The second session of the hearing to hear evidence for the removal of Mayor Diana Broderson was held on Saturday, April 1. The hearing was called to order at 9:00 a.m. with all council members present and accounted for. Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Bynum once again held the position of acting council chair for the hearing. Providing legal counsel for the council was Patrick Burk of Brick Gentry, and the city’s attorney, Matthew Brick, also of Brick Gentry, was scheduled to resume testimony.
The special counsel for the city, retired judge and mediator/arbitrator John A. Nahra, resumed the questioning of Brick. The morning questioning continued where testimony ended on March 23.
Brick was asked to expound on steps taken by him and the council to come to an agreement with Mayor Broderson and create a working relationship. Brick described counselling the mayor and the council on their duties and responsibilities.
Brick stated the importance of elected officials adhering to their duties, explaining that while the city’s insurance company may cover an initial claim, he is concerned that the company could cancel the city’s policy, opening the city up to liability.
Testimony from Brick continued throughout the morning and through the afternoon. Topics covered included Mayor Broderson’s contacting the state ombudsman, the issue of gender bias, the investigation into IPERS, the hiring of the private investigation firm, and the remainder of the charges against the mayor.
Brick testified that on multiple accounts he advised Mayor Broderson against taking further legal action. He stated that under the contract his firm holds with the city, Brick is authorized to hire investigators or additional counsel as needed. Brick stated that when Mayor Broderson sent an email mentioning potential gender bias, he acted by contacting the private firm, Home Protective Group, to investigate the allegations.
Mayor Broderson was represented by William J. Sueppel of Meardon and associate Catherine S. Gerlach of Sueppel & Downer. Sueppel continued the questioning of Brick with his cross-examination by going through the charges against the mayor paragraph by paragraph.
Brick was asked to explain the reasoning behind the charges. For each of the charges that allege a violation of the ethics policy, Brick referenced the city ethics policy, section 1.003: “Members shall comply with the laws of the United States, the State of Iowa, and the City of Muscatine, Iowa’s ordinances and policies in performance of their public duties. Members shall work for the common good of the people of Muscatine, Iowa, and not for the private person or personal interest.”
He also cited section 1.001: “Accepting a position as a public official and/or employee carries with it the acceptance of trust that the official/employee will work to further the public interest; maintaining that public trust is critical to the continued operation of good government. In addition, public decision-making should be open and accessible to the public at-large. To preserve the public trust, there are five principles to which public officials and/or employees should adhere: (i) a public official and/or employee should represent and work towards the public interest and not towards private or personal interests, (ii) a public official and/or employee should accept and maintain the public trust to the degree that preserves and enhances the public’s confidence in their public officials and/or employees, (iii) a public official and/or employee should exercise leadership in the form that consistently demonstrates behavior that reflects the public’s trust, (iv) a public official and/or employee should recognize the proper role of all government bodies and the relationships between various government bodies and (v) a public official and/or employee should always demonstrate respect for others and for other positions.”
Brick stated that each individual instance on its own may not have been severe enough to require action from the council. However, Brick explained that he felt the repetition of the instances represented a willful disregard for legal counsel.
After a short lunch break, Muscatine resident Melissa Snydacker took the stand to discuss her time on the Arts Council Board. Snydacker stated that Melanie [Alexander] is hesitant to bring issues up to the council.
Included in Snydacker’s testimony was an account of a conversation that Snydacker overheard between Roger Lande and Dave Gobin at a dinner party, in which Snydacker states Gobin was heard to say, “We have a plan for that” in reference to the mayor.
Shortly after Snydacker’s testimony, the question was raised as to why Snydacker was permitted to testify after being present in the hearing on March 23. The question was raised in reference to Sueppel’s request that all witnesses be sequestered during the hearing.
The discussion was opened as to whether previous witnesses had broken the order and watched the previous hearing.
After Snydacker’s testimony, testimony from Brick resumed and continued until after 2:30 p.m.
Mayor Diana Broderson was sworn in and took the stand at 2:34 p.m.
Broderson spoke about the mayorship being her first elected position. She stated that upon taking office, the Iowa League of Cities held a training for newly elected officials. In addition to the four-hour course, the mayor stated that the city administrator met with the newly elected city officials to discuss the city code.
In her initial testimony, Mayor Broderson stated that the meeting included Mayor Broderson, two council members and the City Administrator. Later in the testimony, Mayor Broderson stated that the meeting may have also included City finance and City HR representatives, though she could not recall the specifics.
Mayor Broderson stated that she spoke with the state ombudsman about issues concerning retired employee Randy Hill and his IPERS collection, a health inspection report, the trip involving the former mayor, and a possible trip taken by city staff from a potential contractor.
Broderson says the ombudsman provided advice about contacting IPERS directly, as well as requesting a further inquiry about the previous audit.
The inquiry about IPERS returned that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the city. The state auditor’s office began an investigation into the audit. The results have not been released at this time.
Mayor Broderson also spoke to the charges that holding her Coffee with the Mayor meetings are a violation of the city code, as they fall under a commission or task force that was not authorized by the council.
Broderson holds that the meetings are not a task force and therefore do not fall under the same criteria.
At the completion of his questioning, Sueppel asked Mayor Broderson if she had anything additional that she would like to add to the record. At that time, Broderson responded, “It surprises me that the Council is acting like this is such a big travesty, some of the things that I’ve done, yet they were willing to make this all go away and give me back my appointment powers if I would just agree not to run again in November. And I think that that is such a terrible thing for the people.”
At this point, Nahra objected, stopping Mayor Broderson mid-sentence. The two attorneys, Sueppel and Nahra, conversed and after their conversation, Sueppel asked Broderson if there was anything else that she would like to include that was not on the topic, to which she said, “No, I have nothing.”
The hearing drew to a close after 5:30.
The court reporters will complete their records of the testimony, and each attorney will complete their arguments and proposed finding of facts. The final briefs will be presented to the city clerk by the close of business on May 2. The council will then review the documents.
A vote on the removal of the mayor will be set at a later date, once each council member has concluded their review of the evidence.
According to Burk, the vote will appear as an agenda item at a city council meeting, once the time for the vote has arrived.