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Secrecy over lucrative payout creates a stench at Davenport City Hall

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Secrecy over lucrative payout creates a stench at Davenport City Hall

Nov 29, 2023 | 12:53 pm ET
By Ed Tibbetts
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Secrecy over lucrative payout creates a stench at Davenport City Hall
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(Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch with background via Canva; Davenport City Hall photo courtesy of Ed Tibbetts)

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A week later, the stink still lingers.

Last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, when they knew hardly anybody was paying attention, Davenport city officials announced they were giving departing City Administrator Corri Spiegel $1.6 million.

The city said $1 million was for the emotional pain and suffering that Spiegel suffered, which the city council said in a statement was due to “prolonged and documented instances of harassment” by some elected officials over the past eight years.

They didn’t say what the offending behavior was. But they did say there were multiple offenders who had acted inappropriately and wrongly. That included current and former elected officials.

As part of the agreement, Spiegel agreed not to sue.

So, as I understand it: Some current elected officials engaged in “inappropriate and wrong” behavior. Former elected officials engaged in “inappropriate, wrong, and appalling” conduct. Then, city officials agreed to fork over $1.6 million to Spiegel, and she agreed not to take legal action against the city or its officers. The other $600,000 is for “lost wages,” the agreement says.

Surely, this demands an investigation by the proper authorities.

Can harassers use somebody else’s money — taxpayer money — to protect themselves from a lawsuit?

What’s more, the city’s release of information makes it clear this scheme was hatched a month before the general election, then kept under wraps until after voters went to the polls.

Small wonder, given the details.

Now our elected leaders aren’t talking at all. “No further comments will be made,” the council’s statement said.

In my 35 years in Davenport, I’ve never seen anything like it.

The council assures us that the payout is “small” compared to what a lawsuit would cost. But there is no reason to believe this assertion — not when the actions of our elected leaders have all been aimed at keeping this quiet. And, perhaps, at insulating themselves from harm.

If this is such a good bargain, why go to so much trouble to hide it?

Why disclose the ugly details the day before a holiday so that fewer people would know about it?

And why hide it from the voters? The answer to this question seems obvious. If there was this kind of harassment going on for years, and some current elected officials had acted in ways that were “inappropriate and wrong,” that would surely be a liability on Election Day.

As for those who aren’t directly implicated, how many were blind to these “prolonged and documented” instances of harassment? And how many knew and simply kept their mouths shut?

Either way, it doesn’t give you a lot of confidence, does it?

The city council’s statement only identified former Alderman Derek Cornette, who seven members of the council voted to remove from office in September. (Cornette is now suing the city.)

However, Spiegel wasn’t the only person the city said were targets in that case. The city cited other employees, too.

Did they get big payouts? If not, why not? If so, how much?

Rather than be accountable, members of the council are putting the onus on the state legislature, saying that state lawmakers ought to do something; to empower somebody to “investigate and hold accountable” local elected officials guilty of transgressions of the law and propriety.

What a crock.

Why do local officials need the state’s permission to do the right thing? To speak up when they see wrongdoing. To demand proper behavior from themselves and their colleagues.

To try to insulate the city from costly legal exposure.

Ever since May, with the collapse of the downtown apartment building, Davenport officials have fielded a raft of criticism, and Spiegel was listed among the defendants in legal action taken in connection with the incident, in which three people were killed.

Now, this.

Mind you, all of this is happening as there’s an exodus of top administrative officials.

There clearly is a lot we in the public don’t know.

I do think the aldermen and mayor got it half-right when they asked for the state to get involved. But instead of the legislature, Attorney General Brenna Bird ought to be the one to step in and investigate this situation. Or perhaps it should be State Auditor Rob Sand. There certainly are questionable expenditures of public money in this case.

Yes, the stink on this deal is still strong, and it will continue to linger until we get some answers.

This column was originally published by Ed Tibbetts’ Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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