Muscatine needs more quality housing, more people to promote city, says new mayor

When Brad Bark enrolled at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport in 2007, his wife Candice had been an environmental engineer with Stanley Consultants in Muscatine for two years. The Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, native said it did not take them long to decide to settle down in the river community of just under 25,000 people.

“In Muscatine, we have the Mississippi River, an amazing history, and big businesses like HNI, Kent Corporation and Carver Pump operating and going strong in their third generation,” said Mr. Bark, 37, who became the city’s mayor Jan. 6. “There are great parks and restaurants, and the fire and police departments keep us safe.”

He and Candice, who still is with Stanley Consultants, have three children: Cora, 9; David, 6; and Reuben, 3.

“We love this community,” said Mr. Bark, a former chiropractor who is manager of community initiatives at the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine. “My family has made so many friends here.”

The town’s strengths and its challenges led Mr. Bark to run for mayor. He quickly identifies what he considers the city’s biggest challenge and the first issue to address to encourage economic development: quality housing.

“Affordable housing is the No. 1 problem,” he said. “Housing insecurity happens when people can’t afford their rent, and it leads to food insecurity.

“We also need more housing in general. If Muscatine can develop more subdivisions and houses at low- to high-income prices, we’ll keep more of our workers here.”

Mr. Bark said that for many years, the number of commuters into Muscatine (who work there but live elsewhere) has stood at around 9,000. This includes 30% of the city’s teachers, he said.

“We’d like more people to put down roots here. If we get more housing, we can get more people to settle here, and attract more businesses. Maybe the husband who works at a large corporation here would have a wife who would open a small business. Also, large corporations that operate chain businesses study where growth is and locate in those places. All of this can help a town’s economy.”

Mr. Bark wants others to see what he sees in the place he calls home. “When people come here, they like it. We have to promote what Muscatine has to offer.”

He credits the quality of life to the efforts of his own employer, plus the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the United Way of Muscatine and Muscatine Charities, among other organizations. He would like to hear more voices join in the chorus promoting Muscatine.

Mr. Bark has been highly involved in the community since moving to Muscatine including serving as a board member for Parks & Recreation, the Downtown Action Alliance, Muscatine Charities, the Muscatine Welfare Association, and Friends of the Muscatine Art Center.

He opened Bark Chiropractic in 2011 with three other chiropractors at 200 E. Second St. in what is known as the “Medical Arts Building.” During the first surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bark Chiropractic moved its practice to 228 W. Second St. It gave them three times the space, allowing the practice to function safely.

From both office views in downtown Muscatine and his more than 10 years operating a business there, Mr. Bark witnessed “amazing vibrancy.”

“There is a big contrast between the Google Earth map of 2011 and the one of today. There are many more storefronts that are occupied, and it shows by how full the parking spots are. That’s a positive.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Bark encountered a new flare-up of an old neck injury in April, and it took away his ability to do the physical work required of a chiropractor. His community focus led him to land his current job with the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine.   

When Mr. Bark ran for mayor in 2021, it was with the same spirit of collaboration that had led him to serve on several public boards.

It must have resounded with conflict-weary Muscatine residents, who in 2017 began enduring the sparring between Mayor Diana Broderson, City Administrator Gregg Mandsager and the city council about committee appointment authority and the flow of communication between elected city officials and city employees. 

The city council impeached Ms. Broderson after five closed-door meetings, and the district court ruled the three-minute, no-discussion meeting infringed on her right to due process. A council with new members voted to not renew Mr. Mandsager’s contract, and in 2020, the city hired Carol Webb as its new administrator. 

Ms. Broderson and Mr. Mandsager sued each other, the City of Muscatine and individual council members over defamation and infliction of distress, among other claims. Ms. Broderson received a $75,000 settlement and Mr. Mandsager $50,000. The conflict drew attention from state and regional media.

Ms. Broderson won re-election in 2017 and 2019. In her first re-election bid, she ran uncontested, and in the second, she defeated Charlie Harper with 59% of the vote over his 40%. 

In the 2021 election, there were four mayoral contestants. Mr. Bark defeated Ms. Broderson by a vote of 1,834 to 1,239. The other contestants did not reach the four-digit mark.

In his tenure as Muscatine mayor, Mr. Bark seeks to distill advice from many sources.

“We all may have different backgrounds, but we all want a safe and prosperous community. Collaboration is how you get things done.”  

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