This blog, and subsequent “Because You Asked” blogs are in response to questions asked by you, the community I serve. Each volume will address a question or group of questions. I’ve tried to keep the questions worded as asked, but occasionally have to reword them either to provide context or to combine similar questions. In any case, I’ve tried to retain the questioner(s)’ intent.
Is wearing your uniform to campaign, while blocking your opponent from doing the same, hypocritical or appropriate from a leader of both the community, and of the men and women who serve the citizens of Washington County?
The answer to this question must first address the rules for campaigning in uniform. Once that is answered, then the “appropriateness” question can be addressed.
Washington County, like most public agencies, has a long-standing policy that prohibits an employee from wearing a uniform or using agency owned or operated equipment, vehicles or other county property to promote or oppose a political candidate or ballot measure. These rules apply to any county employee whose job includes a uniform, not only to Sheriff’s Office uniformed employees. The policy is not intended to stifle anyone’s ambition to hold public office or exercise their right to advocate for or against a ballot measure. Its purpose is to avoid politicizing public sector positions, to maintain focus on service and limit distractions, to protect the reputation and credibility of the County, and to ensure no ambiguity exists about official positions or statements that represent the official views of the County.
Washington County policy, Article 13, Ethical Standards, 13.1.1, Political Activity On The Job, states; “Employees of the County shall not solicit any money, influence, service or other things of value or otherwise aid or promote any political committee or cause, or the nomination or election of any person to public office or passage/defeat of any ballot measure while on the job during working hours. Further, employees shall not use county equipment, materials or other resources to promote any political committee or cause or the nomination or election of any person to public office or passage/defeat of any ballot measure.”
As the sheriff, I have no authority to waive County policy.
The Sheriff’s Office has the same goal as the County and many other city, county or state governments to prohibit use of public resources to promote campaigns or political causes by public employees. Therefore, the Sheriff’s Office has a similar policy as the County on this issue.
The question is do these policies apply to the Sheriff, and why or why not.
The policy applies to employees, not elected officials, such as Sheriff. This is because an elected official is accountable to the electorate.
Unlike an employee, whose official duties and responsibilities are limited to duty hours, an elected official’s duties and responsibilities exist 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, as long as they are in office. The Office of Sheriff (and each county has only one) comes with a sheriff’s uniform and badge – historical symbols of the Office of Sheriff and the responsibility to serve as the chief executive officer of the County. I proudly wear the uniform at the office and in the community. The sheriff has the privilege and responsibility to serve as the public face of the Office of Sheriff and to speak for the Office. Employees do not.
Unlike an employee, an elected official’s responsibilities include advocating on behalf of their organization and electorate on political issues, whether that’s advocating for local option levies that help fund the organization or opposing or supporting legislation that affects the community. What an employee is restricted from doing, an elected official is expected to do. I have been able to do this in a variety of ways, including serving on the Governor’s Drug & Alcohol Policy Commission and advocating for the successful campaign to continue the Washington County Public Safety Local Option Levy in 2015.
So the original question remains, is wearing your uniform to campaign, while blocking your opponent from doing the same, appropriate.
Currently my opponent is a Sheriff’s Office employee. As stated above, I cannot change County policy. Therefore, I can neither block (nor allow) my opponent from wearing a uniform while campaigning.
I can, however, address the appropriateness of me wearing my uniform to campaign.
I believe wearing my uniform while campaigning falls into four categories of appropriateness. I’ve listed an example of each.
- Necessary – an event or meeting where I am representing the Sheriff’s Office, but could discuss or be asked about a campaign issue. I recently wore my uniform to the county fair and National Night Out events where I showcased the terrific work of our hard-working professionals at the Sheriff’s Office and reinforced the solid relationships we have with our community.
- Appropriate – an event at which I am campaigning, but that also includes Sheriff’s Office representation at the event or an associated event. A good example would be participation in a parade where I’m clearly campaigning, but at the end I represent the Sheriff’s Office in a booth associated with the parade/event, not my campaign.
- Unnecessary – a parade or event with no Sheriff’s Office representation, and I am only campaigning, not acting or speaking as the current Sheriff.
- Inappropriate – door to door campaigning.
When I feel it’s inappropriate or unnecessary, I will not wear my uniform to campaign. However, when I feel it’s necessary or appropriate, I will wear my uniform and will represent the office of sheriff. It’s what I’m charged to do as your Sheriff.