September 16, 2011 1:29:00 PM
The Hatch Act is rearing its head again the Lowndes County sheriff''s election, as officials question whether or not Anthony Nelson is eligible to run under the stipulations of the federal law.
Democratic sheriff candidate Selvain McQueen withdrew from the election when the Hatch Act Unit began investigating allegations he might have been in violation of the law.
The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of federal employees and certain civil servants whose offices deal with federal loans or grants. Those covered by the Hatch Act cannot run in partisan elections.
McQueen, who is serving as interim police chief for the city of Columbus, withdrew from the race before he could get an opinion on whether or not he was in violation of the Hatch Act.
The Democratic Executive Committee then tapped Nelson, who ran unsuccessfully in the August primaries, as McQueen''s replacement in the race.
Thursday morning, Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders noted he has been fielding questions about whether Nelson, administrator for the Lowndes County Juvenile Detention Center, is eligible to run under conditions of the Hatch Act.
"If we find out he is in violation of the Hatch Act, we could lose all our federal funding," Sanders said, asking Board Attorney Tim Hudson to request an opinion on the matter.
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks opposed the suggestion, saying it could appear as if the board was trying to "interfere in the electoral process," especially since Sanders, a Republican, proposed the investigation.
"I''d like you to put that in the form of a motion, so I can vote against it," Brooks said to Sanders.
With a vote of 3-1-1, the board approved Sanders motion to ask the Hatch Act Unit Office of Special Counsel to offer an advisory opinion on the matter.
"If Anthony is in violation, he''s got a choice. He can resign as the Juvenile Detention Center administrator, or he can drop out of the sheriff''s race," Sanders said, adding the supervisors ought to know whether Nelson is covered under the Hatch Act, so they can protect the county from recourse.
"He needs to know for his own sake," Sanders added of Nelson.
"As far as I know, I''m not in violation of the Hatch Act because we don''t receive federal funds," Nelson said this morning. "We need to concentrate on the race at hand. ... We need to focus on the issues. ... It seems like a lot of people are trying to distract people''s attention with this Hatch Act ... instead of the actual issues concerning this race."
In his campaign, Nelson plans to focus on disaster preparedness, community policing and professionalism.
Nelson said he wants to be "above board" but also wants to "move forward with this race."
Brooks voted against the motion to request an opinion, and District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith recused himself from the vote. Brooks and Smith both are members of the Lowndes County Democratic Executive Committee.
Candidates found in violation of the Hatch Act risk losing their jobs, and their employers can lose a large chunk of federal funds, equivalent to two years worth of the violating employees'' salary.