Former Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn is a finalist to lead the Ames (Iowa) Fire Department. The announcement came less than two hours after the latest court hearing over her employment dispute with Davenport ended.
Washburn, who was fired in 2017, is one of two finalists for the fire chief position. She is scheduled to give a public presentation there early next week.
Ames spokeswoman Susan Gwiasda declined to answer whether the city was aware of Washburn’s ongoing legal battle in Davenport. But she said the candidates for fire chief “have gone through the civil service process” and “the only thing that can be considered in that process is what’s on the (employment) application.”
Earlier Wednesday, attorneys for Washburn and the city of Davenport made arguments in Scott County District Court as to whether Washburn should be reinstated to a position with the Davenport department. District Court Judge Stuart Werling said he expects to issue a ruling within two months.
At issue is whether Washburn is entitled to receive job protections given to public service employees under Iowa law. As a nearly 30-year employee of the Rockford (Illinois) Fire Department, including four years as deputy chief, Washburn has argued that civil status should transfer to her position in Davenport. The city has argued those protections do not apply, as they are reserved for firefighters promoted through the ranks.
In court, attorneys rehashed those positions, providing differing interpretations of state law.
The city's lawyer, Richard Davidson, said Washburn lost her civil service employment protections when she took the Davenport job. He questioned how her civil service seniority in Rockford would apply, noting she left the department one month before she took the helm nearly seven years ago.
“She was done. She retired. She quit. There’s nothing in the record that even says she had any civil service status at Rockford,” Davidson said.
Michael Carroll, representing Washburn, called the city’s argument over her rank a “red herring,” saying her time with the Rockford department serves an example of why cities in Iowa look outside for experienced employees.
“It flies in the face of reason to think that a person cannot resign or retire from their prior position in order to accept a new position. She had a prior rank, she had a prior position, she had enough time in the position and within the state system to retire from it instead of just resigning,” Carroll said.
Carroll added the city is asking the court to interpret “limitations that do not exist” under state law.
The court case in Scott County is an appeal of a decision made by the Davenport Civil Service Commission, a city-appointed panel that reviews employment and disciplinary matters of public-sector workers. In November, the commission determined Washburn should be reinstated to the fire department at the lower rank of district chief.
As the yearlong dispute between the ex-fire chief and the city has unfolded, two main narratives explaining why Washburn was fired have emerged.
Washburn has accused top city officials of repeated harassment, intimidation and bullying, and alleged City Administrator Corri Spiegel tried to force Washburn to resign and fired her shortly after the ex-fire chief filed a complaint with the city’s human resources department.
The city rejects Washburn's claims, and has argued Washburn was dismissed because of her job performance, saying her tenure in Davenport was “plagued by her bad decisions and poor judgment.”
Those decisions, outlined by attorneys for the city, included using public money to pay for an unapproved office remodeling, failing to properly manage the department’s financial needs and routinely abandoning day-to-day duties to attend firefighter conferences around the country.
Washburn has also filed a sexual harassment complaint against the city over a package she received at her work desk that contained what she described as “pornographic items.” The city’s lawyers have argued there is “no evidence,” of that claim, adding no proof was found to support the assertion the package was sent by a city employee.