People who run for office can gather signatures instead of paying fees, but can they ask for signatures during work hours on the job? Inyo County says, no. Mono County says employees can’t, but elected officials can. Recently, two Mono officials did take their petitions to a management meeting to get signatures, which raised questions. The Mono County Code claims elected officials are not “employees” and are not subject to the same improper political activity rules.
Asked if the color of office doesn’t give elected officials a kind of involuntary persuasion factor when gathering signatures on the job, Mono County Counsel Marshall Rudolph said, “That’s a fair question, but it’s a policy question and not my call.”
It’s apparently a Board of Supervisors’ call. State Government Code says any County or City may prohibit officers and employees engaging in political activity during work hours at the local agency. Inyo County Supervisors did adopt a Personnel Rule that says employees shall not campaign or conduct any political activity during normal work hours in county facilities. This includes elected officials.
According to County Counsel Rudolph, Mono County rank and file employees have such a policy which also covers management workers. Rudolph said employees can not engage in political activity on the job. He said the definition of employee includes appointed officials but not elected officials. Mono County Code Section 440 seems to disagree when it says, “No one employed by the County will engage in political activities on County premises while engaged in official duties, using County equipment, or wearing an official County uniform….”
Recently, Mono County Sheriff Ralph Obenberger and District Attorney Tim Kendall took their election petitions to a County management meeting in Lee Vining. County Counsel Rudolph said they did not break the rules. Since Sheriff Obenberger and DA Kendall were appointed, and not elected, are they prohibited from political actions on the job as appointed officials? Counsel Rudolph’s opinion is, no. Once someone is appointed to an elective office, said Rudolph, he’s an elected, not appointed, official.
District Attorney Tim Kendall said legally County Officials can engage in political activities during work hours. He said there is no County ordinance prohibiting this. Kendall said he and the Sheriff “explained to everyone at the end of the meeting and everyone was told that if they wished not to sign then that was absolutely fine. For them to feel no obligation.”
State Code also says no one can campaign in uniform. Rudolph said Sheriff Obenberger was not gathering signatures in uniform. At the Town of Mammoth Lakes, Attorney Andy Morris said it was his understanding that Police Chief Dan Watson has talked with Mammoth Reserve Officer and Sheriff Candidate Ingrid Braun about not engaging in political activities on the job, not campaigning in uniform, and not soliciting contributions from individual workers.
So, bottom line during these days before the June 3rd election – In Mono County, if you’re an elected official you can gather signatures and politick all day long at work. If you’re just an employee, forget it. In Inyo County, no political activities on the job – period – for either elected officials or rank and file employees.