OGDEN — By a 2 to 1 vote, the federal Merit Systems Protection Board upheld a judge’s 2010 ruling that the city must remove Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner or forfeit about $215,000 in federal grants because of a violation of the Hatch Act.
Administrative Law Judge Lana Parke determined last year that Greiner violated the Hatch Act because he signed off on a half-dozen federal grants already in place that were valued at more than $1 million during his successful 2006 campaign for the state Senate.
The city appealed Parke’s decision and Greiner, a Republican, did not seek re-election to the Senate in 2010.
Merit Systems Protection Board Vice Chairwoman Anne M. Wagner cast the dissenting vote opposing Parke’s ruling.
“The majority (of the Merit Systems Protection Board) considers the extent of Greiner’s duties in connection with federal grants without due regard to the significance of those duties in relation to his other duties as chief of the Ogden Police Department,” Wagner wrote to explain her vote.
“We must consider the significance of his grant-related duties in relation to his duties as a whole.”
Ogden City Attorney Gary Williams said Tuesday that Wagner’s position is justified.
“The dissenting opinion has strong valid points that go right along with our arguments,” Williams said, adding he learned about the Merit Systems Protection Board’s ruling Monday night.
The ruling means the city can either remove Greiner from his job or give up future federal grants totaling about $215,000, which equals about two years of Greiner’s salary.
The city will have until Dec. 30 to comply with the ruling or file an appeal in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
“An appeal may be successful, but we haven’t made any decision,” Williams said.
Greiner, who is still employed as police chief, declined to comment on the Merit Systems Protection Board’s ruling.
“I haven’t talked to the attorneys yet so I have nothing to say,” he said Tuesday in an email to the Standard-Examiner.
Mayor Matthew Godfrey, who will leave office in January, said he plans to consult with Mike Caldwell, Ogden’s next mayor, regarding what action the city should take.
Godfrey added there are deficiencies with the Hatch Act. “The law is very flawed and used as a political football,” he said.
Caldwell declined to comment because he hadn’t read the Merit Systems Protection Board’s decision.
Initially created in 1939 to protect federal employees from undue political pressure at the hands of those seeking federal office, the Hatch Act has expanded over the years to cover state and local elections. It limits the involvement of certain government employees in partisan political races if they play a role in administering federal funds.
In appealing Parke’s ruling, the city contested the merits of the Hatch Act complaint against Greiner, saying his job as police chief was not sufficiently connected with federal grants.
The appeal also claimed that Parke conducted a 2009 hearing in Salt Lake City in a biased manner that prevented Greiner from fully presenting his case.
The majority of Merit Systems Protection Board members disagreed with the city’s claims.
“The respondent’s (Greiner) service as chief of police involved significant duties related to the federal grants during the period of his candidacy (for state senate),” the board determined. “The respondent was aware that his candidacy violated the Hatch Act, both from various grant-related documents that he signed and from the petitioner’s (the U.S. Office of Special Counsel) warnings to him during his candidacy.”
The Merit Systems Protection Board also said the city failed to prove Parke’s conduct during the hearing prejudiced Greiner’s rights.
“We find that the respondent fully presented his case in several written submissions and in his closing argument,” the board said. “To the extent that the respondent is arguing that the administrative law judge was biased, we find that her case-related rulings did not evince a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible.”