Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Feds Want Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner To Resign, Consider His Simultaneous Service In Utah State Senate A Violation Of The Hatch Act
Should the police chief of Utah's seventh largest city also be allowed to serve in the Utah State Senate simultaneously? The Federal government says no, considering it a violation of the Hatch Act.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has filed a complaint against Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner contending he violated the federal Hatch Act by running for the District 18 State Senate seat in 2006. Media stories published by the Ogden Standard-Examiner, the Deseret News, and the Salt Lake Tribune. And, of course, the Weber County Forum has also weighed in.
The complaint, filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, triggers a hearing that will be conducted by an administrative law judge in May 2009, according to Jim Bradshaw, a Salt Lake City attorney representing Greiner. The OSC claims that Greiner violated the Hatch Act because he administered four federal grants as police chief. Bradshaw considers the Federal complaint ludicrous.
However, John Patterson, the city’s chief administrative officer, said he signs off on all federal grants administered by the police department, and denies that Greiner manages or administers any federal grants.
Greiner will be permitted to present evidence to demonstrate his innocence during the hearing that will likely be held somewhere in Utah that easily accessible to witnesses, said Leslie Williamson, a spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel.
If an administrative law judge upholds the OSC complaint the city will either have to remove Greiner from his job as police chief or forfeit to the federal government two years of his salary totaling $215,088 (the Deseret News reports $209,000). Individuals found in violation of the Hatch Act are also prohibited from working for a local, state or federal government agency for 18 months. But since an administrative law judge does not have the power to force Greiner to resign from his state Senate seat, his voluntary resignation from the post would not resolve the OSC complaint.
Williamson explained that Greiner could have avoided the possibility of facing disciplinary action had he heeded an earlier request from the Office of Special Counsel to resign as police chief or withdraw his candidacy for the state Senate by October 31st, 2006. The OSC sent Greiner a letter during his campaign in 2006 notifying him that he was in violation of the Hatch Act because as police chief he performed duties in connection with four federal grants. Greiner disregarded the letter because he checked with the city attorney's office and was assured he was eligible to run since his salary is paid by the city, not through federal grants.
Support for Greiner has been forthcoming. Ric Cantrell, chief deputy of the Senate, said the complaint will not affect Greiner's standing as a state senator. Outgoing Utah Senate President John Valentine (R-Orem) suggested the federal government may be taking the matter too far, and fears the situation may discourage others from seeking public office. And Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff offered Greiner moral support, noting the state had no role in the case. "I think they're wrong as far as their rules. I support him in going forward," Shurtleff said. Citizen opinion, as expressed through public comments to the media stories, is mixed.
The original intent of the Hatch Act, established in 1939, was to protect federal workers and other citizens from receiving improper political pressure. Federal workers were barred from running for elective office or participating in certain other political activities. But it has been expanded to include the political activity of state and local government workers if they are principally employed by an agency in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants. And this situation has previously arisen and most caught in this net have either resigned their elective office or their job, according to these case summaries from the OSC website.
In November 2008, the AdvanceIndiana blog documented a similar situation involving several local officials, including the former mayor of Terre Haute.
Commentary: Actually, I'm a bit uneasy about the idea of a police chief simultaneously holding an elective legislative office. It implies a possible conflict of interest. However, the citizens of Ogden have put up with it for two years, and don't seem to have a problem with it, so why are the Feds getting involved? The state of Utah would have the first responsibility.
I'm even more uneasy about the Federal government attempting to unseat the Ogden Police Chief. It is not the Federal government's responsibility to crown or un-crown local or state officials, and this extension of the Hatch Act permitting Federal interference in local and state affairs is unacceptable. Perhaps newly-elected Congressman Jason Chaffetz might want to put a rewrite of the Hatch Act on his agenda, since he's the one member of the Utah delegation clearly committed to reducing the burden of government.