The city of Davenport for the first time is laying out the reasoning behind the ouster of former Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn.
Some of those reasons, which are included in a document obtained Tuesday by the Quad-City Times, include her “misplaced prioritization” of department needs, her inability to work with the Davenport Association of Professional Firefighters Local 17, and excessive travel and time away from duties.
The city also claims in the document that Washburn misused her position and police department resources to investigate a claim of sexual harassment that happened in late December 2016.
The document, titled a “position statement” and dated March 30, was written for the city by attorneys Richard Davidson and Wendy Meyer with the Davenport law firm of Lane & Waterman LLP, in response to Washburn’s complaint to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which accused the city and City Administrator Corri Spiegel of harassment, sexual harassment and termination, with age and gender believed to be factors.
“Over her six year tenure as Davenport Fire Chief, Lynn Washburn-Livingston’s poor judgement and decision making established she was unable or unwilling to fulfill the primary functions of being a Fire Department Administrator,” according to the document.
Washburn’s attorney, Michael Carroll, said in email late Tuesday afternoon that neither he nor Washburn had seen the position statement.
“We could not comment without knowing what we are commenting about,” he wrote.
Ryan Hanghian, president of the firefighters union, also said Tuesday he did not want to comment until he had a chance to review the document.
Spiegel fired Washburn, who was hired as chief in September 2011, on July 27, three days after Washburn was placed on administrative leave.
Washburn appealed to the city’s Civil Service Commission on the grounds she was entitled to a job in the department commensurate with her civil service status. The commission ruled in her favor, a decision the city appealed to Scott County District Court. That case is pending.
Washburn filed her complaint with the ICRC Feb. 8.
The position statement cites eight “major work-related issues” that occurred after Spiegel became City Administrator and “the initial event (prior to Spiegel), which seemed to set the stage for what would be Washburn’s rocky career with the City.”
According to the statement, those issues include:
Expenditure of excessive public funds for unapproved office remodel
On Oct. 24, 2011, three weeks after she started as chief, Washburn wanted to remodel her office. The remodel included removing a closet, sheet rocking existing plaster walls, installing a new drop ceiling and installing new woodwork. The cost was estimated at $20,000.
According to the document, she started the remodel without obtaining the approval or discussing it with her supervisor, former City Administrator Craig Malin. On April 12, 2012, Malin emailed Washburn that he'd learned she was proceeding with the remodel at an expense of $12,200 and had concerns about the cost, scope and timing. He told Washburn to halt the project until he could learn more about it. She ultimately agreed to repay the city for half the cost of the remodel
Washburn’s misplaced prioritization of department needs
Washburn was a key figure in the renovation and building addition project for the Central Fire Station in downtown Davenport, the document said. In a memo to the City Council, Washburn said there was $1.066 million available for the project and recommended more than half be used to install a sun screen to the fire station and radiant heated concrete, which is a heated driveway that prevents snow or ice accumulation.
“Although these additions have substantial costs, they will ensure that the building reduces risk, operates efficiently and reduces future need for modifications,” Washburn wrote in a memo to Spiegel on Oct. 16, 2015.
Spiegel had concerns these were unnecessary "cosmetic" enhancements, the document said, and were not best use of the money, when a new fire truck and relocation of another fire station would directly impact the fire department’s service to the public. An operational analysis conducted by matrix Consulting Group found that six front-line engines and three aerial ladders needed to be replaced and Station Number 3 needed to be moved to improve response times.
Washburn subverted goals and the state position of city officials
During the city’s budget process, starting in late 2015 and ending in the late winter of 2016, the city needed to reduce the budget and Washburn was asked to cut $257,000 through staff reductions that would not adversely affect the department’s ability to provide services to the public, the document said.
Spiegel’s directive was to maintain 126 frontline firefighters. Washburn advocated for more management positions resulting in 123 total frontline firefighters.
According to the document, Washburn encouraged the firefighters union to engage in activity she believed would influence the City Council to adopt the plan she favored. The union posted signs and campaigned to seek public support for Washburn’s budget proposal. She then contradicted herself and ordered the union to refrain from posting signs and reprimanded a union member for engaging in campaigning activities. The union then brought a prohibited practice complaint against the city with the Public Employment Relations Board.
In an affidavit included with the complaint, Hanghian said he did not believe Washburn’s proposal provided an adequate level of service for the public and, when he stated as much, Washburn informed him that his refusal to agree to the statement directly resulted in demotions of fire personnel.
Washburn’s inability to work with the union
Washburn had a number of run-ins with the firefighters union that resulted in conflicts that had to be mediated by Spiegel, the document said.
In 2016 and 2017, the union filed nine grievances against management regarding the interpretation and application of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. In one instance, Washburn decided on the type of pants firefighters wore. The bargaining agreement states that any changes to the uniform will be decided by a joint union/management team. The city’s legal department opined that Washburn’s position would violate the terms of the bargaining agreement. Washburn maintained that it was in her authority to impose the amended provisions for pants. The union subsequently filed a grievance against management.
Washburn’s excessive travel/time away from duties
In January 2017, Washburn submitted her 2017 performance and work plan, which included proposed out-of-state business travel to Maryland, North Carolina, Colorado, Kansas, California, Maryland, Georgia, Indiana and Texas. She also included an in-state trip to Ames, Iowa, as well as three local training events, the document said.
