The Davenport City Council is employing some disturbing tactics this term. The appointed Mayor Pro Tem, Alderman-at-Large Jamie Howard, is a co-pilot on what appears to be a definite power trip with pilot Mayor Charlie Brooke, evidenced by their joint effort to terminate John Waddell from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). Based on Howard's letter of recommendation to terminate Waddell, which fairly mirrors Brooke's notification letter to Waddell stating his intent to remove him, it is difficult to draw any other conclusion than that they are coconspirators.
John Waddell was one of Brooke's opponents in the mayoral primary last year, and it appears Waddell is paying the price for it. Brooke took office the week of January 2, 2002, and one of his first orders of business was to begin a questionable process to remove Waddell from his long-time appointment as a commissioner on the ZBA.
As the appointing authority for many of the city's commissions and committees, and the one responsible for their oversight, Brooke issued his first letter to Waddell on January 4, 2002, accusing Waddell of improper conduct, ranging from physically attacking a man at a gas station to soliciting campaign funds as payback for favorable decisions as a ZBA commissioner to persisting in personal investigations of ZBA cases and expressing decisions before all the evidence was submitted. Altogether Brooke made four allegations; two were specific while the other two were generally vague.
During a May 30th public hearing, which was ordered by the court after reviewing Waddell's request for an injunction on the matter of Waddell's removal from the ZBA, Waddell's attorney presented irrefutable proof that the two specific allegations were unfounded. As for the other two vague allegations, there was no specific evidence backing the charges, so there was no means for Waddell to refute them. Brooke admitted that he had no such evidence, and Howard agreed that there was nothing in her investigation to substantiate them, either.
So why was Waddell terminated anyway? Because Brooke and Howard, with the majority blessing of the council, used what little process there was to impose their desire on the public for Waddell's removal from the ZBA. The May 30th public hearing was no more than a kangaroo court, with Brooke as judge and jury. Most of the council went along to get along as Brooke demonstrated for us all precisely what might be accomplished with abuse of power. Citizens should be deeply concerned.
Mayor Brooke wrote three letters to Waddell between January 4 and March 20, 2002, the first outlining his allegations against Waddell and requesting explanations (with no deadline for responding), the second again requesting Waddell to respond to his four accusations (again, with no deadline for responding except to say "at your earliest opportunity"), and the third notifying Waddell of his intention to remove him as a ZBA commissioner. Meanwhile, Waddell sought legal counsel, especially considering the seriousness of the allegations, and was advised not to respond to Brooke. His attorneys would do any responding for him via legal channels.
On or about March 8, at the request of Brooke, Mayor Pro Tem Howard began a 10-day investigation into the allegations brought by Brooke. According to Howard, she spoke with city staff, most especially legal department personnel, who informed her that Waddell had behaved improperly. She also spoke with Waddell, who informed her that he was not responding directly to Mayor Brooke's allegations because he was under legal advisement not to. Howard claims she urged Waddell to at least communicate as much to the mayor, but Waddell felt his conversation with Howard was communication enough without violating his counsel. Howard submitted her final report, "Performance & Evaluation of John Waddell," to Mayor Brooke on March 18, 2002, recommending that Waddell be terminated as commissioner of the ZBA.
Meanwhile, Brooke and Howard switched ships midstream. Because they could not substantiate any of the allegations Brooke made against Waddell (which Brooke freely admitted originated primarily from reports he read in the daily newspaper prior to taking office), they instead charged Waddell with insubordination, claiming Waddell refused to respond to Brooke's letters giving rise to insubordination as the newly devised cause for Waddell's termination.
The due process as set forth in the Iowa code and the city's charter regarding accountability, etc., relative to commissions needs clarification because it allows for these procedural shenanigans unless otherwise challenged in court, which Waddell is pursuing via his current lawsuit against the city. At a minimum, the burden of proof for any allegations made by an appointing authority should necessarily be on that authority. Brooke was able to make the allegations against Waddell with no proof, purportedly putting the burden on Waddell to satisfactorily respond. In similar circumstances, any authority would make an allegation based primarily on substantiation, with clear evidence to support the allegation. In Waddell's case, allegations were made based on little more than hearsay, and any investigation was conducted only after the allegations were made. When Howard was asked what data she examined to arrive at her determination that Waddell acted improperly, she declined to answer citing numerous pending lawsuits involving the ZBA as her justification for not responding specifically to such questions. However, after researching court records, only one lawsuit could reasonably be considered current, Michael Doss v. City of Davenport, and it has been settled.
