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Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson, left, At Large Councilman Kelcey Brackett, center, and Councilman Phil Fitzgerald at a city council meeting last month.

MUSCATINE — City Councilman Kelcey Brackett wants more open communication between elected officials and city staff. So, at last night's city council meeting, he proposed a revision to city code.

The change affects 1-10-2 City Administrator E. 1. b. that reads:

Any elected official shall deal with City Department Heads and employees, who are subject to the direction and supervision of the City Administrator solely, through the City Administrator, and Council Members shall not give orders to any such Department Heads or employees either publicly or privately. All departmental activity requiring the attention of the Council shall be brought before that body by the City Administrator.

The revised version would remove the last line. This, Brackett said, "would allow us to speak with department heads about topics related to city business," and would read: 

Any individual elected official shall not give orders to any Department Heads or employees either publicly or privately. Orders to department heads may be given by majority agreement of the council; either directly or through the City Administrator.

"I feel that the current code is vague and can be interpreted either way — that we can speak to them or that we can't speak to them — depending on how you read it," he said.

The language of the proposed change was reviewed by City Attorney Matt Brick, Brackett said, to confirm it did not violate state law or conflict with any city code.

"So this is really just a code clean-up, in my opinion," he said.

Councilman Santos Saucedo said he confused by the revision because the language didn't seem to indicate any change in the way discussions are presently held. 

Mayor Diana Broderson clarified that according to code, discussions between department heads and elected officials regarding city business outside of a council session, "theoretically" are not allowed. She said the revision would allow elected officials to "gather more information or ask a question outside of council."

Saucedo said when a resident has made a request from him regarding city business, he would send the information in an email to both City Administrator Gregg Mandsager in and the appropriate department head.

"I'm a little perplexed because I think I don't see a huge difference in both in my view."

Mandsager said he was "perplexed, as well, because the system has worked for 27 years." He continued to say any council member may contact a department head a long as the city administrator is notified on the conversation. Similar language is included in other city code's, he said.

"The system has worked and it has worked well for 27 years and I think that, in and of itself, shows that there's clarity and no ambiguity in the ordinance," he said.

The conversation turned to who may give orders to department heads with Brackett stating that was not the intent of the proposed change. He said he asked about the section of city code that prevented elected officials from speaking with department heads because "it has been stated to me previously that there were people that were just plain afraid to speak to us because they were told they couldn't speak to us." He continued by saying he wanted staff to be able to talk about city business or any ideas with council "without any fear of an impact on their role, their job or their position at the city."

Councilman Allen Harvey said during his two and a half years serving on the council he's never encountered a situation where officials were told they could not speak to staff. He said he wasn't sure why a council member would want to initiate a conversation with a department head without including the city administrator.

"I mean, that seems kind of secretive," he said. 

Brackett said he didn't see the point for the code change if officials and staff are permitted to speak to one another regarding city business and also inform the city administrator, but he would like that clearly stated in the code.

The request was denied in a 5-to-1 vote. Councilman Tom Spread was absent. Brackett may bring the revision to council again at a future meeting.

Brackett was also named mayor pro tem for the year by Broderson. As such, he is vice president of the council and will serve in a mayoral capacity if Broderson is absent or unable to perform her duties.

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