Former Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn has won a major battle in her quest to return to the Davenport Fire Department.
The Civil Service Commission granted her request Wednesday to return to a position commensurate with her civil service status by a 3-1 vote.
Washburn and her attorney, Mike Carroll, successfully argued for her to be returned to a position in line with a district chief, the position she had held at the Rockford (Illinois) Fire Department before being hired as the fire chief in 2011.
"I love working for the city of Davenport," Washburn said. "This has been an incredible city and incredible department, so any service I can provide to this community at whatever level, that is very rewarding."
Washburn was fired in late July by City Administrator Corri Spiegel after she was placed on administrative leave and failed to attend a pre-disciplinary meeting. Washburn had informed Spiegel via email that she would not be able to attend the meeting due to previously approved travel plans.
Last month, the commission ruled that it had the jurisdiction to hear whether she could return to the department, but not whether her termination was just.
Davenport, through assistant city attorney Brian Heyer, argued that Washburn had no civil service status because she was hired from another fire department and therefore was not granted the protections outlined in Iowa Code Chapter 400.
Heyer consistently referred back in his arguments to a 1978 court case, Cedar Rapids v. LaPeters, in which a police chief was removed from his position and the department.
Carroll said that Rockford's Fire Department was structured similarly to that of the Davenport Fire Department, including its job descriptions.
While Iowa Code 400.13 grants police and fire chiefs the ability to return to a position commensurate with their experience, the crux of the argument revolved around rights from other states being transferable.
"I don't think the statute says the code says you only keep your rights if you're promoted from within the department," Carroll said. "It doesn't say that. It also doesn't say that if you come from another state you don't keep civil service rights you brought with you."
Heyer said the Code outlines what is transferable, such as seniority benefits.
"Code 400.6 of the Iowa Code clearly says the chief is not a civil service position and only has the rights that are enunciated in (Iowa Code) 400.13 and 400.14," Heyer said.
Heyer also argued that Washburn retired from the Rockford Fire Department in order to take the position in Davenport, which extinguished her previous civil service rights.
When Heyer tried to bring up the week of Washburn's termination, Carroll objected on the grounds that it was not relevant to the hearing. His objection was sustained.
"Why she was fired is not an issue before this commission," Carroll said. "If the commission wants that to be a part of it, we better schedule a long hearing."
Commissioner Paul Bollinger, who cast the lone dissenting vote, presented a motion to follow the city's position, but it was not seconded.
"The state of Iowa has different statutes than the state of Illinois and you can't start crossing them," Bollinger said. "You want to be compassionate to an individual, but the language is in there and the Supreme Court identifies that language."
Commissioner John Bribriesco sided with Carroll's interpretation of the Code with his vote in favor of returning Washburn to the department.
"It's my feeling that the language in the second paragraph of section 400.13 doesn't say the chief that is relieved isn't entitled to remain in the department in a position commensurate with her status solely based upon her employment by the city of Davenport," Bribriesco said. "I think that statute is more broad."
If the ruling holds, Davenport would have to create a position because it does not currently have an open district chief's position.
The ruling does not outline when Washburn can return to work, but Carroll said there was a possibility of the city challenging the ruling in District Court.
"We'll have to discuss it, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the city fights it," Carroll said.
Following the hearing, Spiegel confirmed the city was weighing its options and that she would consult with her legal team before determining whether to challenge the commission's ruling.
Carroll did not rule out Washburn seeking additional legal remedies related to her termination.
"We didn't know if we could win, but we did," Carroll said. "It's premature to talk about other legal options. Let's get her back to work."