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County says no politics with Hatch Act on legislator candidate

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 July 2015 at 12:00 am

James White was in program fully paid with federal funds

James White speaks at Sunday’s Democratic Party picnic in Albion.

ALBION – James White, a candidate for Orleans County Legislature, believes the county pushed him out of a summer work program for youth based on his candidacy and some criticism of county officials.

White, 21, is running as a Democrat in a strongly Republican county. He says he was terminated from the summer youth program after officials told him he was in violation of the Hatch Act, which bars candidates who receive federal funds in their salaries from pursuing political office. The Act was revised in December 2012, to allow more candidates to run for office if they only receive a portion of their pay through federal funds.

County officials say White wasn’t targeted with the Hatch Act.

“This is not a political issue,” said Chuck Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer. “This is a legal issue.”

White was receiving 100 percent of his pay through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. That program allows youths from lower-income backgrounds to work at job sites with the federal government paying the salaries. Orleans County has youths working at 30 sites in the program. White was working at the Cobblestone Country Federal Credit Union in Albion.

When it became clear he was campaigning for Legislature, county officials told him last month he needed to either cease the campaign or give up the job in the federal program. The Hatch Act prevents “running for office in a partisan election” when the candidate is in a position 100 percent federally funded.

White spoke at Sunday’s Orleans County Democratic Party picnic at Bullard park in Albion. During an interview with Orleans Hub, he said he was terminated from the summer program because of the Hatch Act. White said he is seeking a legal opinion because he believes he was targeted by the county due to a letter to the editor critical of the sale of nursing home.

Nesbitt said White hasn’t been targeted. Nesbitt said the county would be exposed legally if White stayed in the program when he was in clear violation of the Hatch Act.

The county wants all candidates to be in compliance with the law and Hatch Act, Nesbitt said. To see guidelines for candidates about the Hatch Act, visit the Office of Special Counsel at https://osc.gov.

One county department head, Paul Fulcomer, is making a run for elected office. Fulcomer, director of Veterans Service Agency, is running for a spot on the Albion Town Board as a Republican.

Fulcomer’s office receives less than 10 percent of its funding from the federal government. County Attorney David Schubel and Nesbitt didn’t see Fulcomer’s candidacy in violation of the Hatch Act. Fulcomer also is planning to retire later this year.

Before the Hatch Act changes in December 2012, some county employees faced tough choices: whether to run for elected office or give up their jobs.

Chuck Kinsey is the former county computer services director. He wanted to run for Clarendon town justice, but his office received a small portion of its budget from the federal government. The county sought an opinion from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel about the Hatch Act, and that office said Kinsey would be violation of the act if he ran for judge and kept his county position, Nesbitt recalled this morning.

Kinsey ultimately opted against running for justice and kept his job. Kevin Sheehan faced a similar dilemma. He wanted to run for the Albion Village Board but he worked as a maintenance mechanic for the VA healthcare system in Batavia. He opted to keep his full-time job rather than run for the Village Board last year. His salary is 100 percent from the federal government.

White wasn’t terminated from the summer youth work program, Nesbitt said. White was given the option to either suspend the campaign or pull out of the program.

White chose to step put of the program. He has since been hired by Tim Hortons. He is entering his senior year at D’Youville College in Buffalo.