Peosta City Council members Monday night had the choice between accepting the resignation of the mayor or backing his request to continue serving.
They chose the former, ending Larry Mescher’s nearly six-year tenure in the position and prompting him to rush out of the specially scheduled council work session.
“It’s unfortunate because Larry was a good mayor,” said Council Member and Mayor pro tem Gerry Hess after the session. “He wants to do the best for the city.”
Council members were in a position to decide whether Mescher would continue serving in his elected role after he sent a pair of emails last week.
In an email to city staff and council members on Oct. 13, Mescher wrote, “I resign!”
Two days later, Mescher sent out another email.
“In haste and a bit of anger, I sent out an email that I resign,” he wrote. “I would like to apologize and ask that you allow me to rescind my previous email. Thank you.”
Those emails came the week after a contentious council meeting and a follow-up work session.
During citizen comments at the end of the council’s Oct. 8 meeting, A.J. Spiegel lashed out at council members for their vote on Sept. 24 to table a study evaluating possibly moving City Hall and related offices from Peosta Community Centre to the city’s new police station on Peosta Street. Spiegel is the founder of Mi-T-M Corp. and a longtime financial contributor to city initiatives. He had offered to pay for the $3,000 study.
In an audio recording from the meeting, Spiegel can be heard shouting at the council members and accusing “you three women” of preventing beneficial city projects. He called for Council Members Karen Lyons, Kathy Orr and Carla Reuter to resign.
A special City Council work session was held Oct. 11, and a topic of discussion was the exchange between Spiegel and council members.
Two days later, Mescher sent his resignation email without explanation.
On Monday, Mescher was the first elected official present for the work session. He then opened it from the position of mayor.
Orr asked what was going on.
“You resigned,” she said to Mescher.
Mescher called his resignation a mistake but explained some of his reasons for sending the email. He said the council was disorganized and that recent meetings were a storm of conversations being had over others.
He said Lyons insisted on bringing up gripes from years past.
Lyons admitted she hadn’t needed to do that.
But she took issue with Mescher’s decision to accept a $3,000 check for the City Hall study from Spiegel after the Oct. 8 meeting in which the developer lashed out at council members — and after council members in September voted to table pursuit of the study.
Reached by the Telegraph Herald after Monday’s meeting, Spiegel confirmed that he signed the check and defended his actions as standing up to the “negative program” of Lyons, Orr and Reuter.
During the work session, Mescher defended accepting the check, calling it a donation to the city.
Orr called it “a bribe.”
Hess said it was the mixed messages from Mescher that worried him.
“Not that you don’t take it seriously, but you’re the face of the city,” Hess said to Mescher. “It’s not a good spot for the city.”
Council Member John Kraft agreed.
“As a leader, when we hit tough times and get into situations where we need someone to step up, unfortunately, I feel you jumped ship,” he said.
City Administrator Whitney Baethke said the city’s legal counsel determined that council members had the authority to either accept the resignation or not.
Lyons moved to accept it.
“Fine with me,” Mescher said, rising and walking briskly from the table.
He only paused to rebuff the initiated apology from Lyons.
“I’m sorry...” she began.
“You are not, Karen,” Mescher said. “You are not sorry one bit.”
Then, he left.
Baethke said council members have two options to fill the vacancy.
They can hold a special election, though the soonest one that could be held would be March 3.
Or they can appoint someone to serve the remaining two years of Mescher’s term. If they opt to go that route, residents still would have 60 days to petition for a special election to be held instead.