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Thursday April 24, 2014
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The Hatch Act Strikes Again

 

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The act's changed the course of three county races this year. Saline police chief Paul Bunten dropped his bid for county sheriff after incumbent Dan Minzey notified him he was in violation of the act. Wes Prater resigned from the county road commission after he was accused of violating the act by running for county commissioner. Prater went on to win the Dem¬ocratic commission primary, and will face Republican Owen Diaz in the general election on November 4.

But by far the most dramatic-and the most confusing-use of the Hatch Act for political purposes is in Pittsfield Township. When Alan Israel filed a primary challenge to incumbent clerk Feliziana Meyer, Meyer filed a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about him. She learned that as chief of staff in the county prosecutor's office Israel had overseen two federal grants-and the Hatch Act prohibits anyone who administers federal funds from running for elected office. Though Israel had already turned the grants over to other people to manage, he continued to supervise one of those people. And that, it turned out, was enough to put him in violation of federal law.

Meyer contacted the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which administers the Hatch Act. OSC attorney Peta-Gay Irving told Israel that if he didn't quit either his job or the race, he'd pay the price for violating the Hatch Act: forced resignation and repayment of two years' salary. So, as Israel put it to the Ann Arbor News in late July, "I did the right and honorable thing by resigning from the prosecutor's office."

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