Does the Muscatine, IA City Government Have A Problem With Everyone Having A Seat At The Big Table?
By Eva McBride
Mayor Diana Broderson ran on a platform of making sure that “everyone has a seat at the big table.” There were concerns before she was elected that the city council and other city employees were focused on the business community and this focus was drowning out the voices of actual citizens. I would like to say upfront that this is an opinion piece based on my experiences as a Muscatine City resident, a person who is politically active in the community and a family friend of the Mayor. I’ve spent a lot of time with her family and I’m friends with her daughter so most people would assume that I’m inherently biased and they would be right. I think it also gives me a unique perspective of Diana’s character and the intent behind her actions as mayor. I have watched the impact this trouble has had on our town, the mayor and her extended family. They are a tight knit group and very supportive of Diana and those of us close to her reject the idea that her intent was to cause trouble for the city. Diana Broderson felt like she needed to advocate for citizens who had come to her with concerns and I have no reason to doubt that. I saw that her intentions were good and she ran into push back the first week she was in office. Mayor Broderson ran on the premise of providing all of Muscatine’s citizens with a seat at the table. I believe that is what she was attempting to do. The predominantly conservative, white male city council and city administrator have reacted in a way that makes it clear that this idea is unwelcome.
This situation between the city council, the 8-year city administrator, Gregg Mandsager and the mayor of Muscatine, Diana Broderson has been going on since the first week and it’s possible they were upset about her being elected in the first place. The problem with that attitude is that it does not recognize the will of the voters who elected her. As their efforts to silence and censure the mayor increased, more residents of Muscatine became aware of the situation. Many citizens supported the methods of the city administrator and the city council but there were also citizens who were displeased with the way the city council has handled the situation since the beginning. I’ve also discussed this with many of my fellow citizens and have been paying attention to citizen comments from both sides on social media. There were two citizen groups formed on Facebook during this time. First, a group was formed called “Take Back Muscatine” in reference to the push back against the mayor and some of her nominations and later a group called “Remove the Muscatine City Council.” At one point members of these groups collected signatures from citizens protesting the actions that were taken against Mayor Broderson when the council voted to remove her ability to nominate residents to be on various boards and commissions in the city. While she had gone along with some of the council’s recommendations for nominations, Mayor Broderson had also chosen some equally qualified citizens outside of the business community instead of the individuals that some of the city council members urged her to nominate. It appears that they had been used to doing this for the previous mayor. According to Mayor Brodersen, her goal was to make the boards and commissions in Muscatine more diverse as they are currently dominated by members of the business community. When it was clear that she wouldn’t cooperate fully and chose to nominate some of the people that she felt would accomplish this task they decided to remove her nominating powers.
Later, the council went through the with the process of impeaching Mayor Broderson. In January 2017, Mayor Broderson’s impeachment hearing had not yet come to a close but former Mayor Dewayne Hopkins, “Hoppi” as he’s known in Muscatine, announced that he was going to be running for mayor again. His announcement was seen to some as an attempt by the city council to get Mayor Hopkins back into office so that things would return to the way they were before Mayor Brodersen was elected. Some Muscatine residents refer to former Mayor Hopkins as “the rubber-stamp.” Mayor Broderson was officially impeached in May of 2017 in a hearing that was referred to by Muscatine residents on social media as the “the kangaroo court” because the city council themselves acted as judge and jury in the hearing. The council put Bob Bynum in place as mayor pro tem. Although Mayor Broderson had designated Bob Bynum as the person that should take her place if she was ever unable to perform her duties, I doubt she realized that he would be presiding over the hearing in which she was impeached. After her impeachment, Mayor Broderson did sue the City of Muscatine in District court and 5 weeks after her impeachment the Judge Mark Smith reinstated her to her office immediately after reviewing the initial evidence and deciding that the way the hearing was handled robbed Mayor Broderson of due process. The case is ongoing but a final decision is supposed to be made sometime in August. I will provide links (highlighted words are hyperlinks) to some of the backstories because it would be impossible for me to tell you the whole story in one article at this point, after more than a year of difficulties that have had the city of Muscatine making national news in a negative light.
