OGDEN -- The head of the federal agency prosecuting Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner for a Hatch Act violation says the 72-year-old law needs an overhaul.
"The Hatch Act injects the federal government into state and local contests thousands of times a year, its penalties are inflexible and sometimes unfair, and it is out-of-date with the 21st-century workplace," Carolyn Lerner, who is in charge of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, said in a recent prepared statement.
"There's bipartisan consensus that this law needs an update."
Lerner's statement was directed at the Hatch Act in general and not specifically dealing with Greiner's case.
Reforming the Hatch Act has been a top priority for Lerner since she took office in June.
Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey said Lerner's complaints about the Hatch Act are valid.
"I agree with her comments, and I believe anybody familiar with the law has the same perspective," he said Wednesday.
The Hatch Act was established in 1939 to protect federal employees from undue political pressure at the hands of those seeking federal office.
It has since been expanded to limit the involvement of certain state and local government employees in partisan political races if they play a role in administering federal funds.
Lerner said her office receives more than 2,000 inquiries annually regarding whether a particular candidate in a state or local race is eligible to run.
If candidates have even a trivial connection to federal funding in their current position, they cannot campaign in a partisan election, she said.
Citing a recent example, Lerner said a Pennsylvania police officer in a canine unit was not eligible to run for his local school board because his black Labrador was tied to funding from the Department of Homeland Security.
Lerner is asking Congress to amend the Hatch Act to allow state and local employees to campaign for elected offices in partisan political races, said Ann O'Hanlon, a spokeswoman for the Office of Special Counsel.
"The Hatch Act gets in the way of democracy right now," O'Hanlon said in a phone interview Wednesday, adding she is unsure when Congress may consider Lerner's amendment.
Passage of the amendment would not reverse a recent Merit Systems Protection Board ruling involving Greiner, O'Hanlon said.
The federal board recently upheld Administrative Law Judge Lana Parke's 2010 ruling that Greiner violated the Hatch Act because he signed off on a half-dozen federal grants, valued at more than $1 million, that were already in place during his successful 2006 state Senate bid.
Greiner, a Republican, did not run for re-election to the Senate in 2010, and the city appealed Parke's decision.
The Merit Systems Protection Board has ordered the city to fire Greiner or give up future federal grants totaling about $215,000, which equals about two years of Greiner's salary.
The city has until Dec. 30 to either comply or file an appeal in U.S. District Court.
Greiner said in an email Wednesday he's unsure how Lerner's position regarding the Hatch Act will impact the city's decision whether to appeal the Merit Systems Protection Board ruling.