MUSCATINE — The city of Muscatine paid more than twice the amount for legal services in fiscal year 2016-17 than the previous year.
For more than a year, the city has paid for legal services related to city code changes, litigation related to Mayor Diana Broderson's removal from office, a lawsuit with the Iowa Department of Transportation regarding automated traffic enforcement cameras and other legal services.
According to Muscatine's financial report on OpenGov.com, the city spent $269,837 on legal services from July 2016 to May 2017. The final amount of legal fees for the fiscal year, which ended June 30, are not yet tallied.
Among the work performed was filing written charges to remove the mayor, holding hearings totaling about 20 hours, and after a vote to remove Broderson from office, a fight against her district court appeal.
Muscatine Finance Director Nancy Lueck said final legal expenses may not be approved until the fall, but the city had budgeted $320,700 for legal fees for the last fiscal year.
Spending through May is more than double the $123,009 spent in fiscal year 2015-16. After Broderson took office, legal fees began piling up, as the Muscatine City Council started investigating allegations made by the mayor and moving forward with the process to remove her from office.
In the three years prior to 2015, legal fees had not exceeded $100,000. In fiscal year 2013-14, legal services cost $70,855. In 2014-15, they were $96,922, a higher amount, in part, because a county attorney was retained as special prosecutor, at an annual rate of $40,000, according to the city's budget.
The city council and city administrator claim the increase in legal fees for 2016-17 was because Broderson had made baseless or false allegations. That year, for example, the city paid a law firm $4,000 to look into her gender discrimination complaints.
Also in 2016, Muscatine paid City Attorney Matt Brick at least $59,955 for work related to the mayor's removal, at $150 an hour, according to documents provided by City Administrator Gregg Mandsager.
The city also retained retired judge John Nahra as a special prosecutor during the removal hearings. It is unknown how much he was paid for his services.
The city has claimed about $43,619 was spent in 2016 on staff time related to investigating Broderson's allegations. That is not included in the cost of legal services. It is still unknown how much the city spent in staff costs related to litigation in 2017.
In response to an Open Records Request made by the Muscatine Journal, Mandsager said it would cost more than $400 to compile, list and detail legal fees directly related to the mayor's removal.
The city administrator has said the Iowa Communities Assurance pool, or ICAP, which provides the city's casualty insurance coverage, is paying for some legal fees associated with the removal of the mayor. The insurance company assigned Attorney Amy Reasner to the case and is covering the cost of her representation.
For fiscal year 2017-18, which began July 1, the city continues to face litigation related to the mayor's removal and the lawsuit against the Iowa DOT. Legal services for this year are budgeted at $150,700.
In addition, the city has been ordered by a judge to hire a court reporter to transcribe the minutes of seven closed sessions in which litigation related to the mayor was discussed. On Tuesday, attorneys for Broderson argued why the closed session minutes should be released and included as evidence.
The judge will issue a written ruling on whether the council's removal of the mayor was constitutional.
A month-by-month break-down of legal fees spent by the city of Muscatine in fiscal year 2017 is available at OpenGov.com.