Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hatch Act Updates

Terre Haute Mayor Lawsuit:

Lawyers for Kevin Burke, former Terre Haute Mayor, have filed what could be the final legal brief in the legal battle for the Terre Haute City Hall.

We are only asking for the remedy that’s in the law,” Burke said. “We didn’t set up the remedy, the (Indiana) Legislature did.” The Vito County Circuit Court allowed Bennett to take office, “because the Hatch Act would no longer apply to Bennett when he was sworn in." (Bennett had resigned his position with the Hamilton Center the day before he was sworn into office).

In a brief filed on April 21st, Burke’s lawyers argue that Bennett was not eligible to run for office under the Hatch Act, and, therefore should not be mayor.

The brief states, “Bennett quitting his job the day before his scheduled inauguration would not change the fact that at the time Bennett was a candidate for office and at the time he was elected to that office, he was ineligible.”

Burke’s legal team has asked the Court of Appeals to expedite its decision. In regards to questions about unseating a sitting mayor, “It’s certainly not an easy thing,” Burke said.

Bennett’s March brief states, “the Vigo County Circuit Court found that Bennett’s role with the Hamilton Center Head Start Program was "essentially non-existent,” and an employee’s non-existent connection to a federally funded program should not serve as a basis to overthrow an Indiana General Election.”

Political e-mails trigger surge in Hatch Act Complaints

OSC recorded 299 complaints in 2006, 245 complaints in 2005, and 248 Hatch Act related complaints in 2004, an all time high for the independent investigative agency charged with enforcing the Hatch Act. The law bars federal employees and some state and local employees from engaging in any political activity during work hours, (which includes leaves of absence or vacation time), circulating petitions and campaigning. Sending a political e-mail, either on a personal or a work account is barred under the law. Blogging at work and sometimes at home is also barred under the law.

Past Hatch Act decisions send a clear message that "no political activity" means "no political activity," regardless of the specific technology used. (OSC Special Counsel Scott Bloch stated in a recent advisory).

Ward Morrow, an attorney for the American Federation of Government Employees is urging Congress to reform the Hatch Act. But House Oversight and Government Reform Federal Workforce Subcommittee Chairman Danny Davis, said, "rather than change components of the law, more needs to be done to educate workers on the rules."

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