A Kootenai County public defender who was suspended this summer for giving the county commission a greeting card along with a jar of Vaseline and tube of red lipstick has resigned.
Linda Payne said Friday to give specifics about why she decided to quit now, but said she’s considering whether to sue the county for allegedly violating her free speech rights.
“That’s the reason this happened,” Payne said, referring to the greeting card, Vaseline and lipstick she personally delivered to commissioners’ office to express her disgust for a mistake made in calculating her pay increase.
Payne was suspended by her supervisor, Public Defender John Adams, for a week without pay for the gesture, which commissioners called “unprofessional.” She appealed the suspension but the commission upheld Adams’ decision.
Payne’s tentative last day of employment is Oct. 31.
County Commission Chairman Gus Johnson said her resignation is not linked to the June suspension or Payne’s failed effort to appeal.
Johnson also said that her resignation had nothing to do with the fact that Payne was privately representing a group of people suing the county over a planning decision.
“As far as I know there was no pressure for her to leave,” Johnson said. “We were surprised that she put in her resignation.”
Outside her job as a public defender, Payne had been representing two couples who are upset the planning department issued building permits for three pole barns on Violet Avenue, which is an island of county land off of 15th Street in Coeur d’Alene.
Payne has since stepped down as the group’s attorney and has instead become a party in the case. Payne isn’t a neighbor to the Violet Avenue pole barns, but court documents show she is concerned that the county is allowing the same type of structure in her Bonanza Ranch neighborhood east of Coeur d’Alene.
In an Aug. 29 court document clarifying her status in the case, Payne wrote that Adams discovered she had filed a lawsuit against the commission and threatened to fire her. The document also refers to the weeklong suspension.
“Mr. Adams informed Ms. Payne that she would be fired if she did not withdraw as attorney of record in this matter,” Payne wrote in the court document. “The reasoning was that this petition was an ‘hostile act against the county’ and subject to termination.”
Payne said that she should have revised the court document to state that Adams told her she “could be” fired. She declined to discuss the case in detail because it’s pending.
Adams was unavailable for comment Friday but Johnson said Adams never threatened to fire Payne. Yet Johnson said he agrees that it’s a conflict of interest for Payne to moonlight, especially if she is suing her employer.
“It’s in our policy,” Johnson said. “She can’t do that.”
The county’s personnel policy manual states that county employees have the right to engage in outside employment but they must fully disclose it to their supervisor to prevent potential conflicts of interest. The policy also states that the outside employment can’t interfere with the employee’s primary job with the county and that the employee can’t engage in any activity that is “hostile or adverse to the county.”
Johnson said he stands by Adams’ decision to suspend Payne for sending the offensive greeting card addressing the pay mistake.
Attorneys in the public defender’s and prosecutor’s offices received inaccurate notices June 7 outlining each employee’s pay adjustment. The letters inadvertently showed county attorneys getting 55 percent more money than the amount that was actually approved by the county commission. That meant that some county attorneys were expecting an additional $5,000.
More than 300 Kootenai County employees got salary adjustments that will put their pay in line with compensation in Northwest counties and businesses of similar sizes.
“The next time you choose to give us something please lubricate and/or kiss first,” Payne wrote in the Hallmark card June 9. “Vaseline and red lipstick are enclosed. (Please excuse the small amounts. I don’t make that much to give you how much you need or deserve.)”
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