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Feds follow Hatch complaint against Rhee

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the agency that oversees compliance with the Hatch Act, is investigating complaints by an outspoken critic of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee that she violated the statute by speaking out last month on the mayoral race.

The Hatch Act, which regulates political activity by federal and District employees, says they "may not use their official authority or influence to interfere with the result of an election." In a series of interviews with The Post and other news organizations this summer, Rhee clearly staked out her support for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and characterized his Democratic primary opponent, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, as a conventional politician too concerned with public opinion to lead the school reform effort.

The complaint was filed by Robert Vinson Brannum, president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations and a supporter of Gray's mayoral campaign.

Rhee declined to comment Thursday and referred questions to DCPS general counsel James Sandman, who said that the Office of Special Counsel was required to initiate an investigation any time a Hatch violation is alleged. "The fact of an investigation means nothing and reflects no judgment about whether any violation occured. Someone filed a complaint, and I am confident that there has been no violation," Sandman said.

Officials found to violate the Hatch Act can be removed from their posts. But if the Merit Systems Protection Board find that the violation does not warrant removal, there is provision for a 30-day suspension.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a call Wednesday from Mary Larsen, an attorney for the Hatch Unit of the Office of Special Counsel, who is following up on Brannum's complaint. She asked if I had audio tapes of any of Rhee's comments. I told her that I wasn't prepared to say anything beyond what we'd published. The matter was referred to Post vice president and general counsel Eric Lieberman.

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By Bill Turque  |  August 12, 2010; 5:52 PM ET
 
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Comments

Maybe Rhee really did fire the "ineffective" teachers. I really don't know. However, I'm fairly certain that this is a good example of the pot calling the kettle black and she's probably right in there with the most incompetent of them all.

Kudos to the "outspoken critic," or anyone else, who finally offers some relief to "those poor children."

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 12, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Mr. Brannum!

Posted by: schooletal | August 12, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

You know she will found innocent. With her friends in high places, she is able to get away with anything.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 12, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

In the Gay Pride Parade in DC in June 2010, Michelle Rhee was marching in this parade along side Fenty's campaign workers. Ms. Rhee was smiling & waving a green Fenty for Mayor flag.
Shame on you, Ms. Rhee. You are breaking the law.

Posted by: hnjhat | August 12, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Sandman made it very clear to DCPS employees through dc.gov email in the spring that there should be no politicking in the workplace during the election season.

Posted by: jedxn | August 13, 2010 12:19 AM | Report abuse

Some of the commenters appear to have a basic misunderstanding of the Hatch Act. Fed or District employees are not muzzled when it comes to political opinion. Rhee and everyone else is perfectly free to express a political opinion, including endorsing a candidate and donating time or money to their campaign. It's called the FIRST amendment and you don't check basic rights at the door.

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | August 13, 2010 6:33 AM | Report abuse

My sad prediction is that there will not be comprehensive print-edition Post coverage of the abysmal DC-CAS results this year, but there will be front page and editorial coverage when Rhee is absolved of all Hatch Act violation accusations just a few days before the DC September primary election.

There may even be a big front page photo of a smiling Rhee and Fenty with clasped hands in the air.

Please, Mr. Turque, prove me wrong.

Posted by: efavorite | August 13, 2010 7:24 AM | Report abuse

Free speech is one thing, but to interject yourself into politics by publicly tying your willingness to stay in a job based on the outcome of an election is something else. From the statements published in the WP, Ms. Rhee gave a critique of each candidate and stated why she would leave if Mr. Gray was elected – not that she would be disinclined to stay, but that she would be leaving. That’s where the line was crossed into endorsement from a public official-- along the lines of “A vote for Mr. Fenty is a vote for me to stay. A vote for Mr. Gray and I’m leaving.” Mind you, Ms. Rhee did this in her position as a government employee, not as a private citizen. To me, that’s the difference. Having a political opinion is perfectly fine, but leveraging your government position to sway people to vote one way or another should not be permitted. Just MHO. However, I, like some other posters, don’t think much will come of the complaint. That’s how DC is going these days.

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | August 13, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I am wrong...but if Rhee was on the public streets at a Parade i.e, in an unofficial capacity parade waving and strutting that is clearly acceptable. She's the Chancellor who was hired and not elected...therefore she has an official tour of duty. But if she was doing that exact same action while on the job in a paid duty status...then that is a violation.

