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Another federal investigation of City Hall

Local and state employees involved in programs funded in part or whole by the federal government aren't supposed to use their positions to influence elections. Not to push for campaign contributions, not to encourage or direct subordinates to work on political campaigns. Not under the Hatch Act.

Someone forgot to tell Tanya Perrin-Johnson before she sent out a series of e-mails "encouraging" members of her staff to work on Byron Brown's re-election campaign.

Now, the federal Office of Special Counsel has opened an investigation to determine whether the e-mails represent a violation of the Hatch Act.

There's no way of knowing where the investigation may lead beyond Perrin-Johnson and her e-mails if investigators put their minds to it. Well, actually there is. It could lead all over City Hall.

For example, Dana Bobinchek, a top aide of the mayor since his days in the State Senate, was copied on the e-mails. So, one would assume, she might also be under scrutiny.

It's not just that she was copied on the Perrin-Johnson e-mails. As one of the mayor's top aides, I've got to assume she interacts with a lot of city departments, almost all of which receive federal funding. Police, Inspections. Economic Development. etc.
Or how about Jessica Magglietto, director of the CitiStat program, which tracks the performance of city departments? She's also neck deep in the mayor's campaign, among other things, as a go-to person for folks who want to contribute to the mayor's re-election campaign. 

But Maglietto, Bobinchek and Perrin-Johnson, who, by the way, has lawyered up (Joel Daniels), could be small fish compared to Deputy Mayor Steve Casey.

Casey has his fingers in every pie in both City Hall and the mayor's re-election campaign, and if you don't think he isn't using his position as deputy mayor in ways that benefit the campaign, well, you don't know how the Second Floor really operates.

Mayors in many cities put some sort of firewall between their office and their campaigns. Not Byron Brown, however. He in-sources, not out-sources such work. I mean, who else has his campaign manager also function as his deputy mayor?

I'm told Perrin-Johnson and others are concerned about the e-mails because if they violate the city charter, they run the risk of prosecution on criminal charges, albeit misdemeanors. Hatch Act violations carry civil penalties -- interesting civil penalties.

If the Merit Systems Protection Board concludes there are violations of the Hatch Act, it could give the mayor two choices -- fire the guilty parties or face a loss in federal aid worth double the salaries of those involved.

The investigation by the Office of Special Counsel could do a lot to promote reform of over-the-top political activity at City Hall that existed long before Byron Brown took office. It might help advance legislation sponsored by four Common Council members that amounts to a city version of the Hatch Act that the mayor's allies on the Council so far have stymied.

Then again, if City Hall was respecting the Hatch Act, there might be much less of a case to be made for a local version.

Update: A reader gave me a heads up on this document, The Perils of Politics in Government, a Review of the Scope and Enforcement of the Hatch Act, which is a byproduct of U.S. Senate hearings held in October 2007. I found pages 36-43 and 67-75 (on the PDF page counter, as opposed to the document) to be particularly relevant.



City Hall | Politics
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