The Columbus city council unanimously voted Tuesday to transfer a city firefighter to another department after he married the relative of a fellow firefighter.
Jonathan Goodman, 25, appeared before the mayor and council during Tuesday night’s board meeting because his marriage, according to Columbus Fire & Rescue Chief Martin Andrews, violated the city’s nepotism policy for employees.
On Sept. 27, Goodman married the niece of another CF&R firefighter.
He began working with CF&R in April 2013 and was made aware of the policy upon his hire, according to city attorney Jeff Turnage.
Goodman told The Dispatch he asked city leadership to allow him to keep his job with CF&R. Andrews told The Dispatch that he recommended that the council fire Goodman for violating the nepotism policy.
Turnage said council members, after a discussion that lasted an hour, unanimously voted to transfer Goodman to the Columbus Police Department instead of firing him. Turnage said Goodman was not given a choice in the matter.
On Wednesday, the Dispatch incorrectly reported that the council voted to terminate Goodman during the meeting.
Goodman, who said he is not going to work at the Columbus Police Department, has not returned to work at CF&R since his wedding.
“I was told I was fired if I said, ‘I do,'” he said Wednesday. “They told me not to come back, that I was fired.”
Ward 3 councilman Charlie Box said a transfer was the council’s way of attempting to make the best out of a difficult situation. Turnage said that as far as he knew, the move — transferring a city employee to another department — was a first for the city. He added that anyone hired for a city job is given an employee handbook that lays out the concerns the city has with employees being related in the same department.
“When it comes to our attention that there’s a violation of that, the city has routinely terminated people, refused to hire others,” Turnage said.
Goodman’s wife’s uncle, Herbert Tedford, holds the same rank as Goodman, according to Goodman. Tedford and Goodman work at separate firehouses on separate shifts, according to Goodman.
Goodman told The Dispatch that after he and his now-wife, Nicole, got engaged, he approached Andrews about the situation. Andrews, Goodman said, told him that if the couple married, he would be fired.
According to the city’s policy, “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.”
It continues by saying, “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.”
Several CF&R employees are related, Andrews said. Those employees, he said, were grandfathered in when the 2008 nepotism policy went into effect.
Andrews said it is his understanding that Goodman could not work in the same department as his wife’s uncle.
Box said the entire council was “sympathetic” to Goodman’s situation.
“It’s a very unusual deal,” Box said. “He was already working; it was not in a hiring situation. I think that kind of mitigated the thing a little bit. Nobody wanted to fire him. The lateral transfer is what we came up with.”
Ward 5 councilman Kabir Karriem asked the council to revisit the nepotism policy.
Dispatch reporter Nathan Gregory contributed to this report.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.