Spiegel informed her the proposed out-of-office time was “significantly more than what (Spiegel) would consider the average amount to be” and requested Washburn focus on the highest priorities. From July 27, 2015, through July 27, 2017, Washburn was out of the office utilizing conference/training time for 266 hours. She also utilized vacation time to attend an additional conference. The position statement noted the following department heads took the following conference attendance time in that time period: IT director, 144 hours; chief of police, 96 hours; finance director 96 hours; community and economic development director, 88 hours; and public works director 72 hours.
Washburn’s implication of favoritism in the civil service promotion process
Under Iowa law, promotion in a civil service position occurs through competitive promotional examination. After the examination is complete, the Civil Service Commission certifies a list of the names of the people who qualify and all vacancies are to be filled from the list. Prior to April 2017, Washburn created a spreadsheet containing a list of names showing everyone in their current positions who appeared to contemplate promotion of specific individuals to higher position. Some of those individuals noted as being promoted were not on the appropriate certified list and were not eligible for such promotions, according to the city's statement.
In the statement, the city said Washburn was "well aware" there were things about her work that were "not acceptable" and that by June, her termination was "imminent."
She was given the opportunity to leave the fire department voluntarily and, through an attorney, negotiated her exit. After weeks of negotiations, her attorney emailed Washburn on July 21 and asked her to stop in to sign the agreement, according to the position statement. On July 24, Washburn's attorney notified the city that she would not sign the agreement and, at some point, cleaned out her office.
On July 24, Spiegel emailed Washburn and told her she was on administrative leave and rescinded all approved travel. She also notified her that a "name-clearing hearing" was scheduled for July 27, according to the statement.
Washburn responded she would be out of town that day and understood the consequences of her decision not to attend the meeting.
According to the statement, Washburn had planned to attend a fire chiefs conference in North Carolina on behalf of the city, which was in direct violation of Spiegel's directive. Washburn was fired July 27 when she did not appear for the name-clearing hearing.
Washburn submitted a complaint of bullying to human resources on July 24; it was submitted to City Attorney Tom Warner two days later.
She said in her complaint that she was being ignored or subjected to the silent treatment; belittled or diminished in front of peers and elected officials; had her performance discussed with her subordinates; had her job responsibilities assigned to the assistant to the city administrator; had direction given to her employees without her knowledge; and had false accusations made about her performance.
In the statement, the city alleged Washburn’s complaint did not identify any protected class status, and said it was instead a complaint about her relationship with her supervisor. The statement also claimed Washburn's allegation of bullying “appears to have been a last-minute effort by Washburn – who was fully aware she was not performing to her supervisor’s standards – to turn the table.” Prior to the complaint, the statement said, Washburn had not told anyone at the city that she considered Spiegel’s conduct to constitute harassment or bullying.
Washburn’s allegation of sexual harassment is based on an incident where she received a package of pornographic items at the fire station in late December 2016. Washburn did not immediately report the incident to Spiegel, her supervisor, the statement said. Rather, she turned the matter over to the Davenport Police Department as a sexual harassment complaint.
The police department determined the package originated from Canada and served a subpoena, which the company would not recognize. As a result, the investigation could go no further and was closed. Washburn did not report the incident to Spiegel until March 13, 2017.
Spiegel, in an attempt to obtain additional information, had the city’s computers searched. The IT department performed the search but did not locate the company’s IP address on any employee’s computer, the statement said. Because Washburn submitted the complaint as one of sexual harassment, police investigated it as an internal affairs case. The internal affairs department exists internally to investigate complaints filed against a police officer, the statement said.
“The internal affairs division of the Davenport Police Department was not the appropriate entity to investigate Washburn’s claim of sexual harassment,” the city said in the statement. “As Fire Chief and top supervisor of the fire department, Washburn knew the appropriate procedure to follow; it was one of her duties to handle complaints from her subordinate employees," the statement said. “Instead, Washburn abused her position to launch an investigation by the police department.”
The city further wrote that because of Washburn’s “misuse of usurpation of police department resources,” procedures had to be put in place to prevent similar incidents in the future. Prior approval is now required to use police resources to investigate non-police matters, the city said in the statement.
“Washburn was much more concerned about her image as Fire Chief as opposed to serving the interest of the public as Chief of the Fire Department,” the city said in the statement. “Continuing issues reflected Washburn’s poor decision-making and her exercise of poor judgement. Washburn’s behavior undermined other city officials and was the direct cause of a number of issues with the union.”
Spiegel on Tuesday declined to comment on the city’s statement, citing pending litigation. However, in a memorandum drafted by Spiegel that accompanied the document, she said that that a news story about Washburn’s complaint ran in the Quad-City Times prior to the city receiving it.
“As Washburn’s allegations were published in the Quad-City Times to the public at large, likely as a result of Washburn or someone closely associated with her providing it to the media, it is necessary to respond to the false and misleading accusations and implications it contained in a public fashion,” Spiegel said in the memo.
In a statement to the Times, Mayor Frank Klipsch said the city has an “outstanding city administrator and management team committed to professionalism and effective government.”
“I have reviewed the materials on these issues and I found them to be thorough and conclusive on the topic,” he said. “I know we all want to move forward to celebrate our wonderful city as we progress into a new era of leadership for our accredited fire department."