A Muscogee County Prison lieutenant who was fired last year for having a sexual relationship with a subordinate on the prison staff and then reinstated by the city’s personnel review board, will face an appeal of his reinstatement by the city on Feb. 21.
Lt. Little Lynn was suspended without pay on Nov. 15, 2011, and then fired on Nov. 18, according to his attorney, Stacey Jackson. Lynn appealed to the Personnel Review Board, which sided with him and reinstated him on Jan. 18. The next day, interim Warden Dwight Hamrick suspended Lynn, this time with pay, pending the outcome of the appeal brought by Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.
Tomlinson said she was “stunned” by the Personnel Review Board’s decision and would not take the extraordinary step of appealing its decision unless she thought Lynn’s termination was critical to the health of the county prison.
“I know they’re good folks trying to do a good job,” she said of the board. “But something critical in the deliberation or the presentation was dropped because there’s just no excuse for the outcome. I know they had the best of intentions, but this is a circumstance that can’t be tolerated in our government.”
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Tomlinson said she might not have appealed the decision if the affair had occurred in another area of government. The prison, she said, presents a special set of potential problems that could affect public safety.
“An inappropriate relationship in prison is different from an inappropriate relationship in another department, such as public services or the finance department,” she said. “A prison is a tinder box, frankly. We’ll have plenty of testimony as to why it is against the rules at the state and county levels to not have those types of relationships.”
Jackson, speaking for his client, said they have not disputed that there was a sexual relationship between the lieutenant and the corrections officer. Their argument is that she was not a subordinate. Even though he outranked her, they worked different shifts, so he was not her supervisor.
Hamrick confirmed that Lynn and the officer worked on different shifts, she on the first shift and he as supervisor of the second shift. The problem, Hamrick said, stemmed from Lynn bringing her onto the second shift on overtime, in excess of overtime offered to other officers.
“That was thrust of the problem,” Hamrick said.
Hamrick said he has seen this kind of situation before in his 30-plus years in the corrections work, but he has never seen a dismissed prison employee returned to his job on appeal. But should the appeal fail, Hamrick said he would not expect there to be problems, at least not from his perspective.
“It presents no situation to me. I’m the warden. He’d be a lieutenant and a shift supervisor,” he said. “This is all business. There are no personal issues here.
“I can’t speak for the staff, but it’s my duty as a warden to ensure that there are no issues on either side, to make sure we work together,” Hamrick added. “Our No. 1 job is to protect the public, and we can’t do that if there are issues between staff.”
Jackson said he has represented several city employees before the personnel review board, both successfully and unsuccessfully.
But this is the first time he can remember the city appealing a board decision to council.
“In my personal experience, this is the only one where the city or the mayor or a department head has appealed,” Jackson said.
Veteran Columbus Councilor Red McDaniel concurred.
“I thought when the personnel review board ruled, that was it,” McDaniel said. “We haven’t dealt with this before, as far as I can remember.”
City Human Resources Director Tom Barron has been with the city for 14 years and does not recall.
The woman with whom Lynn had the relationship still works at the county prison. Jackson said his client’s relationship with her was “very limited and for a short period of time” and ended a year or more ago.
Lynn has worked for the city for 14 years, according to Barron, and has an annual salary of $50,052.
The hearing before Columbus Council on Feb. 21 will be conducted something like a trial, Tomlinson said. She and attorney Kirsten Stevenson and possibly Deputy City Attorney Lucy Sheftall will be at the appellant’s table. Jackson and Lynn will be at the defendant’s table. Council will hear the case in public, deliberate in executive session and then vote back before the public. Tomlinson said she expects the hearing to last about three hours.