VEHICLE USAGE BY WCS SHERIFF DEEMED ALLOWABLE UNDER FEDERAL GUIDELINES
Hatch Act and IRS Regulations affirm no usage violations.
(October 17, 2014) — For the second time since the issue arose Sheriff Benny Napoleon has been advised by legal counsel and officials that use of his County vehicle during the 2013 campaign season did not violate ethical guidelines or federal regulations governing such use. In November 2013 a news report accused Sheriff Napoleon of improperly using his county-assigned vehicle when he ran for mayor. Sheriff Napoleon contends he did not act improperly and has conducted his activities in the same manner as other Michigan sheriffs running for office. Terrence Jungel, Executive Director of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, agrees Napoleon’s actions were not improper.
“I am not familiar with any counties in the State of Michigan that prohibit or restrict the Sheriffs’ use of their official vehicle.” Jungel further stated “… the very nature of the job requires the Sheriff to be on call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. The Sheriff must also be available to respond to calls for service, direct their workforce and respond to the scene immediately from various locations.”
Following an Auditor General report suggesting the Sheriff should repay the County for use in 2013,
Sheriff Napoleon sought an opinion from the Wayne County Ethics Board which then chose to pursue insight on the matter from outside counsel. In the interim, Napoleon has been advised the vehicle use is considered acceptable under the Hatch Act according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. The Hatch Act essentially states elected officials are allowed to pursue campaign activities as they also fulfill their duties in office.
“I have always maintained that I am the Sheriff 24 hours a day—always on call to respond to the needs of the agency and the citizens, which I do,” said Sheriff Napoleon. “The job also comes with a high level of risk which requires individuals to work alongside me as I perform the functions of the office. I take great exception to being singled out exclusively and will continue to pursue this vigorously given any decision affecting me actually affects the actions of Sheriffs statewide.”
In addition to the Hatch Act, IRS statutes further dictate the sheriff’s vehicle is excluded if the driver is a law enforcement officer, authorized to carry firearms, execute search warrants, make arrests and responds to law enforcement incidents. The IRS statute goes on to say the only activity not allowed is for the vehicle to be used for vacation.
Given that no other Sheriffs in the state have been subjected to this targeted scrutiny, Sheriff Napoleon is seeking an opinion from Michigan’s Attorney General on the matter as whatever conclusion is reached will affect Sheriffs activities throughout Michigan. He has contacted a state elected Senator who has agreed to officially submit the request.
A meeting of the Wayne County Board of Ethics was scheduled for today, Monday, October 20th. At that time Sheriff Napoleon and his outside counsel will address board members directly to ensure they are aware of past and current practices engaged in by Sheriffs statewide and the opinions of not only the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, but also the United States Office of Special Counsel.