Friday, November 16, 2007

Terre Haute Dems Play Dirty To Deny Republican Mayor

Terre Haute Democrats are still reeling from Duke Bennett's upset win over Terre Haute Mayor Kevin Burke in last week's mayoral election in this Democratic stronghold. Desparate to hold on to power, Burke has turned to Democrat attorney Ed DeLaney, husband of Ann DeLaney, to make a tenuous legal argument based on the fact Bennett's employer receives some federal funding that he may be disqualified from taking office because of the Hatch Act. Bennett works in management at Terre Haute's Hamilton Center, a non-profit mental health facility. If Bennett is unable to serve as Terre Haute mayor because of the Hatch Act prohibition, the losing Democratic mayor will automatically become mayor for another four years. Bennett's work reportedly does not pertain to any work on which the federal funding is used by his employer for its Head Start program. The Terre Haute Tribune Star reports:

Terre Haute Mayor Kevin Burke has thrown opponent Duke Bennett’s eligibility to be mayor into question.

If supported, the challenge could mean the incumbent retains his seat.

Bennett on Thursday hired an attorney in response to a letter sent from an Indianapolis law firm that questioned his eligibility for the office based upon
a federal statute called the Hatch Act.

The letter, dated Tuesday, asks whether the Hamilton Center’s director of operations was qualified to run for mayor because the Hamilton Center receives federal funds.

If Bennett were to be disqualified, said one of Burke’s attorneys, Ed DeLaney, state law indicates that Burke would become mayor.In I.C. 3-12-8-17(c), which DeLaney referenced, the statute states: “After hearing and determining a petition alleging that a candidate is ineligible, the court shall declare as elected or nominated the qualified candidate who received the highest number of votes and render judgment accordingly.”

Bennett, a Republican, defeated the Democratic incumbent by 107 votes in the general election earlier this month, based on unofficial results released by the Vigo County Clerk’s Office that night.Burke has since filed for a recount.

The Hatch Act, a federal law, prevents workers in certain government agencies that receive federal funds from competing for political office in partisan elections. A U.S. Office of Special Counsel Web site dedicated to the Hatch Act says the law applies to employees of private nonprofit agencies “only if the statute through which the organization receives its federal funds contains language which states that the organization shall be considered to be a state or local agency for purposes of the Hatch Act, e.g., Headstart and Community Service Block Grant statutes.”

Hamilton Center runs an Early Head Start program. The letter from the DeLaney firm adds the program “is supported by federal funds.”

“As a managerial employee of a recipient of such federal funds, Mr. Bennett may be disqualified from holding a local office,” the letter says.FedSpending.org, a watchdog Web site that monitors government spending, reports that Hamilton Center received $852,898 for its Head Start program from the Department of Health and Human Services in fiscal 2005, the most recent data available on the site. The site also says that Hamilton Center has received more than $4.8 million for the program since 2000.

Bennett’s attorney, Chou-il Lee, said his client has no connections to the Head Start program, nor does he handle the funding or supervise anyone receiving those federal funds.

Lee did say that his was an “early analysis,” and he needs to get more information.The DeLaney letter listed 11 questions related to Bennett’s employment with Hamilton Center, including what reason, if any, Bennett has for believing the law does not preclude him from being mayor.

The letter was sent to Bennett, Bill Treadway, chairman of the Vigo County Republican Party, and Galen Goode, chief executive officer for Hamilton Center. They had until Thursday to respond, the letter said, before a court action would be filed seeking to depose, or to examine in a deposition, Bennett and Goode. DeLaney said he spoke with Goode and Treadway, who told him that they were retaining attorneys. He added that, as of 3:30 p.m., he had heard nothing further from any of the parties, and he had assumed during the mid-afternoon interview that he would not.

“I want to hear from these people,” DeLaney said. “That’s the appropriate way for this to be dealt with.”Goode said he retained an attorney, but would not reply to the letter. “I believe our attorneys are going to contact the firm of DeLaney & DeLaney,” Goode said, “and that’s the next step.”Lee said Thursday afternoon that not all the information needed to answer the questions was readily available, and “a lot of those questions” were about Hamilton Center.

“That’s kind of quick,” Lee said of the time to reply, “and so they’re not going to get a response within that 24 hours.”

Treadway said early Thursday morning that he had given the letter to his attorney, Terry Modesitt, and that he didn’t want to comment. He said that the attorneys representing him, Bennett and Goode wanted first to confer. Treadway was not immediately available for further comment Thursday evening.

The DeLaney law firm is no stranger to politics. Ann DeLaney, a partner in the law practice who signed the letter about Bennett, is a former chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.

Bennett said in a phone message Thursday afternoon that he declined to comment, though he forwarded the letter to his attorney and was awaiting guidance. Burke said Thursday that no decision had been made as to a potential court filing. He could not be reached for subsequent comment.

Lee said that the letter’s timing “raises an eyebrow, doesn’t it?”

