Former Davenport City Administrator's Missing Demand Letter Revealed: $1.6MM Nothing Burger

Former Davenport City Administrator's Missing Demand Letter Revealed: $1.6MM Nothing Burger

On May 28, 2023, my wife and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary at our home in Davenport with family and friends when we began to hear police and ambulance sirens racing downtown. News reports soon made it clear that there had been a horrific disaster: 324 Main Street, a 116-year-old, six-story building housing numerous low-income tenants partially collapsed from top to bottom.

May 30, 2023. "Stop" the demo' rally held outside collapsed Davenport building as residents remain missing.

Eventually we would learn that three people had died and a fourth had been terribly maimed. By the next morning a crowd had gathered protesting the immediate demolition of the building and was being held back by Davenport police. The protestors were insisting that survivors were still alive in the building.

What we know now: 12:46 p.m., May 29, 2023, former city administrator Corri Spiegel sent out an email to elected officials stating, “We have authorized the emergency demolition contract with Valley Construction, who is mobilized on- site.” In fact, no contract with Valley Construction was ever even drawn up. Nonetheless, city aldermen at 12:59 a.m. and 2:07 PM sent out emails repeating this fiction; also that there were “no known fatalities” and, “demolition will likely begin tomorrow morning.” However, the protestors were right: Lisa Brooks was still alive in the collapsed building. She would be rescued later that day.

What we know now: On May 27, at 2:51 p.m., 26 hours before 324 Main Street will collapse, Davenport Fire Department “E1C was dispatched to... [324 Main Street] for a passer-by who called in 911 in regards to large multi-story building with bricks 'bulging' out... Chief 1 also arrived on scene and stated this matter has already been addressed and there was no further action needed from E1C.” Davenport Fire Department was on scene for four minutes and then they left. The next day people would die.

What we know now: On the day that 324 Main Street collapsed killing three and maiming a fourth there were 74 open housing violations including reports going back years about the crumbling south wall that would collapse. There were open violations for, “life safety equipment,” cited by Fire Marshal Morris. Tenants had reported to the city that they had not had heat for months during the winter. Specific units in 324 Main Street were tagged as uninhabitable without an inspection. There were no inspections, but they were occupied, anyway. Read the entire timeline at 324 Main Street Disaster Timeline & Receipts

What we know now: On August 2, 2021, Rich Oswald, Director of Development & Neighborhood Services, ordered all, “re-inspections on existing violations [at 324 Main Street] on hold.”

What we know now: There were at least two “Official Notice to Vacate” orders for 324 Main Street. Both were ignored. Neither was enforced.

What we know now: On February 2, 115 days before the collapse, a Notice of Public Hazard was issued that stated, “Part of the south-west wall has been gradually failing. This failure is seen to continue on the inside whythes of brick masonry as well. There is visible crumbling of this exterior load bearing wall under the support beam.”

What we know now: That some of the victims of 324 Main Street were placed there by Davenport city officials. Davenport’s Community and Economic Development department is paid by HUD and VASH (Veteran’s Administration Supplemental Housing) to administer low income housing. At least five tenants at 324 Main Street were there because they were placed in the building by the city of Davenport. HUD requires that all rental units in the Section 8 program be inspected. Davenport’s Community and Economic Development department paid inspectors who passed 324 Main Street as safe and noted that both the “exterior walls” and “mobile home tie-downs” of 324 Main Street as “passed.” Needless to say, 324 Main Street did not have “mobile home tie-downs” so why were they checked off as “passed” on the HUD inspections? A recent HUD report found 18 areas where the city of Davenport was failing and required the city to file a "Corrective Action Plan" within 30 days.

What we know now: The tragedy of 324 Main Street was a human tragedy caused by human failure. It exposed a dysfunctional city of Davenport incapable of protecting its citizens or enforcing rental regulations against unscrupulous slumlords. The city of Davenport had two departments, Neighborhood Services and Community and Economic Development, that worked against each other. One department placed Section 8 and veterans in need into 324 Main Street while another city department repeatedly cited the building as unsafe, dangerous, and as a public hazard. One department sent Orders to Vacate to the owner of 324 Main Street. The other department literally sent rent checks to the slumlord. By the way, the city continues to send rent checks every month to the same slumlord for other HUD and Veterans in need that the city has placed in his properties.

The 324 Main Street disaster did not have to happen. It was entirely preventable. It was caused by human greed, human incompetence, and lack of leadership. Hopefully, it will never happen again. But, I am not optimistic.

What we know now: Former Davenport City Administrator (who was paid more than $338,000 annually by taxpayers in 2023) Corrine Spiegel, hired the department heads that mismanaged two of the city's biggest disasters in modern history – the 2019 flood wall failure and the 324 Main St. building collapse – secured a $1.6MM payment for emotional damages and lost wages in secret without a city council vote until after the 2023 municipal elections. This secret pay-off was after two of Spiegel's staffers secured their own payoffs of $200,00 each citing similar emotional damages. After much obfuscation, delaying tactics and law fare to keep Spiegel's demand letter undisclosed (including at one point attorneys for the City who filed a lawsuit to ask the courts to determine if the demand letter can remain confidential stating in a court hearing that they can't find a copy of said letter) plaintiff Dr. Allen L. Diercks prevailed and the hush-hush demand letter has been disclosed, by his attorney Mike Meloy.

Readers can read the letter for themselves and determine if Spiegel's recounting of her eight years as City Administrator warranted a secret $1.6MM settlement so that she would not sue the City. Given the gravitas of what had transpired in 2019 with the flood wall disaster and in 2023 with 324 Main St. disaster – both of which occurred on Spiegel's watch as the top paid city official – compared to the school-age-girl-thin-skinned complaints in the demand letter, one could say Spiegel's demand letter is a “nothing burger.”

Read the entire letter at Read the entire timeline with further receipts at The Decline and Fall of Davenport, Iowa? A Timeline

Thankfully, Dr. Diercks is pursuing a path to potentially claw back the nearly $2MM that was paid out under dubious circumstances at best.

About the Researcher/Author: D. Ezra Sidran holds a doctorate in computer science from the University of Iowa and is an award-winning computer game designer, who lives in Davenport, Iowa. Before retiring he taught computer science at the University of Iowa.

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