Many years ago, I became a public employee and one of the first things I was told was, “even though we are not covered by the Hatch Act, we abide by it. We are here to serve the needs of the public, not to gain political favor. We do not make public policy, we implement it. We might be asked to serve as experts in our fields to provide information to the policy makers.”
Henry Hendrickson’s advice and counsel has served me well. I vote in every election, but did not become politically active until I was no longer a public employee. The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, is officially titled “An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities.” It is a federal law whose main provision prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except certain designated high-level officials, from engaging in some forms of political activity. It was amended a number of times and in December 2012, President Obama signed the Hatch Act Modernization Act. Through my years as a public servant, I knew of no public employee in our state who engaged in partisan political activity. Many voted, and most followed the ethical conduct described by Mr. Hendrickson.
A fellow citizen has voiced a concern regarding the Rhinelander Professional Police Association (RPPA) forming a political action committee. Who will monitor their use of city facilities and equipment? This issue has been cause for three John Doe probes in the state of Wisconsin, resulting in an even deeper divide in our state politics. I would add a concern about the endorser’s ability to be even-handed in enforcement of the law.
At a time when the public’s trust in police is at an all-time low, it is doubtful that more adverse publicity or even rumors of favoritism, would do either the police or public any benefit. For example, the candidate whom the police endorsed is stopped for erratic driving. Do you suppose that the police officer, upon discovering that the driver was someone who had been endorsed by the RPPA, would be able to administer justice in an even handed way? Would the endorsement influence his/her judgment? Suppose that the traffic stop occurred a few hours after a negotiating session between the police association and the city.
Kyle Parish, president of RPPA, is quoted as saying, “people need to appreciate the fact that in order for Rhinelander to continue growing, public safety is a key factor, and having the right partners working toward that goal is critical.” Unfortunately, officer Parish didn’t have the good fortune to have a conversation with Henry Hendrickson. I wonder when the police became “partners” rather than servants of the public.
I urge the members of RPPA to re-think their position; disband their political action committee and move into the city and become eligible to vote. You are welcome to live here.
Jim Leschke, Rhinelander