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Joyce Clark Unfiltered

For "the rest of the story"

Disclaimer: The comments in this blog are my personal opinion and may or may not reflect an adopted position of the city of Glendale and its city council.

The choice for a new Mayor of Phoenix is less than 2 weeks away.  I really have no dog in the fight regarding the Phoenix mayoral election but I was intrigued by a recent opinion piece by Robert Robb in the Arizona Republic questioning why the position of Phoenix mayor should be a full time job. In an October 14, 2018 column entitled Here’s why Phoenix needs a part-time mayor Mr. Robb states, “Making decisions about overall policies that put city government on a stable and sustainable path, rather than temporizing and punting, is difficult. But it doesn’t have to be terribly time-consuming.” He goes on to say, “The only way to turn the mayor position, and the city council position as well, into a full-time job is to expand its activities to include political pursuits only marginally related to the charter function of setting sound overall policy.” Here is the link: https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/robertrobb/2018/10/14/phoenix-mayor-should-part-time-daniel-valenzuela-right/1606614002/ .

One can understand Mr. Robb’s point of view if you accept that he an outsider looking in. His premise is that all activities unrelated to establishing city policy are purely political in nature with the ultimate goal of furthering the elected official’s political career and agenda.

So, Mr. Robb, when an elected official sits on a regional or local committee or board, according to your premise it’s only to advance a political career and not to represent or advance the interests of or the position of that community? Really? So when the elected official sits on a council subcommittee it’s only to advance a political career and not to represent or advance the interests of the represented constituency? Really? So when the elected official is invited to a neighborhood meeting or a local event it’s only to advance a political career and not to communicate with one’s constituency? Really?

There are many events and activities that are outside the scope of sitting at a dais and voting on policy. There’s also a great deal of ‘homework’ for the conscientious elected official to research and consider before casting that policy vote.

Seventeen years ago when I was first elected as a city councilmember it was a part time job and I received commensurate part time compensation. Over the years the job has grown in the complexity of the policy issues about which we decide as well as time spent on regional cooperation and constituency services on a one-to-one basis. In a large city it can no longer be considered a part time job. Then magnify the responsibilities of a councilmember for that of a mayor of a large city. It is most definitely a full time job that admittedly has the elected official pursuing some political agenda but predominately serving the needs of the city and its constituents.

The past mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, received a salary of $88,000 a year. I do not know if he received a cell phone or car allowance but benefits would include at a minimum, medical benefits and a city contribution to his pension.  If the Phoenix mayoral position is considered as a part time job surely the compensation would reflect that as well. A salary of $88,000 a year plus benefits is more than many Phoenicians earn. So, Mr. Robb, a part time job deserves a part time salary.

This issue is pertinent because on October 4th, Valenzuela’s campaign made the following announcement, “I will put my firefighter career on hold during my term if elected as Mayor of Phoenix.” Apparently the candidate has tacitly recognized that being the Mayor of one of the largest cities in the country is a full time job.

His announcement raises a whole new set of questions. What does putting his Glendale fire fighting career on “hold” mean exactly? Is he proposing a sabbatical or leave? With or without pay? When he decides to resume his fire fighting career would there have to be a city commitment offering him his job back immediately?

Nearly every city will grant sabbatical or leave time. It has been typically and historically used and granted to city personnel called up to active military duty, short sabbaticals for research, maternity leave, etc. To my knowledge sabbaticals and leaves have never been granted for a strictly political reason such as holding elected office or for such a long time…4 years. Phoenix voters and Glendale taxpayers have the right to know exactly what putting Valenzuela’s career on hold entails. The voters should know whether they are really getting a full time mayor. The taxpayers of Glendale should know if Valenzuela will continue to receive his current salary if he is on “hold” and if his “hold” time impacts his pension.

There was one other comment made by Mr. Robb in his opinion piece that was of interest and that was, “Valenzuela is the candidate of the status quo powers: the firefighters union and the business community. As mayor, he is unlikely to rock many boats.” This is probably the understatement of all time. He is more likely to advance the firefighters union and business community agenda. After all, they will have brought him to the dance.

Mr. Valenzuela’s campaign has relied heavily on his position as a Glendale firefighter. His campaign signs shout fire fighter. His campaign website has photos with Glendale fire trucks at one of the city’s fire stations. How can one tell? Glendale fire vehicles are yellow and Phoenix fire vehicles are red.

Is this a violation of the federal Hatch Act? I’m not an attorney so obviously I don’t know. But here is some background on the Hatch Act. It is a federal law passed in 1939. It limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. ​In 1940, the law was expanded to cover state and local employees whose salaries are paid, in part, by federal funds or whose duties are connected to federally funded activities. The Supreme Court has on two occasions upheld its constitutionality. It prohibits the use of government resources or position to affect the results of an election.

Over the years the Glendale Fire Department has been the recipient of federal grants. The most notable and frequently received have been the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grants, just one of a menu of Homeland Security grants available to cities. It would seem that Mr. Valenzuela has participated in or benefitted from UASI grants and that his duties are and have been, from time to time during his 15 years as a Glendale fire fighter, connected to federally funded activities. Therefore the use of government assets and equipment for his campaign could be a Hatch Act Violation.

