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Palm Coast resident Bert Cordwell announced to the City Council Tuesday, Aug. 7, that a complaint had been filed against Councilman and County Commission candidate Frank Meeker for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits candidates from using federal money to campaign for partisan office.
But to Meeker, the complaint is nothing more than “malicious mudslinging.”
The complaint was filed based on the assumption that Meeker’s job for the St. Johns River Water Management District, which receives a portion of its project funds from federal grants, is in conflict with his run for County Commission. But none of his salary comes from federal dollars, Meeker says. And since he is not a member of the executive branch, he doesn’t believe that the policy could even apply to him.
The Hatch Act states: “All civilian employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president and the vice president, are covered by the provisions of the Hatch Act.” That’s in addition to senior executive service positions, administrative law judges, contract appeal board members and administrative appeals judges.
“I’ve got a legal opinion from (City Attorney) Bill Reischmann,” Meeker said. “It’s not applicable to me.”
But by now, Meeker says he’s used to these allegations. When he first ran for nonpartisan city office in 1999, he said, the Hatch Act came up. The issue was reviewed and then dropped. The same thing happened when he ran the second time.
And this year, he said, “(Reischmann) came back to the same conclusion.”
“There’s nothing that I do that conflicts with what I do in Flagler County,” Meeker said, adding that even his work for the water district takes place outside Flagler, in Alachua, Marian and Putnam counties.
When you work for a government agency, he added, you have to be careful about these things. “You want to make sure that the agency, your main employer, doesn’t have a conflict with you running for office,” Meeker explained.
Meeker’s County Commission District 2 challenger, Dennis McDonald (who said he isn't the one who filed the complaint), points to Meeker’s position as committeeman for the State Republican Party as a possible breach of the Hatch Act. But in serving as a volunteer liaison between state and local Republican groups, Meeker doesn’t see basis for those claims, either.
The county supervisor of elections website states that local employees may “hold office in political clubs and organizations” under the Hatch Act.
“I think the public is tired of negative campaigns,” he said. “And I think they will take it out on all of these candidates at the voting box.”
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