Firefighter’s Marriage Violates Nepotism Policy

A firefighter in Columbus, Mississippi has been transferred out of the fire department because he married the niece of a fellow firefighter, resulting in a violation of the city’s nepotism policy.

Jonathan Goodman, 25, was married on September 27, 2014 to the niece of Herbert Tedford, who is also a Columbus firefighter. Goodman had been with Columbus Fire & Rescue for 18 months and faced possible termination earlier this week at a hearing before the city council.

At issue is the city’s nepotism policy that states:

  • The employment of relatives, as defined herein, and individuals who are involved in dating relationships, as defined herein, in the same department of the City of Columbus may cause serious conflicts of interest, and may also result in a violation of the State nepotism law and this Policy. Such employment would also result in perceived problems with favoritism and affect negatively the morale of other employees.
  • In addition to claims of partiality and favorable treatment at work, nepotism violations and the perceived ethical issues relating from such perception, and personal conflicts from outside the work environment, can also be carried over into day-to-day working relationships and are therefore to be avoided.
  • Nepotism occurs when any person employed by the city shall occupy a position in which he/she will be directly working for or supervising a relative or person with whom he/she is in a dating relationship.
  • In cases where a conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest arises because of the relationship between employees, even if there is no authority or line of reporting involved, the employees may be separated by reassignment or terminated from employment to avoid personal conflicts to be carried over in the day-to-day working relationships and to avoid the appearance of impropriety, favoritism or a negative effect on morale.

Goodman and Tedford are reportedly the same rank and work on different shifts in different stations. Nevertheless, city attorney Jeff Turnage claims Goodman’s marriage violates the nepotism policy, a topic the city council discussed at length Tuesday evening.

While it was initially reported that the council voted to terminate Goodman, the council voted unanimously to transfer him to the police department. Goodman has reportedly said he does not want to work for the police department.

Here is a copy of the city’s nepotism and conflict of interest policy: Nepotism Policy

 

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.
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