A Morgantown attorney said Mike Kelley's acknowledgment of his Hatch Act violations and a pending decision to step down from his chief deputy's position put him in a precarious situation when it comes to continuing his bid to become Upshur County's next sheriff.
Charles Crooks, who is representing David Taylor in his contesting of the Republican primary election for sheriff, said Kelley's acknowledgment makes him ineligible to run for sheriff under state law.
Taylor, who lost to Kelley in the primary election, filed a petition with the Upshur County Clerk's Office immediately following the certification of results to have Kelley's name removed from the November ballot and add Taylor's name instead. Taylor contends Kelley was ineligible to seek office in a partisan election because part of his salary comes from federally funded programs and that as chief deputy, he supervises employees in federally funded programs.
The federal Hatch Act restricts political activity of federal employees, along with state and local employees who are paid with federal funds or who supervise those working in federally funded programs. The Upshur County Sheriff's Department has been part of several federally funded projects, including those for highway safety.
Kelley and his attorney, Frank Hartman of Charleston, sought an opinion from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the agency which enforces the provisions of the Hatch Act. They learned Kelley is in violation of the law. He has been given until July 12 to either resign his position as chief deputy or drop out of the election.
Hartman said Kelley is leaning toward resigning as chief deputy, but he still is exploring options in the public and private sectors.
Hartman said whichever action Kelley pursues, it should put an end to the dispute and allow Kelley to continue running for office.
"No one is empowered to remove his name from the ballot under the Hatch Act," Hartman said.
Crooks, however, sees the issue differently. He argued that the Hatch Act violation disqualifies Kelley under West Virginia law from being a candidate.
"He did not contest the ultimatum because he plans on acting upon the ultimatum that the Office of Special Counsel gave him," Crooks said. "If he and his attorney are convinced the Hatch Act did not apply, they would have contested the ultimatum letter. If he believed he was not subject to the Hatch Act, his response should have been, 'Hey, you have the wrong guy.' His resignation does nothing to resolve his eligibility to run for sheriff. He should have never been able to put his name forward. He put himself in violation of the Hatch Act. Nobody put him there."