When asked for specific examples and cases to support her declarations against Waddell that included accusing him of "personally investigating cases after repeatedly being told not to" and "continually expressing his decision before all evidence is submitted," she refused, claiming she was uncomfortable commenting on such information because it is part of pending lawsuits involving the ZBA. For Howard to claim she based her decision on due diligence that included information from multiple lawsuits, when in reality she only culled from one such lawsuit, is deeply disturbing. Where is the accountability for Howard's investigation? By her own admission, her due diligence took a mere 10 days. Furthermore, where is Brooke's accountability in bringing the allegations in the first place, with virtually no evidence by his own admission? There is a legal question whether Waddell was even obliged to respond to such scurrilous charges under the circumstances, but the answer to this question and more will have to be determined by the court (another process for which the cost will be borne by taxpayers, no less).
The lesson for the public here is that Waddell and every other commissioner is at the mercy of Brooke, Howard, or anyone else the mayor chooses to involve (assuming other parties are willing to participate in such folly). Allegations can be made without substantive evidence, causing the accused to be victimized by those in a position of authority. Recall that Mayor Brooke made the allegations, and then sat in judgment of the entire matter.
In his first letter to Waddell, Brooke claimed that one of his goals as mayor is to "make sure all board members and commissioners are properly performing their duties and projecting a good image for the City. I have asked people to comment on incumbents, and, where I felt that a board member needed to be replaced, I have asked them to step aside." An interesting declaration considering Brooke had only been in office two days. How many other board members or commissioners were sent allegations for which they were asked to respond, let alone asked to step aside based on "comments" made? During the public hearing, Brooke explained that he had received other complaints about board members, but didn't consider them to be credible. So what are the mayor's criteria for the credibility of hearsay, especially when solicited?
Brooke recognized his own conflict of interest because Waddell was a political opponent, so he conscripted Howard in her capacity as mayor pro tem to conduct an investigation on his behalf. He was later informed that the mayor pro tem had no legal authority to terminate commissioners, so the ball was back in his lap–conflicts be damned.
At the end of the day, the issue here is not so much about the people involved as it is about the process. No matter how you stack this particular deck, Brooke appears to be clinging to a flimsy vine of legalese to accomplish his personal goal of ridding the ZBA of one of his political enemies. Howard has been a willing accomplice. Sixth Ward Alderman Bob McGivern added his two cents during the public hearing when he tried to influence public perception against Waddell by trying to spin information in a negative direction. (He tried to claim that the mayor's vague allegations relative to campaign conduct could not be all that vague because Waddell was able to respond to the state's ethics board. Waddell's attorney handily dismissed McGivern's feeble attempts by informing him that the mayor's allegations were different than those of the state ethics committee, and that the same ethics committee had completely exonerated Waddell from any wrong-doing, for which Waddell submitted written proof.) Fortunately, McGivern only succeeded in exposing his all-too-familiar ignorance of the facts, and further entrenched himself as a weak political strategist.
If Waddell was guilty of any of the alleged wrongdoing, then there should be plenty of evidence to back such charges up. Neither the mayor nor the mayor pro tem was able to produce such proof. Meanwhile, I can't think of anyone who would respond directly to such accusations without the advise of legal counsel, especially if anything he or she said could be used against them in the future. But this scenario did not occur here. Instead, Waddell's right to remain silent was used against him as cause for Brooke's claim of insubordination. There has to be a limit to what citizens will allow from their elected officials. We experienced the same kind of abuse of power when Aldermen Moritz, Sherwood, and Brown railroaded 22-year veteran city attorney Mike Meloy, terminating him without a shred of due process. My question to Davenport's residents is: When is enough enough?