It is up to the Phoenix voter to decide whether you will be getting the benefit of a part time or full time mayor. It’s up to the Phoenix voter to decide whether Mr. Valenzuela’s use of Glendale resources to tout his position as a fire fighter in his campaign is appropriate.

© Joyce Clark, 2018         

FAIR USE NOTICE

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such material. For more information go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

It has been 18 years and 111 days since the city’s pledge to build the West Branch Library.

Many of us have heard of the federal Hatch Act. Broadly it prohibits local governmental employees from participating in local election activities. But since it’s a federal act who is covered and who is not?

“The Hatch Act applies to any city employee  ‘whose principal employment is in connection with an activity which is financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a Federal agency…’  5 U.S.C.A. § 1501(4) (emphasis added).  The number of city employees covered has expanded drastically over the years, due to numerous federal grants and loans made to local governments.  Employees of any police or fire department receiving grants and/or loans from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, or any other federal agency are subject to the limitations imposed by the Hatch Act.  Also covered are employees of any city department that participates in activities that are funded, in whole or in part, by any federal loans or grants, even if those funds were received from a state agency.” 

Examples of local governmental employees who are commonly covered by the Hatch Act include:

  • city clerks  (including deputy clerks and possibly city recorders)
  • employees of housing authorities
  • officers and employees of development and transportation authorities
  • emergency services employees
  • firefighters and police officers.”

Please note that the Hatch Act specifically identifies firefighters and police officers. Why? Because their departments typically accept numerous federal grants. It is a fact that both Glendale and Phoenix fire departments have accepted federal grants for emergency preparedness. Therefore those department’s employees are covered by the Hatch Act. Both Glendale and Phoenix police departments have accepted federal grants for the hiring of additional police officers. Therefore those department’s employees are also covered by the Hatch Act.

A “covered employee” may not use his or her official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election.  For example:    

  • May not use his or her official title or position while engaged in political activity  
  • May not host a political fundraiser    
  • May not invite others to a political fundraiser    
  • May not sell tickets to a political fundraiser
  • May not use any e-mail account or social media to distribute, send, or forward content that solicits political contributions 

That brings us to a very interesting set of observations leading to questions.

Phoenix Councilmember Danny Valenzuela is a city of Glendale firefighter and is a covered employee under the Hatch Act. Glendale firefighter Danny Valenzuela co-hosted a fundraiser for Glendale mayoral candidate Mark Burdick.

Glendale Councilmember Sammy Chavira is a Phoenix firefighter and was also a co-host of the same event.

The political fundraiser that both co-hosted was held on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM at the Phoenix home of Sal Rivera.  Suggested contributions ranged from $500 for a “Contributor” to $50 for a “Guest.”

Fact 1: The Hatch Act defines “covered employees” on the local level as those whose departments receive federal loans and grants and/or state agency loans or grants.

Fact 2: Both fire departments of the city of Glendale and the city of Phoenix have received numerous federal loans and grants.

Fact 3: Glendale firefighter Danny Valenzuela is a covered employee.

Fact 4: Phoenix firefighter Sammy Chavira is a covered employee.

Fact 5: Danny Valenzuela co-hosted a political fundraiser for Glendale mayoral candidate Mark Burdick.

Fact 6: Sammy Chavira co-hosted a political fundraiser for Glendale mayoral candidate Mark Burdick.

Therefore it is alleged that Valenzuela and Chavira are in violation of the Hatch Act.

It is the responsibility of the Glendale City Attorney and the Phoenix City Attorney to investigate and to corroborate these facts for the purpose of recommending disciplinary action. That action can range from a fine to termination of employment.

Neither of these men can hide behind the cover of their elected office as councilmembers. Their primary jobs have been as firefighters for many, many years long before they were elected to political office. Their elected positions are secondary occupations. Hopefully the voters will come to realize what an untenable position these men hold. If they want to be politicians, fine, but they should quit or retire as active city employees.

It is now up to the Glendale and Phoenix city attorneys to issue opinions regarding these alleged violations of the Hatch Act. Let us hope they do not whitewash these allegations in favor of their political bosses for councilmembers hire and fire City Attorneys. It is one of several positions, such as the City Manager, that are the direct hires of a city council. If these firefighters, covered employees, are found to be allowed to participate in local elections, it sets precedent for all city employees covered by the Hatch Act.

As for Sammy, it’s just another lapse in a long line of questionable ethical decisions he has made. Add it to the $25,000 of taxpayer money he spent on “fun” trips; the council meetings he has missed; and his lack of outreach to the people of the district he is supposed to represent.

It appears that both of these men are in violation of the Hatch Act but then again, I’m not a city attorney and certainly not well versed in the art of spinning a situation to make it go away for my boss. Whatever the determination it deserves a public announcement.

More questions about the Hatch Act and fire unions to come…

© Joyce Clark, 2016

FAIR USE NOTICE

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such material. For more information go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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