media by charging outrageous fees for obtaining documents or by redacting information from records provided.

Mandsager’s approach has subverted the spirit of the open records law, raising more questions about the advice Muscatine officials have received from city attorney Matthew Brick.

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Court vacates "fundamentally unfair" removal of Muscatine mayor

“Due process requires a fair trial before a fair tribunal, not simply the empty appearance of fairness,” declared District Court Judge Mark Cleve in a ruling that threw out the removal of Mayor Diana Broderson in May. Cleve found that the Muscatine City Council’s “fundamentally unfair” actions violated Broderson’s due process rights in two ways: by in effect having council members act as investigators, prosecutors, and judges; and by “having an interest in the outcome of the removal proceeding.”

The October 24 decision (enclosed in full below) drew heavily on what happened during five closed meetings between February 2016 and January 2017. During those sessions, council members discussed with city attorney Matthew Brick their grievances against the mayor and various options for dealing with her.

The city of Muscatine had unsuccessfully appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, hoping to prevent the District Court from considering transcripts of those closed sessions. And no wonder: Cleve found “the record clearly demonstrates that the Council had prejudged the issues,” and that “the Mayor’s removal was a foregone conclusion.”

Although Cleve did not directly address Brick’s conduct, his decision raises questions about the legal advice council members received from a partner in Iowa’s top law firm for representing municipalities.

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Weekend open thread: Short-sighted elected officials edition

Who knew that when you tell a state agency leader to save another $1.3 million somehow, he might cut some important programs and services? Not State Representative Dave Heaton, the Republican chair of the Iowa legislature’s Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

Who knew that when you impeach a mayor using a kangaroo court proceeding, a judge might order the mayor reinstated while her appeal is pending? Not Muscatine City Council members.

Follow me after the jump for more on those stories. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I’m also interested to know what readers think about Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen’s request to waive certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act in order to bring Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield back to Iowa’s individual insurance market for 2018. Elements of the “stopgap” measure violate federal law; health care law expert Timothy Jost told the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys that some parts of Ommen’s proposal are “extremely problematic” and not likely “doable.” Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Anna Wilde Mathews and Louise Radnofsky saw the Iowa developments as “a key test of the ability to modify the [Affordable Care Act] through executive authority.” Slate’s Jordan Weissmann agreed.

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Not with a bang but a whimper - quiet conclusion to Muscatine impeachment

I’ll be stunned if this holds up in court after reading Tracy Leone’s previous reports on the unprecedented effort to remove the Muscatine mayor. -promoted by desmoinesdem

There were almost as many journalists in the room as there were Muscatine residents present when the city council voted unanimously on May 11 to remove Mayor Diana Broderson from office in the conclusion of the first impeachment trial in Iowa history. (Watch the video of the meeting, which lasted less than three minutes.)

The special council meeting was called shortly after the deadline for defense and prosecution attorneys to submit their evidence Tuesday, May 2.

The decision to remove the mayor was the single issue on the agenda. The copies of the agenda sitting on a small table just inside council chambers stated that this would be an “In-Depth” meeting. The second item on the agenda after the roll call said there would be “Discussion and Possible Action Regarding Petition to Remove Mayor”. It was followed by four bullet points:

• Post-Hearing Brief in Support of Removal of Mayor – John Nahra
• Finding of Fact and Order on the City of Muscatine’s Written Charges of Removal – John Nahra
• Brief and Memorandum of Law – William Sueppel
• Proposed Decision – William Sueppel

After all this thoughtful discussion from the prosecution and defense, the third item on the agenda there said there would be a time for “Comments”, assumedly from the public.

None of that “in-depth” consideration happened.

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