Eagleton: Firefighter campaigning violates federal law

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Tulsa District 7 City Councilor John Eagleton today released a legal analysis showing that the political campaigning by City of Tulsa firefighters who identify themselves as Tulsa firefighters on the campaign trail is not only a violation of the City Charter, it also violates the Hatch Act, which prohibits employees of local government departments which receive certain Federal grants from using their position to influence elections.

From Eagleton's press release:

"An employee is covered by the Hatch Act if, the individual performs duties in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by a federal loan or grant."

"The Tulsa Fire and Police Departments receive many federal grants, and one is on the City Council agenda tonight."

"A review of grant appropriation reports shows that the Fire and Police departments are managing at least 72 active grants. Those departments are requesting millions more in federal stimulus funds."

Mr. Eagleton noted that "The Hatch Act does not prohibit covered employees from participating in political campaigns, but it does provide that:

(a) A State or local officer or employee may not--

(1) use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for office;

"It appears the Tulsa firefighters are using their official authority and influence to affect the result of the City Council election. When they knock on doors, the person answering is informed these campaigners are Tulsa firefighters. The yard signs being placed indicate "Tulsa Firefighters for ...". And what about the marquee sign at the Tulsa Firefighters HQ?" asked Mr. Eagleton.

"Available photographs also indicate that they are identifying themselves as Tulsa firefighters, using their position of trust and authority to influence the outcome of the election."

Eagleton cited explicit clauses in many of the Federal grant contracts signed by the city which promise compliance with the Hatch Act.

From an analysis of the impact of the Hatch Act in this situation:

Examples of covered employees provided by the [Office of Special Counsel (OSC)] include:
  • Employee covered because part of his travel expenses - a mere $350 - came from a federal grant received through the state board of health.
  • Employee who had general supervision of all engineering work for the state department of highway covered by act because engineering projects financed in part by federal grants.
  • Individual who supervises employees who work on federally funded programs generally will be held to have duties in connection with federally funded activities because of oversight responsibilities. Palmer v. United States Civil Service Commission, 297 F.2d 450 (7th cir. 1962) (director of department of conservation covered even though he claimed he spent less than one percent of his time on federally funded projects).

The OSC also dispels certain myths about the Hatch Act's coverage:

  • It is not necessary that an individual's salary be paid with federal funds.
  • The individual does not have to have administrative or executive discretion over federal funds or decide how they are spent.
  • A program does not have to be funded at least 50% by federal funds - any amount can trigger coverage.
  • The act continues to apply to individuals while on annual leave, sick leave, leave without pay, administrative leave or furlough.
  • Part-time, temporary or seasonal employees are covered by the act.
Again, the Hatch Act does not prohibit covered employees from participating in campaigns. Covered employees may not, however, "use official authority or influence to interfere with an election." For example, according to the OSC, they may not:
  • Use an official title
  • Coerce subordinates
  • Solicit the uncompensated volunteer services of subordinates
  • Make official e-mail solicitations

During Thursday night's City Council meeting, councilors approved the receipt of federal Justice Assistance Grant funds. Mayor Kathy Taylor, as the city's CEO, had to sign several assurances, committing the city to abiding my federal regulations tied to the grant. One of those assurances, appearing right above Taylor's signature, promises that the City of Tulsa "will comply with requirements of 5 USC 1501-1508 and 7324-28, which limit certain political activities of State or local government employees whose principal employment is in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by federal assistance." Similar assurances appear on nearly every federal grant that the City of Tulsa receives, including grants for the Tulsa Fire Department.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 3, 2009 11:26 PM.

Medlock gets "A" from NRA, Bartlett didn't answer questionnaire was the previous entry in this blog.

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