(WNY News Now) – Ellicott Police Chief William L. Obnmeiss Jr.’s recent statement on the expansion of the police department, while carrying out official duties, has ignited concerns over potential violations of the Hatch Act, a federal law that restricts certain political activities of government employees.
Falconer – Ellicott Police Chief William L. Obnmeiss Jr.’s recent statement on the expansion of the police department, while carrying out official duties, has ignited concerns over potential violations of the Hatch Act, a federal law that restricts certain political activities of government employees.
In his statement on The Town of Ellicott Facebook page, Chief Obnmeiss expressed enthusiasm about the Town Board’s decision to add two more full-time police officer positions and actively seek qualified candidates. He also mentioned the department’s openness to considering lateral transfers and its continuous search for part-time police officers to strengthen the force.
The Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, aims to prevent government employees from engaging in partisan political activities while on duty. Although its scope primarily covers federal employees, it can have implications at the state and local levels as well, particularly when public officials make political statements while conducting official business in their official capacities.
The potential concern in Chief Obnmeiss’s statement arises from the allegations that he made these remarks during the execution of his official duties. While expressing gratitude to Town Supervisor Janet Bowman and the Board members for their support, the Chief also commended their collaboration in the development of the tentative 2024 Police Services budget, which includes the allocation of two additional Police Patrolman positions.
The Hatch Act’s application can be complex, and determining violations often depends on specific factors and interpretations. Generally, it prohibits government employees from engaging in political activities such as running for public office, fundraising for political campaigns, or using their official authority to influence elections. Importantly, the Act also restricts government employees from engaging in partisan political activity while on duty or in their official capacity.
In this case, Chief Obnmeiss’s statement, while not overtly partisan, could be seen as political in nature, as it addresses decisions and policies related to the police department that may have political implications, such as budget allocation and staffing decisions. Moreover, the statement was made during the performance of his official duties, and he expressed appreciation for the support of specific public officials.
It is important to note that the Hatch Act does not automatically lead to punitive actions. Instead, it serves as a legal framework for addressing potential violations. Consequences for violations can range from disciplinary actions within the employing agency to removal from public office. However, the ultimate determination of a violation and its consequences would depend on the Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act.