Panel clears Jackson Co. sheriff over help for McCaskill campaign

Friday, March 23, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A federal panel has found that the Jackson County sheriff did nothing wrong when he asked employees to help Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill during her failed campaign for governor in 2004.

Federal lawyers alleged in a complaint filed in January 2006 that Sheriff Tom Phillips violated the Hatch Act, which bars political coercion in the workplace. The Office of Special Counsel said the act covered Phillips because his department administered about $400,000 in federal grants for officer hiring, overtime, jail space and bulletproof vests.

But last month, the Merit Systems Protection Board in Washington, D.C., upheld an administrative judge's ruling that Phillips and his employees were not subject to the act.

Bruce D. Rosenstein, an administrative law judge, wrote the act covers only executive branch employees. Under Jackson County's charter, the Sheriff's Department is controlled by the county Legislature and not the county executive, Rosenstein concluded.

He never addressed the claims that were part of the complaint, including that the sheriff asked four employees in August 2004 to appear in a commercial for McCaskill, who lost the governor's race to Republican Matt Blunt. The complaint said Phillips also urged another worker to recruit department employees for a second McCaskill commercial, in which three employees appeared in department uniforms.

Phillips also was accused of asking department employees to attend his re-election events and fundraisers and to work the polls on his behalf on Election Day. The sheriff won the Democratic primary and was unopposed in the general election.

Phillips said in a written statement issued Thursday that he had done nothing wrong and called the allegations politically motivated.

"A sheriff, although an elected official, has to be a professional law enforcement administrator yet still be effective in the political arena," he said. "Many times these two aspects of the job clash, resulting in individuals making allegations that can demean the office of the sheriff and its members as well as the sheriff himself."

Information from: The Kansas City Star,

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