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Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

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Feds To Investigate Cobb County Sheriff Department For Hatch Act Violations

by PV

Rumors have it that at least two complaints have been filed with the United States Office of Special Counsel (“OSC”) in Washington, D.C., alleging violations of the Hatch Act by Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, as well as Chief Deputy Lynda Coker.

PV Provides Background: The Hatch Act was originally enacted in 1939. It is a federal law that governs political activities by federal employees. Its purpose was to prohibit federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity by using federal resources and dollars to do so. The provisions of the Hatch Act were expanded and amended in 1940 to impose statutory restrictions on certain state and local governmental employees whose principal employment was in connection with a federally funded activity.

What is a “federally funded activity?” Oh…something like this Cobb County Domestic Violence Unit which was created with a federal grant in 1997…and…something like 287(g), which provides federal resources to train deputies in learning how to investigate whether or not Cobb County jail inmates are illegal aliens.

According to OSC, the functions of the state or local employee covered by the Hatch Act do not need to involve the administration, distribution of, or control over federal funds, but need only be connected with an activity that is in whole or in part funded with federal dollars.

The direct source of the cite below is the Cornell University Law School Website. You can read it there or read it here:

§ 1502. Influencing elections; taking part in political campaigns; prohibitions; exceptions

(a) A State or local officer or employee may not:

(1) use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for office;

(2) directly or indirectly coerce, attempt to coerce, command, or advise a State or local officer or employee to pay, lend, or contribute anything of value to a party, committee, organization, agency, or person for political purposes; or

(3) be a candidate for elective office.

(b) A State or local officer or employee retains the right to vote as he chooses and to express his opinions on political subjects and candidates.

(c) Subsection (a)(3) of this section does not apply to

(1) the Governor or Lieutenant Governor of a State or an individual authorized by law to act as Governor
(2) the mayor of a city
(3) a duly elected head of an executive department of a State or municipality who is not classified under a State or municipal merit or civil-service system, or
(4) an individual holding elective office.

OSC Complaint Allegations

Chief Deputy Lynda Coker: The first moment after the moment Coker registered her campaign committee for State Senate District 32 with the Georgia State Ethics Commission, and she still remained an employee of the Cobb County Sheriff’s Department, Coker was in direct violation of 1502(a)(3) which prohibits employees from running for partisan elective office.

According to the State Ethics Commission Website, Coker’s campaign registration was received on 8/3/2009…and she continued to work for the Sheriff’s office after that, reportedly attending campaign events in her Sheriff’s department uniform. And, from what PV has been told, she worked as Chief Deputy until June 1, 2010, whereby her official status is that she is currently “on leave” from the Sheriff’s office.

According to Coker’s bio from the Cobb County Sheriff’s Department (PDF copy here), Coker’s duties include working within the Cobb County Domestic Violence Task Force. That unit was created, as noted in the introduction, in 1997 with a federal grant.

Sheriff Neil Warren: Sheriff Warren is alleged to be in violation of 1502(a)(1), which prohibits him from using “his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for office.”

How would he have violated this? By two ways that we have been informed of: 1) He recorded an auto-call message that was sent out endorsing Lynda Coker in which he used his official government title of “Sheriff Neil Warren,” and 2) By endorsing any candidate he so chooses and allowing his name to be used on every scrap of campaign material of any candidate, which, apparently, includes both Lynda Coker and JoAnn Birrell this cycle.

Conclusions

While we can recognize and appreciate that Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and his entire department have done an outstanding job of what their designated purpose is in helping make Cobb County a great and safe place to live and work, it is extremely disconcerting to find out these types of allegations have been made…and, in looking at the federal law and how it applies here, just how valid those allegations appear to be.

A quick search on the Web uncovered a document issued by the National Sheriff’s Association on October 21, 2008, which is aptly titled “Federal Hatch Act – What Sheriffs Need to Know.” The document lays it out in pretty easy-to-understand terms what Sheriff Warren is prohibited from doing, and, especially, what Lynda Coker is prohibited from doing while remaining an employee of the Cobb County Sheriff’s department.

Up until these Hatch Act allegations against Sheriff Warren and Chief Deputy Coker, Cobb Countians could point fingers at the antics of departments like the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department and think “Wow! Our sheriff’s department is awesome to start with, but compared to Gwinnett’s, we’re 100 times more great!”

Not…so…much…anymore.

5 Responses to “Feds To Investigate Cobb County Sheriff Department For Hatch Act Violations”

  1. Jim Thorn Says:

    This kind of stuff makes me SICK. filthy politicians always. why do they always seem to crawl into races and then spew their trash talking like it’s their job. we expect someone running for office to represent us well and I get attack mailings and NOTHING ABOUT THE OPPONENTS! this election year is terrible across the BOARD!!!

  2. TaxSage Says:

    While this may be a violation, it is certainly not tantamount to corruption. The whole matter begs the question on the confusing web of federal mandates that make many people of good faith potential violators every day.

  3. Bill Simon Says:

    @TaxSage: Agreed. It, in and of itself, is not “corruption.”

  4. Frustrated with dirty politicians Says:

    Breaking the law is the start to corruption. As an employee of the sheriff’s department, one would certainly expect a Chief Deputy sheriff to FOLLOW THE LAW!

  5. joe taxpayer Says:

    Not sure you can use the DV task force as the hook to apply the Hatch Act. Although it was created in 1997 by a federal grant (Violence Against Women Act), the grant ended in 2002.

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