MUSCATINE — The city of Muscatine has released a statement following a final court ruling in the city council's removal of Mayor Diana Broderson. The ruling vacated the removal vote and deemed the council's process "fundamentally unfair."
Communications Manager Kevin Jenison said in a news release the city council may discuss the ruling, costs associated with the ruling and any plans for an appeal at a meeting next month.
The Muscatine City Council voted unanimously to remove Broderson from office in May, citing "willful misconduct" and violations of city code. About a month later, a district court judge reinstated her as mayor.
Tuesday, Muscatine County District Court Judge Mark Cleve ruled the council's removal proceedings were a violation of due process, because council members acted as investigator, judge and jury, plus had a vested interest in her being impeached.
Jenison released a statement on behalf of the city, claiming the "city council followed Iowa Code in all of its actions."
"While that section of code may be flawed, it is the law of the state," he wrote. "The ruling may have invalidated that section which is a matter that can only be addressed by the legislature."
In a written statement Thursday, City Administrator Gregg Mandsager shared a similar sentiment and said "the court recently ruled the proceedings lacked due process, leaving cities with little to no remedies in similar situations. I hope the state legislature will address this critical issue."
Under Iowa Code, an elected official may be removed from office through proceedings done through the city council, with a removal vote requiring a two-thirds vote by the council. Alternatively, the case could have been taken to district court immediately, which Broderson requested, and the council voted down 4-3.
The judge decided the removal process was unfair, partly, because the council had interest in Broderson leaving office.
University of Iowa law professor Patrick Bauer, said he believes the code would apply to the removal of an official, such as an elected assessor, or someone the council did not have a personal stake in being removed. He said, in general, the council could have successfully upheld Iowa law if the judge did not find councilmen had a "dog in the fight."
City officials continue to question the judge's ruling on the state law.
"While I respect the ruling of the court, it appears as though the judge may have invalidated Iowa Code as it pertains to the removal process," Councilman Tom Spread said. "Only the state legislature can deal with that issue."
Councilmen, the city administrator and Jenison have also pointed out the ruling did not examine the mayor's conduct or the council's accusations of Broderson violating the code. The district court judge simply ruled on the council's process in the mayor's removal.
"While the ruling invalidated the decision to remove the mayor from office, the same ruling left standing the merits of the case which led to the removal vote," Jenison wrote. "We urge the citizens of Muscatine to read the testimony from the removal hearings and the findings of fact that led to the removal vote."
In the written charges of removal, the city attorney cited around 35 instances in which Broderson made "false accusations" or violated city code, including attempting to form committees and speaking directly to city staff.
Broderson has claimed she was passing along residents' questions and concerns and doing her job. She has said her actions were within the scope of her duties and would not amount to willful misconduct.
Spread said, "the mayor has in no way been cleared of all charges. She remains responsible for her actions."
The city council could decide to accept the judge's ruling or appeal to the Iowa Court of Appeals.
Councilmen Scott Natvig and Allen Harvey said they agree with the city's statement and will not be adding further comments at this time. Other councilmen, the city attorney and lawyers for both the city and Broderson have not returned messages.