Saturday, September 13, 2003
Ex-Mayoral Hopeful To Be Suspended
By Jim Ludwick
Journal Staff Writer
Mike McEntee is facing a four-month suspension from his federal job because of the mayoral campaign he waged two years ago.
The Merit Systems Protection Board announced Friday that McEntee will be suspended for violating the Hatch Act. He could have been fired, but "the penalty of removal is not warranted in this case," the board ruled.
McEntee, a former city councilor, has worked as an air-traffic controller for nearly 21 years. He placed third in an eight-candidate race for mayor that was won by Martin Chávez in 2001.
During his mayoral campaign, he was told by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel that his bid for mayor was a violation of the Hatch Act and that he should drop out of the race or give up his federal job. McEntee disagreed and fought the complaint.
The Hatch Act blocks federal employees from running for office in partisan races. The mayoral election was nonpartisan, and McEntee was already serving on the City Council at the time. But the Office of Special Counsel contended that McEntee injected partisanship into the mayoral race by going overboard in emphasizing his Republican background.
McEntee said Friday he has not decided whether to continue an appeal, but he said the suspension would not be delayed while an appeal progresses.
Right now, "my plan is to figure out how to keep my family out of the poorhouse for four months," he said. "I'll have to serve the suspension."
McEntee said the Office of Special Counsel wanted him fired, so the suspension is a partial victory even though "we're upset by the financial hardship."
He said many air-traffic controllers "are working overtime and six-day weeks because we're so short." He said the government will have to pay overtime to replace him while he's gone, and his suspension will be followed by a retraining period that is required of anyone who leaves the job for 120 days.
The timing of the decision came as a surprise. Patrick Rogers, an attorney representing McEntee, recently told the Journal that the case likely wouldn't conclude until "well into next year, at the earliest."
Rogers on Friday called the situation "bizarre" and said McEntee's right to free speech had been violated.
"I just don't think government should be deciding how much speech you should be allowed. I just don't think he was treated fairly," Rogers said.