“I mean, an election was had, Duke got the majority of the votes,” Lee said, “and now it looks like they’re just trying to invalidate that.”

It looks to me like the Democrats are playing with fire here. Do we not have several members on our own City-County Council who are working for agencies which receive federal funding? Are we going to invalidate their election wins as well? Talk about sour grapes.

Hat tip to Indiana Law Blog.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does the nonprofit Mary Moriarty Adams work for receive federal funding? Just asking.

Advance Indiana said...

Mary works for the National MS Society, which according to their website, receives about 1% of its revenues from the federal government as grants.

John said...

Why is Ed Delaney investigating this? Hatch Act actions can only be enforced by the OSC (and adjudicated by the Merit Systems Protection Board). The penalty is that Hamilton Center would forfeit 2x in federal funding of whatever Bennett's salary was.

I've pointed out several times the issue with Indianapolis LEOs running in the partisan elections. The now-Hendricks County Sheriff had to resign his position as Chief of Brownsburg PD when he was campaigning because someone had filed a Hatch Act complaint and OSC contacted the town and informed them that there appeared to be a Hatch violation.

I couldn't imagine that Ben Hunter or Lincoln Plowman haven't signed up for details that are directly federally-funded, such as Weed and Seed or the many traffic safety grants.

Advance Indiana said...

The Indianapolis Fire Department I'm sure has been the recipient of federal funding as well. Listen up, Monroe and Vernon.

Anonymous said...

Monroe, Vernon, Lincoln, Ben...a pox on all their houses. Get off the council already. Monroe is not going to be president, hopefully not minority leader, and Lincoln is moving into leadership We're trading one goof for another. Put them both in a round barn and tell them to go spit in a corner. They'll never come out.

All good Dems know the Delaneys. And most will admit, in their candid mooments, that Ed is a prince, while his wife is, well, not a princess.

I cannot understand why Ed would be party to this.

Unless, of course, it has merit. One thing the Delaneys do well is end up on the winning side of lawsuits. And not ending up on the silly side.

The OSC and MSPC references are pertinent if the employee is a fulltime federal employee. The law is apparently gray enough that Ed thought this was worth a shot.

And here's another well-known fact: if you think the race to replace Julia, whenever it happens, will get down and dirty, it doesn't hold a candle to daily T. Haute politics. Vicious.

(Q.: Is Pete Chalos still alive?)

Anonymous said...

Anon,

You're wrong. The OSC still investigates and the MSPB still adjudicates, even when non-federal employees are involved.

See this press release from the OSC regarding the former Atlantic City mayor:
http://www.osc.gov/documents/press/2006/pr06_05.htm

or this unnamed municipality director:
http://www.osc.gov/documents/press/2003/pr03_17.htm

or these two regarding non-profit employees:
http://www.osc.gov/documents/press/2002/pr02_19.htm

http://www.osc.gov/documents/press/2001/pr01_06.htm

Anonymous said...

Gary,

You're right. I think its even more dangerous for Monroe and Vernon given their high ranks. The higher the rank, the more likely they're going to have some responsibility or entanglement with federal dollars.

Advance Indiana said...

anon 12:24, I believe Chalos died just last year if I'm not mistaken. He brought a group of foreign business visitors to my family's farm back when he was still mayor. Pretty nice guy, but he overstayed his welcome after four terms. Jim Jenkins defeated him.

Anonymous said...

Mary Moriarty Adams used to be at Indiana Housing until booted by Mitch and they definitely receive federal funds.

Peter said...

If the Hatch Act applies - and it certainly looks to me like it does - the consequences would seem to fall on the Hamilton Center. I don't know of a provision in Indiana law that would cause the mayor-elect to forfeit his position as mayor. Although I suppose he might lose his other job.

MMA shouldn't be affected, since the MS society is a private nonprofit not statutorily equated to a state or local agency. (Head start program are statutorily equated to a state or local agency).

I don't know much about federal money given to police and fire departments, but I really hope someone investigates this.

Anonymous said...

as a good Democrat, I Wish someone would find a way to get Moriarty Adams off the council. She fosters hate and is a bigot. Some women never recover from losing their husbands to another man.

Anonymous said...

Damn, 7:03--where fo you get your information?

Mary is a friend. We disagreed on the HRO, but she's quite open on multiple other issues. Her knowledge will be sorely missed as chair of the public safety committee. She is anything but mean. Get your facts correct.

The personal jab could easily have been left out. It was classless and added nothing.

Anonymous said...

8:11 PM EST - yeah, let's keep up appearances in a minor anonymous blog.

Anonymous said...

10:31, good job keeping up the crap.

Anonymous said...

Same old crap being perpetrated by the Terre Haute Dems. Nothing changes. They make old school Chicago politics look clean as a whistle. They didn't get their way so they cry about it.

What about City Councilman Norm Loudermilk? He is a fire department employee (and a former cop). The THFD receives federal funds so why is Norm allowed to campaign without question? Oh yeah, because he's a Democrat and that's all that Matters in TH.