A controversial ordinance passed by the Evansville City Council is now obsolete, opening the door for one man’s chance to apply at the fire department. Authored by fire captain and Councilman Al Lindsey, barred veterans from being considered at the fire department if they had anything “less than an honorable discharge.” Turns out, the ordinance is in violation of federal law.
Last fall, in a 6-3 vote, the city council passed the ordinance. While many believed it was a veiled vendetta against Fire Chief Mike Connelly, Councilman Lindsey said the ordinance mirrored that of the Evansville Police Department. Councilman Jonathan Weaver (D-At Large), Councilwoman Missy Mosby (D-2nd Ward) and Councilman Conor O’Daniel (D-At Large) voted against the ordinance.
While only in effect for a little more than six months, the ordinance prevented two individuals from having their applications considered at the fire department, city officials said.
“To have my application denied for the reason that it was, I believe, is a misapplication of the ordinance,” said Clinton Maclin at a city council meeting in early February.
Maclin didn’t seek out the cameras or attention. He simply wanted a chance to serve his community, said Aaron Trump, his attorney.
“He had done nothing wrong. He had a good work record. He had a good service record. Yet, that was being held against him,” Trump said. “I didn’t think that it was right.”
Trump took Maclin’s case pro-bono.
Approximately a decade ago, Maclin was at basic training for the Navy when it was discovered that he had a pre-existing eye issue. The issue left him partially blind in one of his eyes, Trump said.
He was granted an “entry-level separation” from the Navy. It is in no way a dishonorable discharge, Trump said.
“It is a separation given to people found to be unqualified for the military within their first 180 days of service due to unforeseen circumstances,” Trump said.
When Maclin was notified that his application wouldn’t be considered because of this ordinance, Maclin approached Trump about his case. Trump, who started working at Kahn, Dees, Donovan & Kahn last August, took the case immediately.
“This ordinance was a vendetta to begin with. It was one council member against a department head. It just has to stop,” said Councilman Weaver. “I believe it will stop once the primary comes and the new term starts.”
Weaver alluded to the ongoing contentious relationship between Councilman Lindsey and Fire Chief Mike Connelly.
Trump wasn’t concerned with politics, in fact, he tried to stay out of it, he said. Instead, Trump wanted to provide his client with the chance to apply and be hired at the fire department. He then started looking.
In his examination, Trump found the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994. The federal law protects the employment rights of all veterans. The ordinance directly violated federal law, Trump said.
Trump called Evansville City Attorney Keith Vonderahe who later agreed with the analysis.
“The ordinance will still eventually need to be changed. The way it’s worded, they cannot hire anybody with this current status,” Trump said. “The fire merit commission has opened the door, at least, to continue through the process until that occurs.”
“Let’s not make it that difficult. Let’s make it easy, especially for veterans,” Weaver said. “They fight for our freedom and that’s why we live the way we do.”
Maclin simply wanted a chance to serve his community. Now, he has that chance because somebody took a chance on him.
“I think it speaks to Mr. Maclin’s character,” Trump said. “He tried to serve his country and lost that opportunity and now he’s trying to serve his community. I think it’s very admirable.”
While Maclin certainly has grounds at filing a lawsuit against the city, he has absolutely no desire at this time to do so, Trump said.
Councilman Lindsey did not return our calls for comment.