DAVENPORT, Iowa — Davenport's 7th ward alderman Derek Cornette is now out of a job over allegations of workplace harassment and other misconduct.
Mayor Mike Matson called for a Sept. 7 public special meeting, which focused only on discussing Cornette's possible removal. The meeting was not a court trial, but assistant city attorney Brian Heyer presented testimony, voicemail and even police body cam footage in an effort to convince the city council to remove Cornette. Heyer then presented a closing statement.
After Heyer's presentation, Cornette's attorney Michael Meloy was able to cross-examine those who gave testimony. He also gave his own closing statement. After both presentations, the other council members voiced their opinions before voting on Cornette's fate.
Before Heyer's presentation, Meloy made four requests which were all denied by Mayor Matson:
- Request to recuse Mayor Matson from the meeting
- Request to recuse Alderman-at-large Kyle Gripp from the meeting
- Request for continuance (delay the meeting for a future date)
- Request to dismiss the meeting
Arguments from the assistant city attorney
Heyer argued that Cornette had a pattern of harassment towards female employees, beginning with what Heyer described as an 'impact statement' from city administrator Corri Spiegel.
"The actions of Alderman Cornette over the past year have been unimaginable," Spiegel said. "No one on city staff deserves to be called 'sweetie' or 'darling' or 'babe.'"
Heyer argued that the continued harassment caused two female employees to go on indefinite leave over the working conditions. "I identified that there was theme to he was using 'pet names' and that they were towards female employees," city HR director Allison Fleming said. "What was Alderman Cornette's reaction to that?" Heyer asked. "He said he would start calling the male employees by those pet names," Fleming responded.
Heyer also presented testimony from city attorney Tom Warner, who said on multiple occasions, Cornette was asked to stop other behavior, such as one situation where Cornette allegedly gabbed a female co-worker's hand and called him "his little mama."
Voicemails sent to city office numbers was also presented, including one in which Cornette used explitive language in a message to Alderman-at-Large Kyle Gripp.
Heyer also argued that Cornette had a pattern of appearing drunk at work, presenting body camera footage where police and city attorney Tom Warner confronted him after a city council meeting.
Cornette was given a breathalyzer test, which read .072, below Iowa's limit of 0.08. Cornette expressed frustration at Warner and the other officers. "I'm getting really tired of every time I walk in here, it's like 'oh, you're drunk,'" Cornette said in the video.
Arguments from Cornette's attorney
Meloy questioned why employees didn't go through proper channels and procedures, starting with Warner. He asked the city attorney about a 'temporary communication protocol' that was given to Cornette after one of the alleged incidents of harassment. "The day before, it would've been May 22nd, I told him to have no contact with city employees other than myself or Brian Heyer until we could meet with him on May 23rd," Warner said. "Is that part of a City of Davenport policy?" Heyer asked. "No, but as you should be aware of as an attorney, we have to take reasonable measures to protect our employees," Warner explained.
Meloy also questioned Spiegel. "You never filed a written sexual harassment complaint against Alderman Cornette, correct?" he asks. "Correct," Spiegel answered. When asked why she didn't, she said "for fear of retaliation, I chose not to." Meloy asked if Spiegel believed her job would be at risk because of Cornette, which she said "similar to the city attorney, [Cornette] can be one of the votes." Earlier when Meloy was talking to Warner, he also expressed concern that Cornette could threaten his job. Meloy confirmed that 7 yes votes would be needed to fire Spiegel, that Cornette would be only one of those votes and would need to convince the others.
Meloy called the timing of the meeting suspicious, as Cornette only first learned about the meeting on Sept. 5 through a phone call from Mayor Matson. "No one has a hearing to try and remove a public official, elected public official with one day's notice," Meloy said. Furthermore, he pointed out how soon the meeting was before Cornette would attempt to run for reelection on October 3rd, and general election on November 7th.
Meloy also questioned the validity of the meeting. "Why didn't the city cite alderman Cornette with a written sexual harassment complaint, under city code that they had the right to do, if these charges were so grievous?" he argued. "That's the way to handle these charges, not by trying to remove somebody."
Before the council voted, the other members gave their opinions. "Only the district court has the authority for removal of an elected official from office, not us," 8th ward alderman Judith Lee said.
"Had this been a staff incident, and you've heard this tonight, the offender would've been terminated a long time ago," 3rd ward alderman Marion Meginnis said.
"We can't conduct ourselves this way, we can't use those terms, we can't, especially after you've been warned about it," Alderman-at-large J.J. Condon said.
Cornette, Lee, and 5th ward Alderman Tim Kelly voted no. All other council members voted yes to remove Conette from his position, effective immediately.
After the meeting
News 8 approached Warner for comment after the meeting, but he declined to answer any questions. Cornette told media "The city totally disses the 7th ward, and I'm the only one that's been fighting for them. They love me, and I will continue to do that good work," also reaffirming his plan to run for re-election. Meloy confirmed that he will appeal the decision to Iowa's circuit court within 30 days of the meeting. It is unclear how long it would take for the court to review their case.
Watch more news, weather and sports on News 8's YouTube channel