In a dramatic development at the end of Monday’s Waverly City Council meeting, the eve of the mayoral runoff election, one councilman spoke his mind, reading from a prepared statement, three others acted out in a symbolic manner in response to it, and the mayor pleaded for civility and unity.
As Ward 5 Councilman Tim Kangas read a laundry list reviewing his colleagues’ actions over the past two years, Ward 1 Councilman Dan Lampe, Ward 3 Councilman Wes Gade and At-Large Councilman David Reznicek stood up in a staggered fashion and left the chambers, as did some members of the audience.
Kangas was re-elected for a fourth term in November, while Lampe, Gade and Reznicek opted not to run.
With consternation reining in at the chambers, both in the audience and among the remaining officials at the dais, and while Kangas continued to read, Gade re-entered the chambers, walked behind Kangas and Mayor Chuck Infelt, and poured himself a glass of water from a pitcher set on a table behind them.
What happened next set an eyebrow-raising precedent in what has become a sliding scale of civility during council meetings.
With Kangas unfazed by the disruption and focused on his speech, Gade hovered over the mayor and the longest-serving councilman, at one time leaning over Kangas’ shoulder as if to read along.
Then, after noticing this newspaper’s beat reporter reach for his still camera to capture the highly unusual scene, Gade leaned over between the mayor and his colleague, as if he’s photobombing, and flashed the “hang-loose” sign, extending a pinky and thumb from his right hand in front of him and holding the pose for a couple of seconds while smiling.
The moment was livestreamed on the Waverly Newspapers Facebook page, as well as on the city’s YouTube channel. It can be viewed at approximately the 57-minute mark.
The scene unfolded in front of about a dozen Wartburg College journalism students, two of the three newly sworn council members — Dr. Ann Rathe, a psychiatrist at Waverly Health Center, and Brian Birgen, a math professor at Wartburg — as well as Infelt’s runoff opponent, Dean Soash, and approximately a score of other community members and city staff.
Keeping his composure, Kangas got to the end of his typed speech, which elicited light, scattered applause, including from Gade, who, by that time, had moved out of Kangas’ and the mayor’s personal space.
This is not the first time tensions at council meetings have reached a boiling point and become news, taking attention away from the public’s business.
However, this is the most dramatic instance illustrating the deepening division on the council for the last two years and the irreconcilable worldviews that often clashed, locking the council in a 4-3 vote, which happened several times on Monday. (See coverage on Page A1.)
The outgoing councilmen championed lower taxes, lower rates for utilities and public services, as well as less spending.
Their counterparts, on the other hand, often sided with staff proposals on many projects.
In his statement Monday, which was read last during the council members’ comments period, Kangas stated that the three outgoing councilmen have scrutinized the replacement of fire equipment and city vehicles, including those which were at least 10 years old, and the ethics of two city administrators and other city staff members. Kangas also claimed they had suggested businesses locate elsewhere, had questioned the library, and most recently called Waverly Utilities’ ethics into question without proof.
“I am surely leaving things out,” Kangas said. “But that is their legacy and doesn’t have to be Waverly’s.”
Waverly Newspapers reached out to all seven current council members as well as Rathe, Birgen and Soash for their comments and reactions to what happened Monday. The full text of Kangas’ statement as well as the three councilmen who left the meeting in protest appear on Page A6.
Gade took offense to Kangas’ statement and everything surrounding it.
“I just stood there and did nothing,” he said. “But wanted Infelt and Kangas to know I was there because they both had this planned and Infelt was part of it.
“You can tell by his comments afterwards he was part of it. You can tell by how he knew to let Kangas speak last out of turn.
“So I just wanted to be there. And all I did was stand and listen while Kangas attacked 75 percent of Waverly citizens.”
Reznicek, emailing from a three-day conference at John Deere headquarters in Moline, Ill., said what Kangas did was a stunt.
“There were so many statements communicated during this stunt that I find so misleading and out of context,” Reznicek said. “However, Tim Kangas identified during this stunt where the outgoing council members have worked very hard for citizens questioning spending, questioning projects without acceptable business cases, or addressing situations where citizens felt they were not being treated well. All of these topics are the responsibilities of an engaged council member.
“Tim needs to realize that I never speak, I never act, I never prepare for meetings without the input citizens ask me to support them on. So, every criticism Tim said, ironically is directed to the citizens that make up Waverly.”
Reznicek also said Infelt shouldn’t have allowed the statement to continue when he “has stated a policy prohibiting such actions.”
Reznicek said he walked out because he thought Kangas’ speech was a “shameful experience.”
“I felt the best way to address the level of indignity by both a council member and the mayor who was encouraging the behavior, was to not acknowledge it by my presence, assuming the behavior would cease or be halted by the mayor,” he said. “Further, by his belligerent statements as I left the situation removing myself from the situation, he seems to think others are to be held bound by his behavior.”
For his part, Lampe said that Kangas’ comment demonstrated the climate of divisiveness on City Council.
“It is very clear that Tim is one of those directly responsible and he has always actively attempted to create hostility and division whenever possible,” Lampe said. “His behavior was unprofessional and embarrassing, but unfortunately, is typical and completely characteristic of Tim.
