U.S. OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT OF PETITION TO REMOVE FLORIDA LOCAL AGENCY EMPLOYEE
FOR HATCH ACT VIOLATION
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 7/10/02
CONTACT: JANE MCFARLAND
Today, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced the settlement of its Petition for Disciplinary Action filed against Ms. Gwendolyn Brown, formerly the Head Start Director at Manatee Opportunity Council, Inc. (MOCI), in Florida. OSC’s petition, filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), had charged Ms. Brown with willfully violating the Hatch Act’s prohibition on running for public office in a partisan election.
Ms. Brown voluntarily resigned from her Head Start position last February, shortly after OSC filed its petition seeking her removal from Head Start employment. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Ms. Brown agreed not to seek or accept employment in the State of Florida in any State or local agency or non-profit agency (deemed to be a State or local agency for the purposes of the Hatch Act) for a period of eighteen months, beginning June 18, 2002. (MSPB Docket No. CB-1216-02-0017-T-1)
Under the provisions of the Head Start Act, nonprofit agencies responsible for “[p]lanning, developing and coordinating Head Start programs…” are deemed to be “State or local agencies,” for purposes of the Hatch Act. Since 1991, Ms. Brown had been employed as MOCI’s Head Start Director, where she was directly responsible for managing Manatee County Head Start Programs and for ensuring that services were provided in accordance with Head Start Program Performance Standards. Among other duties, Ms. Brown routinely signed assurances for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stating that MOCI Head Start “[w]ill comply with the provisions of the Hatch Act … which limit the political activities of employees whose principal employment activities are funded in whole or in part with Federal funds.”
In June of 1998, Ms. Brown filed as a Democratic candidate for the September primary election. Shortly thereafter, an MOCI administrator was advised by an HHS official that Ms. Brown was covered by the Hatch Act and that she could not work for the Head Start Program and run for County Commissioner. Ms. Brown’s attorney, acting on her behalf, sent a letter to HHS challenging the applicability of the Act. Ms. Brown continued her candidacy and won the primary election. After the primary, Ms. Brown was again notified, this time by the Acting Associate General Counsel for Ethics at HHS, that her candidacy violated the Hatch Act. Despite this additional warning, Ms. Brown continued her candidacy.
Nonprofit agency employees covered by the Hatch Act are strictly prohibited from running for partisan elective office. The penalty for willful violation of the Act is that the employee must be removed from his or her position by the employing agency unless the agency agrees to forfeit its federal funding in an amount equal to two years’ salary of the employee. The employee may also not be reappointed to Hatch Act covered employment in the state for the following eighteen months.