By LARRY SHIELDS
Salem News staff writer
SALEM — Based on an Ohio Attorney General’s opinion that classified employees are prevented from participating in partisan political activity, Law Director Brooke Zellers said Salem police officer Austin French would be prevented from running for Columbiana County sheriff.
Zellers issued a letter to Service Director Steve Andres on Wednesday saying despite French’s status as an independent candidate the sheriff’s race was a partisan election.
“Therefore he would be prohibited, as a classified employee, from seeking the office of sheriff,” Zellers said.
French, 52, has 30 years experience as a police officer and filed to run for sheriff in March.
Citing the Ohio Revised Code Sect. 124.62, Zellers said it “basically states that with regard to any rule established and published by the Director of Administrative Services, that no person shall willfully refuse or neglect to comply with or conform to such rules...” or face legal sanctions.
Zellers explained he was asked by Police Chief Robert Floor to review the local rules, Sect. 7.10 of the city’s personnel policy manual regarding political activity of classified personnel.
“In a January 24, 2008 letter I did indicate to him that such activity would be in violation of our policy manual unless there was a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that specifically allowed that person to file for elective office,” Zellers wrote.
He said the opinion was “limited to what city recourse remedies were available to Chief Floor through his department if such a political activity was prohibited.
“I further discussed the strengths and weaknesses of attempting to enforce that policy from the city personnel policy manual in the event that the collective bargaining agreement did not have a provision allowing classified employees to seek elective office, and recommended that he not seek to enforce the policy under the city personnel policy manual unless the employee’s conduct in seeking the elective office interfered with his job performance or his ability to do the job with the city.”
Zellers said his opinion was limited to the policy manual and bargaining agreement and the “city’s potential exposure to litigation if our policy was enforced...”
Zellers said it did not, and was not intended to address state prohibitions.
Larry Shields can be reached at email@example.com