“On the positive side, given Tim’s behavior is now on display for the public to personally witness, and many are exploring options to remove him from office. Whether they are successful remains to be seen, however I am confident that Waverly citizens will remove him from office when his term expires, if not before.”
Lampe also found it unbelievable that Infelt would allow Kangas to make his statement, asserting that what was said was “an unprovoked and unsubstantiated rant against his peers.”
“In reality, do not hold Tim Kangas nearly as responsible for his tirade as I do Chuck Infelt for allowing it,” Lampe continued. “The mayor has repeatedly spoken out against, what he considers to be, any violation of his expectations of tone and respect, regardless of how minor. As for me walking out, I was ashamed for the organization that I have spent so much of my time working to contribute to. I refuse to validate his remarks with my presence. I was completely shocked and needed time to collect my thoughts before responding.”
The newly elected council members who watched the drama unfold from the gallery saw things differently.
Birgen, the math professor who will take over Lampe’s seat in January, said that Gade’s behavior was a violation of decorum.
“While I am sympathetic that Dan Lampe and David Reznicek wanted to leave because they were feeling attacked, it was very inappropriate for Wes Gade to stand behind Tim Kangas making faces while Tim was reading his statement,” Birgen said. “The City Council deserves members who take their responsibilities seriously.”
Rathe, who is stepping up in January to Reznciek’s seat, said Waverly deserves better from its council members.
“The disrespectful behavior displayed by Councilmen Lampe, Reznicek and Gade toward their colleague was painful to witness and embarrassing for our city,” Rathe said. “Mr. Gade’s immature antics were humorous only to him; those of us in the room who take city government seriously were not amused.
“I think Waverly citizens are ready for a council that works more and grandstands less. I look forward to a fresh start for city government in 2018.”
Two of the sitting council members who responded by press time agreed.
Ward 4 Councilman Mike Sherer said he felt during the meeting he might have entered into a sci-fi thriller.
“When I looked over my right shoulder on Monday night and witnessed what was transpiring, I thought perhaps I had slipped into an alternative universe (and not exactly a good one),” Sherer said. “Things will improve at City Council in less than a month, if we can just hold on.”
At-Large Councilwoman Edith Waldstein appreciated Kangas speaking out with “factual information to correct the many falsehoods that have been stated at council meetings and social media.”
“I also agree with him that the passionate mudslinging in which Councilman Gade engages, primarily through social media, has significantly contributed to the divisiveness apparent in our cherished community, the City of Waverly,” Waldstein said.
She had no problem with the trio leaving the chambers while Kangas read his statement, but was offended by Gade’s behavior upon returning.
“The attempt at physical intimidation was uncalled for and completely inappropriate,” Waldstein said. “At the same time, I have strong faith and trust in the citizens of Waverly. We are a community that respects one another, that is proud of our beautiful and prosperous city, and that has and will continue to come together to plan and act for the betterment of all.
“We have experienced some setbacks of late, but I have every confidence that we will work together to get back on track. And I will do everything I can to make this happen.”
Soash, who won Tuesday’s runoff by a 68-to-32-percent margin, and Ward 2 Councilman Dan McKenzie did not respond by press time.
As Kangas’ statement was delivered on the eve of the mayoral runoff, he said whoever won would be tasked with trying to bring the city back together again.
“I have watched as Mayor Infelt has tried to bridge differences and move forward, often to a fault in hoping for cooperation and professionalism,” Kangas said. “Too often, he has been met with straight-up rigid opposition to anything.
“I have heard Mr. Soash talk about making Waverly one again, and I believe and trust that that is what is in his heart and how he will govern if he [won]. To do so may mean distancing himself from those that have been so divisive and look to him as a surrogate to continue their path since they themselves were unable to be re-elected.”
Finally, he closed hoping the new council in January, which also would include Rod Drenkow, who was not in attendance on Monday, taking over Gade’s seat, would be “respectful, professional, positive and productive.”
Left to deal with the fallout of what had just transpired, Infelt then wished better things for Waverly after the runoff.
“Amongst these low roads that we’ve had to live with, there is a high road, too,” Infelt said. “May nobility always win, may we always speak the truth and love. May Waverly stay united.
“We must be one town, it’s what’s given us our town energy. I will do everything possible to do that, whether I’m supporting Dean doing that or whether I’m elected. But together, we must stand.”
Asked on Tuesday about the actions of the three councilmen who exited the room, Kangas said he stood by his statement.
“Too long things have been allowed to be said on social media or in the paper through lengthy editorials that go unchallenged,” he said. “The last month has seen an increase including completely unfounded and baseless accusations made against sitting council members, the mayor, public employees and other members of the community. It was time to take a stand.”
He also wasn’t surprised that Lampe, Reznicek and Gade left.
“They couldn’t control the narrative with innuendo and broad sweeping accusations, so they ran from the bright lights,” Kangas said. “As for Mr. Gade, I have no explanation for him other than he allowed the whole city to see his level of maturity. If he thought he was being intimidating, he wasn’t. Fortunately, the city only has to see his antics from the dais one last time, if he shows up.”