If she can show that when she was interviewed that she was not in a paid-duty-status...and was being asked the question as a point of reference during an interview...that might be her saving grace.

To say...that I will not work for the next Mayor if it is not so-and-so...is not an actual violation...but to say...that you can't work for me if you don't vote for Mayor so-and-so...is clearly a violation.

I don't know about people being influential enough to have this to just go bye-bye. The Office of Special Counsel has a take no prisoner attitude. I read were an employee felt the wrath this year....as a result of the Presidential election. She was removed after 39 years of federal service. Now how long the process takes...no one is sharing because it can be months before it is finalized...as the presidential election was almost two years ago and the decision was just rendered in June 2010.

Posted by: PowerandPride | August 13, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Arne Duncan, secretary of education (from Chicago of all places) recently held a fundraiser for Colorado SEnator Michael Bennet.

Why is Rhee being attacked by Arne Duncan and Michael Bennet are not?

Posted by: Cornell1984 | August 13, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Cornell1984,

Is Arne Duncan saying he will quit if Michael Bennet is not elected? Rhee is saying just that!

Let's not confuse the issues.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | August 13, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

@ Cornell... Two wrongs do not make a right. Whether one offense is more obvious or more extreme is beyond the point. Someone who breaks the law, “just a little” is just as guilty as someone who breaks it “a lot” the separation comes in the punishment, not the verdict.

Posted by: lilscooby09 | August 13, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Why is Rhee being attacked by Arne Duncan and Michael Bennet are not?

Posted by: Cornell1984 | August 13, 2010 10:51 AM

Cornell1984,

I don't believe Rhee is being attacked by Blarney (BL is intentional) Duncan. I think that Robert Brannum initiated this.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 13, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I am not too keen about repeating myself lately. Michelle, darling, you are fired. Stop pretending you still work for DCPS and quickly move to CA. Are you that detached from the reality not to notice that your days are over?

Posted by: inickdc | August 13, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

"Someone who breaks the law, “just a little” is just as guilty as someone who breaks it “a lot” the separation comes in the punishment, not the verdict."

Nope, there is a difference between murder one and manslaughter at the prosecution stage. someone who accidentally murders someone is not as guilty as someone who premeditates it.

People need to remember that the Hatch Act is a far-right-wing law created by Oren Hatch from Utah. I do not believe it ever should have become law and I wonder about the conservatives and right-wingers here who are supporting it. I'd like to ask you all to move to Utah frankly.

Posted by: bbcrock | August 13, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock, arent both criminals GUILTY of killing someone. The outcome of their crime is no different: a dead person..The difference is how much time they will spend in prison for it. Whether you like a law or not does not give someone the authority to break it. Whether someone violates the hatch act by ignoring every bullet-point under that law or just ignoring one bullet-point under that law, the law is still broken.

Posted by: lilscooby09 | August 13, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

This administration might not be against Rhee but they are not outwardly supporting her either, probably because she's a political hot potato. She's a great example of someone with good analytical skills who is "delayed" in the area of interpersonal communication. Then again, who knows what is happening behind closed doors.

The other day my newly-elected "councilmember" son referred to police officers as "human capital." I emitted a loud gasp and warned him never to use that phrase in public when speaking about people. Maybe it's what they say on Wall Street, but it's a definite No-No on Main Street.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 13, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Linda/Retired Teacher, I agree with you half way. I agree that Rhee is a 'risk' yet not that large for Fenty to replace her. It may be in the making.

Human capital wise, it is a standard human resource lingo to call employees 'human capital' as they are what the nomer stands for- the VERY capital of an organization. I've heard/read it being used across countless industries. It is more palatable than 'worker', which in all honesty almost subtly demotes someone to blue-collar-ship. On another note, calling the DCMPD 'law enforcement officers' would have been just as fine. If anything, I would like to strike that Nazi used name for the head of the schools-'chancellor'-and forbid it from every being used again.

Other than that, Linda, darling....you are spot on regarding Rhee.

Posted by: inickdc | August 13, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

Cornell 1984:

Ann Coulter, and Michelle Rhee. Two reasons to distrust Cornell University. Guilt by association? Ya Betcha! And these women have used this tactic to discredit whole classes of people with the kind of venomous ferocity that one might suspect to be rooted in childhood trauma.

Fortunately, most Cornellians don't wish to be identified with either of these zealots.

Posted by: AGAAIA | August 17, 2010 12:43 AM | Report abuse

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