The discontent of some Muscatine residents continues to grow because of events in the last few weeks. The Quad City Times published an editorial blasting the city for using Broderson’s audit request as one of the grounds for her impeachment. One of the concerns from citizens that the mayor was asked to bring up was city finances from 2015 and more specifically a trip to China taken by then Mayor Dewayne Hopkins, city administrator Gregg Mandsager and community development director Dave Gobin. Since the audit results were made public last week, city government in Muscatine has attempted to minimize the validity of the audit itself and seemingly brush off the recommendations made by the auditor. Even going so far as calling the mayor a liar in a Voice of Muscatine article, one of her biggest critics, city council member Michael Rehwaldt was quoted as saying, “she’s told too many whoppers.” Citizens will most likely be able to show Michael Rehwaldt how they feel about his attitude towards the mayor in the election booth this November. City Councilman Tom Spread criticized the mayor for making the city spend around $8,000 to pay for the audit of an approximately $4,000 trip. The problem is that the audit itself supports the mayor and her actions in following up on behalf of the citizens of Muscatine. Their indifferent response, and continued efforts to blame Mayor Broderson leaves Muscatine residents with very little confidence that transparency in the Muscatine city government is something that they want to promote. Their lack of insight and inability to take responsibility for their own actions or over reactions to the situation is indeed, troubling. The amount of money that the city of Muscatine has spent trying to get Mayor Diana Broderson out of the picture must be far more than $8,000 by now. Also concerning is the fact that former Mayor Dewayne Hopkins is connected to Voice of Muscatine, which is a local radio station that puts out a weekly local newspaper. They have printed multiple articles or op-eds which gave negative viewpoints of Mayor Broderson in the past. Residents of Muscatine cannot ignore that former Mayor Dewayne Hopkins’ son, Jamie Hopkins is the current general manager of the radio station and the Voice of Muscatine.
Which leads me to the current concerns. This week longtime local resident and business owner, Charlie Harper announced that he was also running for mayor. He’s also a very good friend of former Mayor Hopkins who is apparently also staying in the race. It has been brought to my attention that Charlie Harper is using the same treasurer for his election campaign as two current city council members, Scott Natvig (up for re-election this November) and Santos Saucedo. The campaign treasurer that all three share is also one of our Muscatine County Supervisors, Nathan Mather. I don’t claim to be an expert on campaign finance but it appears that this is not a common practice and supports the idea of many Muscatine residents that our current city and county government is one big “old boys club.” It leads me and other residents to question whether this is not another sign that these events are all being manipulated behind the scenes.
The audit results that came out last week could have possibly shed some negative light on former Mayor Hopkins as he was one of the people involved in the China trip in question. Did the powers that be fear this would cause problems with his reelection? Is this why his friend Charlie Harper was motivated to run? I have to ask these questions after watching the events that have unfolded since the mayor’s election in November of 2015. Not because I want to disparage Charlie Harper but to question what is going on behind the scenes in Muscatine City Government. It’s currently, dominated by white, conservative business oriented males and their viewpoint. The lone person of color on the council being Santos Saucedo one of the at large councilmen. At one point the mayor questioned whether the treatment she received was related to her being a woman but it likely has more to do with her being an outsider in terms of her political leanings and her advocacy for citizens. Have they made room for everyone to have a seat at the big table or do they do prefer to only have one, homogeneous set of voices being heard? Their actions at City Council meetings, behind the scenes with the mayor and presumably at the many closed-door city council sessions lead me to believe that they are not interested in our voices. There are many eager candidates to fill the three city council seats that are up for re-election this November. Voter turnout has been low in the past for local elections but if one good thing comes of all of this, many citizens are paying close attention to the actions of their city government and I have a feeling that voter turnout will be high.
The link below will take you to the campaign finance documents in question.