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Congress votes to scrap Hatch Act restrictions

Published December 20, 2012 11:00 am

Politics • The new legislation is in part based on ouster of Ogden police chief.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Congress gave its final approval to a bill Wednesday that would allow local officials who oversee some federal funds to run for public office, legislation that is in part based on the ouster of former Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner.

Ogden fired Greiner in late 2011 after federal regulators said he violated the Hatch Act because he was the point person on a federal grant for a dispatch center, while also serving as a state senator.

Greiner lost his job and was banned from serving as a law enforcement officer for 18 months. He also had to drop his re-election bid.

"Sadly Chief Greiner's Hatch Act violation, while absurd, has occurred all over the country. I'm happy to say after this legislation is passed, it should never ever happen again," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who was one of the leaders on the Hatch Act reform legislation.

The bill has received broad bipartisan support and even the backing of federal regulators who oversee Hatch Act violations. The bill already passed the Senate, where it was sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. It passed the House on Wednesday with no dissent.

The new law maintains the prohibition on federal employees running for office but won't stop people who work in other organizations that receive federal grants for running for partisan offices.

Greiner wasn't the only Utah who has faced a Hatch Act investigation. The liberal group, Alliance for a Better Utah, filed a complaint against state Rep. Mike Noel, because he oversees federal funding at the Kane County Water Conservancy District, where he works. And Salt Lake County Democrats filed a Hatch Act complaint against county Councilman Mike Jensen because of the federal funding he oversees through his job at the county fire chief.

Those complaints are likely to evaporate if President Barack Obama signs the legislation as expected.

Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, says she continues to have concerns about officials who have their hands on federal funds while holding other elected offices, saying it could lead to "ethical lapses." She also says, however, that the Hatch Act was written broadly and has been hard to enforce since it first became law nearly 75 years ago.

"I guess [Congress] put it in the hands of voters and voters will decide if they have a problem with it," she said.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham