TUPPER LAKE - The candidacy of Tupper Lake Village Police Chief Tom Fee for Tupper Lake supervisor may be in conflict with established federal law.
But timing and a few technicalities may be on Fee's side.
According to the Hatch Act, an individual employed by any municipality that receives or benefits from federal grants or funds is restricted from political activity.
According to reports, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel - the agency tasked with interpreting the Hatch Act - recently contacted Fee and indicated that an investigation into his candidacy was ongoing.
OSC spokesman Darshan Sheth said the agency's findings regarding specific investigations are not released to the public.
"I get questions from the media about the legitimacy of a particular candidate all the time," Sheth said.
But he did refer to a list of the agency's case reports that have had the names of the individuals and the places of occurrence removed.
The Tupper Lake Village Police Department is one of several local, state and federal agencies that comprise the Franklin County Border Narcotics Task Force.
The U.S, Office of Homeland Security reports that in 2008 the task force received $1.2 million in federal Operation Stonegarden Funding. The task force received a similar amount in 2009.
According to a 2008 OSC finding of a similar case authored by Hatch Act Unit Attorney Erica Hamrick, members of a federally funded task force are ineligible to hold public office.
"Even though your salary and overtime is being paid with a state grant, as a Detective with the heavily federally funded Task Force, we believe you necessarily have duties in connection with federally funded activities and are covered by the provisions of the Hatch Act," the finding states. "As an employee covered by the Act, you are prohibited from being a candidate for election to partisan political office."
In this particular case the unnamed detective was planning a run for County Sheriff.
Fee is currently running on the Republican line against incumbent Democratic Supervisor Roger Amell.
According to Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, Tupper Lake Village Police have received Operation Stonegarden monies in past years, but none has been received by the department in 2009.
"My understanding of the Hatch law is that you have to follow the money," Champagne said. "If they were currently involved in an investigation and my department was paying the overtime with federal money, that would be a huge red flag, but they aren't right now.
So far this year, several Franklin County police agencies have received new bulletproof vests through federal grants, but Tupper Lake isn't scheduled to get theirs until January - well after the November election.
"I think he (Fee) is saved by the timing," Champagne said. "It may be a minor technicality, but I think that's what it comes down to."
In an April 2009 opinion OSC Attorney Carolyn Martorana detailed a situation where a local police officer wanted to run for a town council seat in a different community.
"As explained below, the Hatch Act applies to a covered employee regardless of the political subdivision where he lives and works and the one where he wishes to run for political partisan elective office," Martorana writes.
Additionally, Martorana says that "assuming the individual is employed in a Hatch Act-covered position, that is, he has duties in connection with activities financed with federal funds, and assuming the election for Alderman is a partisan one, the Hatch Act would apply even if he became a candidate in a municipality other than the one where he works."
Numerous other cases are present on the OSC website, many of which outline situations similar to that in Tupper Lake where an individual desired to run for office in a municipality separate from which they worked.
For his part, Fee claims that his candidacy has been cleared by the OSC.