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Federal office: No Hatch Act violations in Dearborn County

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A federal government office has cleared two Dearborn County officials who’d been accused by the former county attorney of violating federal law that restricts political activity for those involved with federally funded programs.

Ending a nearly three-month public ordeal, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel issued a letter Monday to the Dearborn County Sheriff’s detective who’d been one of two accused of violations. G. Michael Witte, the former county attorney who notified federal authorities of the possible violations, left that position in June to become the Indiana Disciplinary Commission’s executive secretary.

Acting as county attorney, Witte – a former Dearborn Superior 1 judge – wrote a letter to the office’s Hatch Act Unit in May that asked the office to investigate possible county violations of the federal law. The 1939-enacted law is designed to prevent conflicts of interest in government, and it restricts political activity of some federal, state, and local employees who work in connection with federally funded programs.

The issue has surfaced recently throughout the state, most notably in the case of the Terre Haute mayoral election in which the Indiana Supreme Court last year upheld a Vigo Circuit judge’s decision that the state statute relating to the Hatch Act and Little Hatch Act didn’t prevent the mayoral election winner from initially being a candidate or subsequently taking office after he’d defeated the incumbent mayor.

After an internal review in Dearborn County, Witte wrote that he believed the county is out of compliance with the Hatch Act provisions on four grants totaling $327,112. At issue were two county employees: county commissioner candidate Shane McHenry, who is one of three sheriff’s detectives working in the county Special Crimes Unit that receives three grants; and county councilman Bryan Messmore, who works in the victims’ services area of the prosecutor’s office that receives a federal grant that pays for his salary and benefits.

Witte considered those dual roles as possible Hatch Act violations that could result in the county losing federal grants or being fined, so he wanted the federal office to review the matter because it’s outside the county authority. He raised the issue during a county commissioners meeting May 17, and both McHenry and Messmore maintained they hadn’t violated the Hatch Act.

In its letter to McHenry, Hatch Act Unit Deputy Chief Erica S. Hamrick wrote that the sheriff’s detective and commissioner-candidate didn’t fall under the law’s scope because he didn’t have any job duties specifically relating to any federally funded program. The position with the sheriff’s office is funded solely through state tax dollars and not any federal grants or loans, the office wrote, and his role with the special crimes unit didn’t involve supervising anyone with those duties.

“The argument could be made that because the coordinator, administrative assistant, and part-time deputy prosecutor play an important role in the operations of the SCU, a detective assigned to the SCU would have duties in connection with federally financed activities,” the letter states. “However, we find that your employment ‘can more accurately be said to be in association with such activities.’"

The office cited In re Pearson, 2 P.A.R. 70,71 (1970), in which the Civil Service Commission held that the respondent wasn’t covered by the Hatch Act because his duties in relation to construction of federal highways were in association with, not in connection with, the federally financed activities.

A footnote on the letter’s last page instructs that McHenry should contact the office if his job duties or the federal funding changes, for possible further review.

McHenry told Indiana Lawyer today that he’d received a phone call about “being cleared” a month ago, but just received the letter this week. He also said that the office had previously cleared Messmore after determining the Hatch Act didn’t apply because Messmore had been named by political caucus and not a bipartisan election as the law requires. The federal office couldn’t be immediately reached today and has previously declined to discuss specifics about this or any case.

Witte reviewed the Hatch Act letter and limited his comments, as he no longer represents the county.

“I did what I was required to do, and that was to investigate possible violations and report them to someone with authority to decide what should happen,” he said today. “I did my job, and they did their job. There was nothing nefarious about any of this.”


 

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  1. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  2. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  3. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  4. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

  5. Unlike the federal judge who refused to protect me, the Virginia State Bar gave me a hearing. After the hearing, the Virginia State Bar refused to discipline me. VSB said that attacking me with the court ADA coordinator had, " all the grace and charm of a drive-by shooting." One does wonder why the VSB was able to have a hearing and come to that conclusion, but the federal judge in Indiana slammed the door of the courthouse in my face.

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