Employees warned against political activity - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Employees warned against political activity

Memo reminds of policies restricting activities; Kunisch claims possible violation

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Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 12:00 am

Oro Valley officials recently sent an e-mail to all town employees notifying them of the restrictions against active participation in local political campaigns.

"With a local election season well underway, I want to remind all Town employees about the specific prohibitions contained in Town Personnel policy 29, sections 1 and 2," wrote Town Attorney Tobin Rosen in a Jan. 14 e-mail.

Rosen said the policy bans participation in elections specific to Oro Valley Town Council, as well as local ballot issues. Employees are free to engage in political activities that don't directly relate to the town.

The prohibition extends to passing out nominating petitions, soliciting contributions or distributing signs and literature for council candidates.

While unsure of the exact circumstances, Rosen said the possibility of a town employee campaigning for a council candidate while at work prompted interim Town Manager Jerene Watson to request the reminder.

"No one has lost their job or suffered any discipline," Rosen told The Explorer in an interview Friday.

Even so, upon learning of the notice, Councilman Al Kunisch requested to have the issue added to the town council agenda for Jan. 20 for discussion. Councilman K.C. Carter supported the addition.

"As far as I'm concerned, you're violating the First Amendment rights of town employees," Kunisch said. He said employees should be allowed to participate in local elections as long as they don't use their positions as employees of the town or expend any government money.

Kunisch said the rule seems to step beyond the realm of managing work performance and moves into the private lives of employees.

Employee policies spell out what political activities employees can engage in. According to policy 29: "Solicitation of Political Support Prohibited: No employee of the Town may solicit any contribution in cash or services from any Town employee to support any candidate for public office."

The policy also forbids employees from taking part in the campaigns of local candidates, using their position to recommend candidates, solicit support for a candidate or political parties involved in municipal elections during working hours, or distribute campaign material during working hours or in a uniform used by or identified with the town.

The rule also prohibits an employee from seeking political office in the town while still employed by Oro Valley.

"The underlying purpose of such policies is to eliminate the possibility of political pressures from being brought to bear on public employees," according to Rosen's report in the Jan. 20 council meeting packet.

Rosen also noted that similar provisions have been upheld in the courts.

The memo prompted reaction from the Oro Valley chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, who see the move as potentially aimed at it because the organization has traditionally endorsed political candidates and taken positions on other election issues.

FOP President Kevin Mattocks, an Oro Valley Police sergeant, said he questioned Rosen about the memo but remains confused as to why the memo was sent.

"I just want it cleared up," Mattocks said.

He said Rosen sent a similar memo last September reminding employees of the policy. What, if anything, provoked the second e-mail was unclear to Mattocks.

"There's nothing that I know that has physically prompted this because there's been no action taken," Mattocks said.

The FOP has endorsed candidates, Mattocks said, but all its communication and activity has been done on individuals' own time and not using town resources.

The organization supports council candidates K.C. Carter, Mark Finchem, Joe Hornat, Mary Snider and Lou Waters.

For mayor, the FOP has endorsed both Satish Hiremath and current Mayor Paul Loomis.

Mattocks said FOP members would follow the rules if it proves that political activities are entirely forbidden.

"We want to play by rules," Mattocks said.

The Oro Valley Town Council meets Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. in council chambers at 11000 N. La Cañada Drive.


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