By Linda Dillman
Canal Winchester City Councilman Chuck Milliken previously faced down a question of ethics regarding the legitimacy of his council seat— of his own doing to clear his name—and is now facing another initiated by city resident Randy Stemen.
Stemen is accusing Milliken of a violation of the Hatch Act, which, according to U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) Deputy Chief Erica Hamrick governs the political activity of federal executive branch employees.
A complaint filed by Stemen with the special counsel in last November, after an election in which Stemen lost a council seat bid, followed questions to the state board of elections and ethics commission regarding Milliken’s job with the postal service and alleged party endorsement.
“They both stated that I should go to the OSC because the Hatch Act is Federal law,” said Stemen. “In my conversation with the OSC, they explained that it was indeed a violation of the Hatch Act for a federal employee to participate in a partisan election and to request campaign contributions from the public, such as on Facebook.”
According to an April 1 letter to Stemen, Hamrick said the Hatch Act permits most federal employees to actively participate in partisan political management and political campaigns, but it prohibits employees from being candidates for public office in partisan elections.
The act does not prohibit federal employees from being candidates in non-partisan elections. While the council election is designated non-partisan, the OSC determined Milliken sought and received the endorsement of the Franklin County Republican Party for his council campaign.
In the letter, Hamrick wrote that the party created and distributed campaign mailings that included Milliken’s name and picture as an endorsed city council candidate. Based on that information, the OSC determined Milliken’s candidacy was in violation of the Hatch Act.
“However, we have no evidence that Mr. Milliken’s violation was willful,” said Hamrick. “Therefore, we are closing our file without further action at this time. However, OSC has advised Mr. Milliken that if in the future he engages in activity prohibited by the Hatch Act while employed in a Hatch Act-covered position, OSC would consider such activity to be a willing and knowing violation of the law that could result in disciplinary action.”
Milliken said he was notified by the OSC of Stemen’s complaint in December and was shocked and concerned by the letter. He said while he was aware of the Hatch Act, he was not aware of any conflict on his behalf.
It was the first time Milliken ran for public office and he stated he was unaware of any potential violations or conflicts during his campaign. He said first became aware of the issue not long after the election was over when Stemen made a social media post expressing his concern.
“Mr. Stemen reached out to me personally on social media not long after that post had been made,” said Milliken. “He paid me some compliments and asked me if I was aware of this social media post. He also stated that he didn’t plan on filing a complaint.”
Milliken emphasized he firmly believes this is a personal matter between himself and his employer and the only consequence for the violation would have been between Milliken and his employer, not with the city.
He said he understands—as a publicly-elected official—the public has a right to know. At the same time, he emphasized he wanted it clearly understood that it was a violation of the terms of his full-time employment and not that of the city.
“From day one of my campaign I felt like I had a giant target on my back,” Milliken said. “For what reason? I have no idea. It’s very painful to have someone threaten my livelihood when all I want to do is serve the city I love. If I would have lost the election, I would have moved on with my life. I am a man of integrity. I am willing to admit when I am wrong. I do not hide the fact that I made a mistake, even if it was unintentional. I offer my apologies to anyone that feels as if I have wronged them. It is not my intention to bring any negative attention to the city of Canal Winchester.”
Stemen said that, while the OSC only has the ability to apply punishment in relation to Milliken’s job as a postal carrier, if the city council does not rectify this issue, he may seek help from Ohio Ethics now that OSC has reached a final determination.
“The council position and corrective actions must be at the local level,” said Stemen. “Personally, I would not like to see Mr. Milliken lose his primary job, so I did not pursue it further. I strongly feel that the party endorsement and party advertising altered the outcome of the election. The primary reason elections are set-up as non-partisan is to take party politics out of local elections like this. I cannot imagine that any of the three candidates—(Mike) Walker, (Bob) Clark or Milliken can justify forcing partisanship on our local election.”