Iowa City Council Upholds Reprimand Over Social Media Post

An Iowa firefighter who was reprimanded for posting a sarcastic comment on social media last September, has lost his appeal to the city council.

Cedar Falls firefighter Shane Farmer claims he was “unjustly disciplined” for his post that encouraged residents to heed evacuation warnings during near-record floods.

According to the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, Farmer posted:

  • “If I have to come get you in a boat because you were smarter than the weatherman or too stubborn to leave your property you will get a stern talking to on the boat ride to dry land”
  • “A case of beer may also be requested as punishment for your poor decision.”

Farmer claims the post did not violate any city policies and the discipline violates his right to free speech. He removed the post immediately upon being requested to do so by his superiors.

Yesterday, the city council voted 6-0 to uphold Fire Chief John Bostwick’s decision to issue Farmer a verbal reprimand.

Some in the community complained about the comments, calling them condescending and offensive. Referring to the complaints, Public Safety Director Jeff Olson was quoted as saying: “These are clear messages to us this is isn’t the courteous, professional, helpful manner or attitude we expect of our city employees.”

Farmer was quoted as saying “I have maintained throughout this grievance process that I have done nothing wrong. The post was lawful and did not violate any city policy.” He is reportedly considering whether to challenge the city council’s decision. More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • firemedic5100

    Why, would you appeal a verbal reprimand? A written, suspension, or termination… maybe. Even without the beer comment, your statement was condescending and wasn’t in the interest of public safety, and thus, not protected speech. You definitely embarrassed your town and department. You should consider yourself fortunate to still be with the department.

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