Weber sheriff violated Hatch Act

Jan 20 2012 - 10:40am



OGDEN -- The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has determined that Terry Thompson violated the Hatch Act in his successful 2010 bid for Weber County Sheriff, but the office won't take action against him.

OSC Attorney Carolyn S. Martorana said in a Sept. 19, 2011, letter obtained Wednesday by the Standard-Examiner that Thompson has been warned against future participation in prohibited political activity while employed in a Hatch Act-covered position.

"OSC would consider such conduct a knowing and willful violation of the law that could result in his being prosecuted before the Merit Systems Protection Board," the letter states.

For example, Thompson, if covered by the Hatch Act, would still be prohibited from using his authority or influence to affect the results of an election or coercing other employees into making political contributions.

Thompson confirmed Thursday that he received a letter from Martorana, but said he believes he didn't violate the Hatch Act. He described the act's provisions as overly broad, adding it can be used in elections to keep law officers with supervisory experience and leadership skills from running for sheriff.

"Unfortunately, it becomes a political tool," he said.

Ann O'Hanlon, a spokeswoman for the OSC, declined to comment on the letter sent to Thompson.

However, she said in a phone interview that the OSC often issues a warning letter instead of taking enforcement action if a Hatch Act violation is discovered after an individual has been elected to a partisan office.

"We believe it's fair to warn people," she said.

In addition, the Hatch Act does not prevent a sheriff from running for re-election, O'Hanlon said.

"The Hatch Act's prohibition against candidacy in a partisan election does not apply to individuals holding elective office, provided the elective office is their principal employment," she said.

Gary Haws, a Bountiful police officer and a West Haven resident, ran against Thompson for sheriff. Haws provided the Standard-Examiner with a copy of the Hatch Act complaint filed in June 2010 against Thompson.

He said at the time, the complaint was filed by a law officer who lives outside of Weber County, but didn't identify the officer. Haws said at the time, he made the complaint public because the officer who filed it was frustrated by the pace of the OSC investigation.

Haws could not be reached for comment Thursday regarding the OSC's decision not to take action against Thompson.

The original aim of the Hatch Act, established in 1939, was to protect federal workers and other citizens from experiencing improper political pressure.

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.

The complaint contended that Thompson, as chief deputy and candidate for elected office, was head of the sheriff's office Enforcement Division, which may have received federal funding.

The letter from the OSC states Thompson directly supervised now-Chief Deputy Klint Anderson, who was responsible for several federally funded programs.

Anderson oversaw the sheriff's office's participation in the Youth Alcohol and Drug Enforcement Task Force funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, the letter says. Thompson said it's his understanding the program was funded by a state grant and he was unaware of federal funds being used.

In addition, Anderson approved schedules as part of a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to patrol the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, the letter says. The sheriff's office served the Forest Service under a contract with the federal government and not through a grant, said Thompson.

The OSC concluded that Thompson had duties associated with federally financed activities when he became a candidate for sheriff.

"We acknowledge that as chief deputy, he had no ability to control how federal funding was spent and did not directly participate (in federally funded programs)," the letter from Martorana says. "However, coverage under the Hatch Act is not dependent on an employee having these kinds of responsibilities. Rather ... his (Thompson's) managerial role with respect to the entire Enforcement Division as well as his supervisory relationship with ... Anderson rendered him subject to the restrictions of the Hatch Act."

Thompson is the second area law enforcement officer found by the OSC to be in violation of the Hatch Act. Jon Greiner was fired as Ogden police chief last month by city officials after exhausting appeals of a ruling that he violated the Hatch Act.

The federal government determined Greiner violated the Hatch Act because he signed off on a half-dozen federal grants worth more than $1 million that were in place during his successful 2006 campaign for the state Senate.

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