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HATCHED
But feds decide not to prosecute
(Published July 24, 2006)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER
Staff Writer

The federal Office of Special Counsel has decided that D.C. Board of Education members are technically prohibited by the Hatch Act from seeking partisan elective office, but that no clear authority exists for prosecuting or penalizing them when they do so.

"We recognize that a legislative change is required to include D.C. School Board members as one of the elected offices exempt from the provisions of the Hatch Act, and OSC would support any efforts to seek that change," Hatch Act Unit attorney Terilyn Dentino wrote in a June 12 letter declining to investigate an alleged Hatch Act violation by school board member Tommy Wells.

The Common Denominator anonymously obtained a copy of the letter, which redacted the name of the individual who filed the complaint against Wells for seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the Ward 6 seat on D.C. City Council. A spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel verified the letter's authenticity but would not identify the complainant. Wells, who currently represents Wards 5 and 6 on the school board, declined to comment on the complaint.

The Hatch Act, which primarily prohibits partisan political activity by federal employees, also applies to D.C. government employees. The act specifically exempts the mayor and city council but is silent on the status of individuals elected to serve as school board members or advisory neighborhood commissioners. Both are nonpartisan offices.

Earlier this year, ANC Commissioner Robert Brannum withdrew from the council chairman's race when questions about violating the Hatch Act were raised. Several other ANC commissioners have continued to seek partisan election to council seats.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator