Hatch Act hearing puts senator / Ogden police chief's future on the line

Oct 21 2009 - 9:12am

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(DJAMILA GROSSMAN/Standard-Examiner) Ogden City Police Chief and State Sen. Jon Greiner (center) looks at documents with Ogden City Attorney, Jim Bradshaw, during a hearing Tuesday in Salt Lake City.
(DJAMILA GROSSMAN/Standard-Examiner) Ogden City Police Chief and State Sen. Jon Greiner (center) looks at documents with Ogden City Attorney, Jim Bradshaw, during a hearing Tuesday in Salt Lake City.

OGDEN -- Police Chief Jon Greiner should be removed from his job because he violated the Hatch Act by signing off on a half-dozen federal grants that were in place during his successful bid for the state Senate in 2006, prosecutors argued during a hearing Tuesday.

Mariama C. Liverpool, an attorney for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, said during a federal Merit Systems Protection Board hearing in Salt Lake City that the case against Greiner is a textbook example of a Hatch Act violation.

"It was a knowingly willful, egregious violation," she told Administrative Law Judge Lana Parke.

However, Jim Bradshaw, a Salt Lake City attorney who is defending Greiner, a Republican who represents Senate District 18, strenuously disagreed.

Greiner received assurances from the city's legal staff and the Utah Attorney General's Office that his job as police chief didn't pose a Hatch Act conflict with his Senate campaign, Bradshaw told Parke.

"This is the Hatch Act run amok," he said.

Stan Preston, a Salt Lake City attorney representing Ogden's administration in the case, said Greiner's signature and initials on federal grant applications were a formality necessary to obtain funding not only for the police department but also other area law enforcement and fire agencies.

It was others -- not Greiner -- who actually applied for the grants and administered and managed the funds once they were received, Preston said.

"There is nothing proffered by the government that has any foundation that grant funds were used in a partisan or improper manner," he told Parke.

Named after former Sen. Carl Hatch, D-N.M., 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.

If Parke upholds the Office of Special Counsel's complaint, the city either will have to remove Greiner from his job as police chief or forfeit to the federal government grants equal to two years of his salary, a total of $215,088.

Individuals found in violation of the Hatch Act are prohibited from working for a local or state governmental agency for 18 months.

Parke does not have the power to force Greiner to step down from the state Senate, and Greiner's voluntary resignation from that post would not resolve the complaint.

However, the complaint would be dismissed if Greiner quit his job as police chief and agreed to the 18-month prohibition from working for local or state government.

The Hatch Act complaint against Greiner spans from March 2006, when he officially declared his candidacy for the state Senate, until his successful election in November 2006 and involves federal grants he signed that were already in place.

Greiner wouldn't have faced possible disciplinary action if he had complied with an earlier deadline from the Office of Special Counsel to resign as police chief or to withdraw his candidacy by Oct. 31, 2006.

The complaint stems from Greiner's signature or initials on assurances for six federal grants valued at more than $1 million, which put him in violation of Hatch Act restrictions during his campaign, said Peta-Gay Irving Brown, an attorney for the Office of Special Counsel.

The grants include:

SBlt A COPS Technology Grant of $458,425, of which $343,818 is federal funding. The grant is used to create a system to allow effective communications among dispatchers, responders and commanders from various jurisdictions.

SBlt A Justice Assistance Grant of $78,809, awarded to Ogden and Roy police departments and the Weber County Sheriff's Office. Ogden police applied for and administered the grant.

SBlt A grant of $142,489 for strike force and ticket/citation funding also shared with Roy and the sheriff's office and applied for by Ogden police.

SBlt A Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant, with $18,235 available to purchase the protective vests for officers.

Bradshaw described Greiner during the hearing as a reluctant politician drafted by supporters to run in 2006 to give law enforcement more of a voice at the state Capitol.

Greiner ran a low-key campaign and, after winning the Republican Party primary election, received a phone call from Liverpool regarding a Hatch Act complaint that apparently came from members of the Utah Democratic Party.

Greiner eventually asked John Valentine, a Republican from Provo who at the time was president of the state Senate, whether he should drop out of the race, Bradshaw said.

Valentine referred Greiner to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who issued a legal opinion that Greiner was entitled to run for the Senate because of his limited role in federal grants, he said.

Bradshaw asked Parke for permission to allow Valentine and Shurtleff to testify that Greiner didn't knowingly violate the Hatch Act.

Parke rejected the request, saying that Valentine and Shurtleff could not determine Greiner's state of mind. Bradshaw protested Parke's ruling.

"The effect of the court's order limiting our ability to provide testimony impact's his (Greiner's) ability to receive a fair trial," he said. "It has a chilling effect."

Greiner and Patterson are expected to testify when the hearing resumes Thursday.

Related link: This article is a topic of discussion at Weber County Forum.

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