U.S. Office of Special Counsel
1730 M Street, N.W., Suite 218
Washington, D.C. 20036-4505
EX-MAYOR OF ATLANTIC CITY ADMITS VIOLATING HATCH ACT
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 3/24/06***
CONTACT: LOREN SMITH, 202-254-3714,
WASHINGTON - Yesterday, the U.S. Office of
Special Counsel ("OSC") settled a complaint for disciplinary action filed
against Lorenzo T. Langford, the former Mayor of Atlantic City, N.J. Mr.
Langford left office on December 31, 2005, after being defeated in his
OSC's complaint, filed November 9, 2005 with the Merit Systems Protection Board
(MSPB), charged Langford with violating the Hatch Act by asking several
subordinate Atlantic City employees, mainly City Department Directors, to
collect absentee ballots for a candidate for Atlantic City Council and by
writing a letter of endorsement and signing it in his official capacity as Mayor
for the same partisan political candidate.
Langford is covered by the Hatch Act because his
primary job duties are in connection with programs that are financed, in whole
or in part, by federal loans or grants.
Requesting subordinates to collect absentee ballots for
a political purpose violates two separate provisions of the Hatch Act-the
prohibition against use of official authority or influence for the purpose of
interfering with or affecting the result of an election and the prohibition
against coercing or attempting to coerce employees to contribute anything of
value, including personal services, to a person for a political purpose.
It was alleged that in May 2003, then-Mayor Langford
held several meetings with the City's Department Directors, all of whom were his
subordinates, during which he asked his subordinate employees to collect
absentee ballots for Stephenine Dixon, Democratic candidate for Third Ward
Councilmember in the then-upcoming June 2003 primary.
OSC also maintained that Langford held subsequent
meetings during which he requested his subordinate Directors to inform him of
the number of ballots they had collected.
The coercion charge also arose from Langford's request
that City Department Directors collect absentee ballots for Dixon. The Hatch Act
prohibits State and local government officials from coercing Hatch Act-covered
State or local employees from contributing anything of value, including personal
services, to a person for a political purpose. At least one, and possibly more
than one, of the City Department Directors were alleged to have been covered by
the Hatch Act.
The complaint further alleged that Langford wrote a
letter endorsing Dixon and signed it using his mayoral title in his official
capacity as Mayor of Atlantic City. In the endorsement letter, Langford urged
the citizens of Atlantic City to vote for Dixon and also touted his own
Dixon's opponent in the race, Craig Callaway, was a bitter rival of Langford's
and had vowed to destroy Langfords' mayoral administration. The two political
rivals had to be separated before coming to blows at a City Council meeting
three days before Langford was sworn in as Mayor. When Callaway won the Council
seat, he made good on his promise to thwart Langford and prevented Langford from
fulfilling numerous agenda items. OSC believes this is why Langford went to such
great lengths, including violating the Hatch Act, to prevent Callaway from
obtaining the Council seat. Langford admitted violating the Hatch Act by using
his official authority or influence for the purpose of affecting or interfering
with the result of an election.
In the settlement agreement, Langford also agreed to
the penalty sought by OSC and approved by an MSPB Administrative Law Judge. The
penalty requires that Langford not seek office or government employment with the
State of New Jersey for a period of eighteen months. Typically, OSC would ask
for removal from the State or local government job in similar cases. However,
because Langford left office in December 2005, removal was no longer an option.
OSC is confident that the evidence would have
substantiated the first two charges regarding Langford's request to his
subordinate employees to collect absentee ballots and the charge of coercion.
However, because he agreed to admit violating the Hatch Act and accepted the
maximum Hatch Act penalty, OSC was satisfied that justice would be served by
settling the case. Special Counsel Scott Bloch said, "This case should make
clear that use of one's political authority and influence by supervisors to
interfere with the normal political process will not be tolerated. This case
shows why the Hatch Act is still relevant even today. Violators of this
prohibition will be prosecuted."
The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of
individuals principally employed by state, county, or municipal executive
agencies who have duties in connection with programs financed in whole or part
by federal loans or grants. A covered employee may not use his official
authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election, or
coerce or attempt to coerce covered employees to contribute anything of value to
a person for political purposes. The penalty for a proven violation of the Act
by a state or local employee is removal of the employee from his/her position by
the state/local agency and debarment from state/local employment for the
following 18 months or if removal is not effectuated, forfeiture of federal
grant funds by the state/local agency in an amount equal to two years of the
salary of the employee in addition to the 18-month debarment.
Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent investigative and
prosecutorial agency and operates as a secure channel for disclosures of
whistleblower complaints. Its primary mission is to safeguard the merit
system in federal employment by protecting federal employees and applicants
from prohibited personnel practices, especially retaliation for
whistleblowing. OSC also has jurisdiction over the Hatch Act and the
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). For more
information please visit our web site at
www.osc.gov or call 1 (800) 872-9855.