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


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