Davenport city administrator forbids staff from speaking with ousted fire chief

DAVENPORT-- Davenport City Administrator Corri Spiegel sent out an email telling employees and elected officials not to talk to ousted fire chief Lynn Washburn, an act Washburn's attorney says is effectively a gag order.

You may remember Washburn was fired as chief by Spiegel back in July 2017. The Civil Service Commission then ruled the city had to give Washburn a job back within the department because she has civil service status. The city appealed. Meanwhile, Washburn is still out of a job.

On Tuesday city employees and elected officials received this email from Spiegel:

 

Washburn's attorney Michael Carroll says he believes the email came after the city learned Washburn and a friend, employeed with the city, were in contact.

"My client has relationships with people in the city still. Friendships that have nothing at all to do with the litigation, "says Carroll.

He says he hasn't done anything wrong, it's the city that's wronging its employees.

"One of the things the city has to be concerned about is what a person's rights are under the US Constitution, under the Iowa Constitution as well," says Carroll.

Carroll says a governing body, the city of Davenport, has no control over who employees talk to, especially people voters elect.

"You do have the problem whether or not the city can tell elected officials who the elected officials can talk to," says Carroll.

The city's administrative assistant, Tiffany Thorndike, says the email wasn't a threat, but because the city's fighting Washburn in court, there's only one person Washburn should be talking to. That's City Attorney Tom Warner.

Thorndike goes on to say the language is important. The email reads "elected officials should avoid contact" and "city staff is directed" meaning the no contact is a suggestion.

Former Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn (right) attends a hearing at Davenport City Hall.

Washburn's attorney though, says while it's not unheard of for a private business to shield itself during litigating, the rules are different for the city of Davenport because it's a government entity.

"The Constitution forbids government, both state and federal, from impacting speech, association with people," says Carroll.

Davenport 3rd Ward Ald. Marion Meginnis said she thinks the email was a reminder to staff and elected officials about the ongoing legal battle. However, she noted, the admonition for elected officials is not enforceable.

"From a policy standpoint, I don't think a city administrator can tell an elected official they can't talk about it," she said.

A hearing is scheduled for this summer to see if the city can reverse the ruling that says it needs to give Washburn a job back. Washburn's attorney says the decision should be final late this summer.

We attempted to contact both Spiegel and Warner for comment. Spiegel declined and Warner has not responded to calls or emails.