By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald
For nearly two hours on Thursday night, June 29, suspended Rincon City Manager Jonathan Lynn sat in a front-row seat with his wife listening to a litany of allegations by City Attorney Raymond Dickey.
The council chamber was packed with about 50 residents and employees, many of whom came forward to speak on Lynn’s behalf.
The litany of allegations Dickey read ranged from not communicating with the mayor and council, to allegedly spending funds beyond his $5,000 limit, numerous charges for food, car washes, computers, to forcing a W-2 employee to work as a contractor to repay a loan from unbudgeted city funds.
Lynn was hired as Rincon’s city manager in September 2022, and had a positive evaluation six months later in March 2023.
Lynn sat silently throughout the more than 90 minutes of Dickey’s allegations, taking notes.
When Lynn finally was called to respond, he said, “I want to just say that I felt like my due process has been violated because everything that was just mentioned, was not presented to me ahead of time to have any sort of research to look into it myself.
“As a matter of fact, I'm going to say that none of this was brought up or known until after June 1. It has been a fishing expedition created as vague as possible -- just to create or fabricate evidence to support your decision because you didn't like an investigation,” Lynn said.
“I believe I have the notes from the evaluation where several people said ‘Jonathan has the best interest of Rincon at heart; and we believe he wants to have the best interest of Rincon.’ So I ask, how do you go from that to this? With nothing but vague responses on June 1,” Lynn said. “And then three weeks later, me not having the chance to see anything that we're going to talk about ahead of time.”
The investigation involved allegations by Mike Osborne, Rincon’s recreation director. Osborne is currently on medical leave.
Statements from the public and Rincon employees also lasted more than an hour in support of Lynn and refuted or explained many of the allegations.
Teri Lewis, the city’s community development director, noted the high morale among city hall employees, and she attributed that to Lynn. Lewis has been with the city for five months.
“It is a pleasant place to work. Everybody is nice. Everybody's thoughtful. I feel like there's really an air of camaraderie,” Lewis said. And my understanding is a lot of that is what Jonathan brought to the table. Keeping us involved.” She added that Lynn gave her flexibility in her department.
“He gave me flexibility to make some changes in my department, which is really nice to not be micromanaged,” Lewis said. “He even said, ‘You have a planning background. So I'm going to step back and let you run your department so that I'm not breathing down your neck and telling you what to do,’ and I appreciated that.”
Rincon Finance Director Elizabeth Cartwright told Dickey and the council that most of the food purchases were hers to buy lunch for her staff when they worked through their lunch hours doing city business.
Former Rincon Councilmember Kevin Exley asked several question, including, “Are there any write-ups, documentation, counseling sessions prior to any of this termination? Does being absent or late deserve immediate termination? Without a conversation, if it happened at all. Because without any proper documentation, it really never happened. This documentation is after the fact. Did Mike’s (Osborne) investigation prompt the suspension?”
Exley continued his questioning. “Will the current city attorney be paid for yet another lawsuit against our city? I heard him mention minorities and women. And it's funny that we throw those words around. But in the end, he provides a service to the city. When's the last time you contracted his job?”
Other issues discussed were problems with human resources, payroll, insurance premiums being paid for former employees, and also not being paid for new employees when the insurance company hadn’t been informed of employment changes.
Lynn countered those charges saying he took over many issues left by the previous city manager.
Finally, after more back and forth, Councilmember Levi Scott said, “But the bottom line is there are some issues that we had to address and we addressed. So in all this, I make a motion that we terminate Jonathan Lynn.”
When the vote was taken, Councilmember Reese Brower joined Scott’s “Yes” vote; Councilmember Jesse Blackwell abstained, Councilmember Michelle Taylor and Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Kirkland voted “No”.
That left Mayor Ken Lee to cast a tie-breaking vote.
“We've had our differences and hopefully you have made good efforts to try to correct them,” Lee said. “There's some things that are just so glaring and bothersome in many ways. But I don't know that we've really been fair to Mr. Lynn, so I’m going to vote ‘no,’.”
After a brief executive session, Lynn expressed optimism with the outcome.
Mayor Lee said Lynn shall return to work effective immediately after a previously scheduled family vacation through July 5. Lynn’s work will be reviewed in the middle of the summer and again in six months.
“I look forward to coming back to work and continuing a great work and I have no doubt that the relationship with counsel continue in a good manner. This is just a bump in the road. But the end of the day everybody wants Rincon to succeed,” Lynn said.
He added the six-month probation was his idea.
“That's just to continue they want to see progress. They did have issues. I have made mistakes just like anybody else,” Lynn explained. “What I want to be able to do is to prove to them that those mistakes are one time, not repetitive. I'm actually the one that offered the probationary period to be put into place to show them the effort, the willingness to be here and the desire to continue in this position.”