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March 5, 2012 - Rob Weaver
Paul Shoemaker, who has filed petitions to run as an independent candidate for the board of commissioners’ seat now occupied by Dave Sauber, may be able to more than promise he’d be a full-time commissioner if he were to win in the general election.
With state law evidently prohibiting someone like Shoemaker -- a classified county employee -- from engaging in partisan political activity, he could be dismissed from his county job even before being elected to office.
Or maybe not.
Following is a section of Ohio Revised Code which may -- or may not -- be relevant (this is taken straight from the code, so one might need to read it more than once to digest the legalese):
124.57 Prohibition against partisan political activity. (A) No officer or employee in the classified service of the state, the several counties, cities, and city school districts of the state, or the civil service townships of the state shall directly or indirectly, orally or by letter, solicit or receive, or be in any manner concerned in soliciting or receiving, any assessment, subscription, or contribution for any political party or for any candidate for public office; nor shall any person solicit directly or indirectly, orally or by letter, or be in any manner concerned in soliciting, any such assessment, contribution, or payment from any officer or employee in the classified service of the state, the several counties, cities, or city school districts of the state, or the civil service townships of the state; nor shall any officer or employee in the classified service of the state, the several counties, cities, and city school districts of the state, or the civil service townships of the state be an officer in any political organization or take part in politics other than to vote as the officer or employee pleases and to express freely political opinions. (B)(1) Nothing in division (A) of this section prohibits an officer or employee described in that division from serving as a precinct election official under section 3501.22 of the Revised Code. (2) Nothing in division (A) of this section prohibits an employee of the Ohio cooperative extension service whose position is transferred from the unclassified civil service to the classified civil service and who also holds the office of president of a city legislative authority from completing the existing term of office as president. Effective Date: 09-16-1998; 05-07-2004
My initial thought was Shoemaker might be ensnared in a provision meant to keep government employees from being coerced into participating in, or contributing to, another official’s campaign in order to keep their jobs. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. The Ohio Administrative Code seems to explain the state law doesn’t restrict an employee’s First Amendment rights. See whether you agree (you can look this up yourself; this was taken from http://codes.ohio.gov/oac/123%3A1-46-02).
(B) The following are examples of permissible activities for employees in the classified service: (1) Registration and voting; (2) Expression of opinions, either oral or written; (3) Voluntary financial contributions to political candidates or organizations;
Me again: While we could debate the term “voluntary,” it seems as though a government employee could make campaign contributions to a boss. What’s interesting -- especially for those considering an independent run for office -- is what the administrative code says a classified employee can’t do:
(C) The following activities are prohibited to employees in the classified service: (1) Candidacy for public office in a partisan election; (2) Candidacy for public office in a nonpartisan general election if the nomination to candidacy was obtained in a partisan primary or through the circulation of nominating petitions identified with a political party; (3) Filing of petitions meeting statutory requirements for partisan candidacy to elective office;
This indicates to me a classified employee could run for office in, for example, Fostoria, which has a non-partisan run-off primary and a non-partisan general election for city offices.
I suspect even though Shoemaker would run for county office independent of any political parties, the general election for county commissioner still would be considered a partisan election. But I could be wrong. And because Shoemaker filed his petitions, we may just find out.
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