One of the three candidates for Routt County sheriff is looking into a 1939 federal law that could prevent him from running for elected office, but he said he is continuing his campaign until the question is resolved.
Garrett Wiggins said he is looking through the Hatch Act to determine whether his position as All Crimes Enforcement Team drug task force commander would disallow his candidacy.
The Hatch Act was enacted to prevent federal employees from taking part in partisan political activity, for the purpose of ensuring that government institutions function fairly. The Hatch Act has been interpreted to prevent federal employees from running for partisan office in most cases.
According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that oversees the Hatch Act, “The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants.”
Wiggins said the act came to his attention because of recent decisions by Moffat County elected office candidates to withdraw or reconsider their candidacies. On Feb. 27, Moffat County Sheriff’s Office investigator and EMT battalion chief K.C. Hume dropped his bid for coroner because of a perceived conflict with the Hatch Act, and a candidate for Moffat County clerk and recorder also is looking into the legality of her campaign. The woman, Lila Herod, is employed as the county’s elections supervisor.
ACET is funded through several local law enforcement agencies, and Wiggins said he is trying to determine whether federal funding, passed through the Craig Police Department to ACET, would stand in his way.
Wiggins’ salary is paid by the Steamboat Springs Police Department, and he is listed as an employee of the department. Other agencies, including the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office and Craig Police Department, contribute to ACET’s operation, sometimes with federal funds.
“It’s not clear that if I continue to run that I would be in violation of the Hatch Act,” Wiggins said Tuesday.
Wiggins said he called the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to request an audit of his situation.
“In talking to them they said it’s something they would have to take under review since my employer does not receive any (federal) benefit,” Wiggins said.
He said he was told he would not have a response for several months. A spokesman for the office did not return calls from the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Tuesday.
Wiggins said the ACET office received federal funds from the Justice Administration Act for several years through the Craig Police Department, but ACET was denied those funds in 2009 and 2010. ACET received a federal COPS grant in 2008 that was intended to last three years to upgrade equipment, but Wiggins said he did not know whether that money was entirely used.
In 2006, an Ogden, Utah, police chief ran for state Senate, and his campaign was challenged because his office received federal funds for bulletproof vests, according to published reports. The man went on to win his race, but the case is on appeal.
The Merit Systems Protection Board, an administrative agency, judges potential Hatch Act violations. Violations are administrative issues, not criminal cases, and the punishment if a person is found to be in violation of the act is removal from the elected position and reclamation of any salary paid for the post.
Wiggins said that if he were advised by the Office of Special Counsel that his candidacy is in violation of the act, he would consider other options, including resigning from the post. But according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s Web site, as soon as a restricted person starts to campaign, they are in violation and cannot resign from their job to continue the campaign.
Wiggins likely will face David Smith Jr. in the Republican primary, and the winner of that race likely will face Democratic incumbent Gary Wall.
On Tuesday, former state Sen. Jack Taylor, chairman of the Routt County Republican Central Committee, said he had not heard of Wiggins’ potential problems and did not know the Hatch Act’s provisions well enough to provide a response.
Routt County Republicans will hold a meeting at noon today to prepare for the March 16 caucuses.