Contrary to the Big Story in the Sept. 24 issue of the Quad-City Times, Muscatine has never had a full-time mayor. Years ago, the city operated with a mayor and city council. The council and the mayor were responsible for conducting all of the city business, and running the city departments.
Most of the office holders had other jobs. The mayor did have some office hours, but it was never considered to be a full-time position.
The city was becoming a big business in the early 1960s with an annual budget of more than $2 million. Members of the city council decided in 1968 that a full-time professional city administrator was needed to conduct the city business.
The city council sought the advice of the Iowa League of Municipalities and others. They went through three public readings, on different dates, of a proposed ordinance to create the office of City Administrator. Citizens had their opportunities to express support or opposition. The ordinance to establish the office of City Administrator was passed and approved on June 6, 1968, and signed by Mayor E. S. "Kelly" Burns. I was the editor of The Muscatine Journal then, and we supported the change in city government.
The ordinance specifically states that the "City Administrator shall be directly responsible to the City Council for the administration of municipal affairs as directed by that body." The administrator works for the city council, not the mayor, and can be removed only by vote of the council. The ordinance outlines 10 points concerning the powers and duties of the administrator. All city department heads and city staffers work directly for the administrator. The office of mayor is mentioned only once in the ordinance, where it says the administrator is to "Assist the Mayor in any of his duties as requested by him and approved by the Council." The ordinance is still on the books, and that is how the city is intended to function.
The reference to the mayor as "him" was obviously written before the days of gender awareness. Muscatine has had two female mayors prior to Diana Broderson. Evelyn Schauland and Jeanette Phillips both served with distinction and understood the proper role of the mayor. Schauland was actually an elected alderman in 1968, and was a member of the council creating the office of the city administrator before later serving as mayor. She understood the ordinance because she helped get it enacted.
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Muscatine's first City Administrator was Gordon Jaeger. He took office on Aug. 26, 1968, after the city did a search to find a qualified person. It proved to be an ideal fit. Jaeger, by all accounts, did an excellent job. He got along fine with the mayor, the council, and members of the community who had interactions with him. Jaeger eventually went on to bigger things and he was succeeded by other successful administrators through the years, including the current office holder Gregg Mandsager. He is doing the job mandated by the council, and does it well.
Previous mayors all understood the limited duties of the office. He or she does not run the city. Now we have a complete mess in city government, with some of the blame on the mayor and maybe just as much on the council.
I attended the two days of hearings when the council voted to remove Broderson from office. The city attorney testified that at one of the closed council meetings there was a discussion to define exactly what Broderson could do as the mayor, and what were the duties and function of the city administrator. There was an agreement, according to the testimony, concerning the roles and duties of the council members, the mayor and the administrator functioning on behalf of the city. The mayor seemed to understand. She and the administrator shook hands on the agreement on how to move forward. The next morning, the mayor sent an email to her supporters alleging she was a victim of gender discrimination, and she hasn't changed in her methods of trying to run city government.
Gil Dietz worked at the Muscatine Journal for 32 years, much of that time as editor. He is retired and lives in Muscatine.