Former Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn's status continues to remain in limbo as the Davenport Civil Service Commission has requested more information before it determines if she has civil service rights and the opportunity to appeal her dismissal.
Civil service is the system that provides the framework to hire and promote employees and is determined through experience and passing testing exams.
The commission heard the jurisdictional matter during Wednesday's Civil Service Commission meeting, but with hearing arguments for the first time at the meeting, members requested both the city and Washburn's attorneys file briefs within two weeks before a decision is rendered.
Washburn was terminated from her position by City Administrator Corri Spiegel on July 27 after being placed on administrative leave earlier in the week.
Spiegel scheduled a pre-disciplinary meeting on the date of termination, but Washburn indicated she would not be able to attend because she would not be in town.
A memorandum from Spiegel placed in Washburn's personnel file then stated: "During my tenure, due to actions on her part including but not limited to those of today and the past several days, she demonstrated that she is unsuitable or unfit for continued employment."
Washburn filed notice of appeal after her termination on July 27, but the crux of the issues are her civil service status and rights to appeal.
Michael Carroll, the attorney representing Washburn, cited Iowa Code 400.13 which states that even if the police or fire chief is removed, the city is required to put them in a position commensurate with his or her experience, even if that requires creating a new position.
"It is Chief Washburn's position that her termination was improper, but assuming the city had a right to terminate her, it also has to appoint her to a new position even if it meant creating a new position," Carroll said.
Carroll also noted that Washburn was required to be placed on a certified list before her appointment to the chief's position.
Assistant City Attorney Brian Heyer argued that Iowa Code 400.13 and 400.14 needed to be read together and that by doing so, she did not have any civil service rights or the right to appeal.
"I believe the law is clear that Chief Washburn doesn't have a civil service right to appeal her discharge," Heyer said. "She is an at-will employee of the city administrator just like I am at-will."
Heyer cited a 1978 court case, LaPeters v. Cedar Rapids, in which the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the city's public safety commissioner was the proper authority to terminate Police Chief Wallace LaPeters because he did not have any civil service status. The decision noted that within the position of chief, civil service status is not acquired and concurrence with the city council was not needed.
In the case of LaPeters, the court ruled that his firing was governed by Iowa Code 372.15, which allows for a public hearing before the City Council within 30 days.
Heyer also said that the obligation to find or create a position for Washburn was not valid because she was not appointed from within the department, but rather came from the Rockford (Illinois) Fire Department.
Carroll countered that the Code does not explicitly state that civil service status is acquired within the same department and said in her employment contract it did not state that she waived her civil service rights.
Commissioner DeShonda Davis-Locke questioned Heyer whether any consideration was given to creating a position for Washburn, but Heyer said it did not, given that the city maintains she has no civil service status.
As Davis-Locke asked to look into the Code more, Heyer began speaking over her.
"To look into more, meaning what?" Heyer asked. "Which is why you have to read the both sections together to make sense. 400.14 clearly says 'nothing herein shall be deemed to extend to such individual any civil service right upon which the individual may retain the position.'"
Davis-Locke then asked to see if there was any written communication with Washburn when the appeal was filed.
Human Resources Director Dawn Sherman said Finance Director and Assistant City Administrator Brandon Wright contacted Washburn by phone once the city had received the legal opinion from staff.
Carroll said that Washburn had requested and been denied documentation from the city about her rights, which was why it was the first time he had heard the city's legal interpretation.
With the commission seeking more information and time to digest the material, Carroll and the city's attorneys are required to submit briefs before the commission's next meeting.
"This is our first presentation about her discharge, let alone the rights that she has, so I would like more information and wouldn't mind that in the form of position papers or briefs from both sides," Commissioner John Bribriesco said.