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Idaho Springs Police Chief David Wohlers withdrew from the race for Clear Creek County sheriff last week amid a claim that his bid for office could violate the federal Hatch Act. Wohlers announced …
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Idaho Springs Police Chief David Wohlers withdrew from the race for Clear Creek County sheriff last week amid a claim that his bid for office could violate the federal Hatch Act.
Wohlers announced his decision during the Democratic County Assembly and Jefferson/Jackson Dinner on March 27.
The development leaves two current candidates for sheriff in the Nov. 2 election: incumbent Sheriff Don Krueger and Idaho Springs police Sgt. Jim Vogt, who has received the Democratic endorsement in the wake of Wohlers’ withdrawal.
A complaint lodged with a federal agency brought Wohlers’ apparent conflict with the Hatch Act to light. The federal law is designed to prevent federal employees or officials administering federal grants from engaging in partisan political activity. Because the Idaho Springs Police Department receives federal grant money, Wohlers would technically run afoul of the act if he ran for office.
Wohlers said he received a call March 23 from an attorney with the Office of the General Counsel in Washington, D.C., informing him of the act and its implication for his run for sheriff.
Wohlers said the attorney told him the office had received a complaint about his candidacy; the name of the person who filed the complaint was withheld. Wohlers’ department was one of 13 agencies, out of 105 departments across the state, to be awarded the highly selective Cops Hiring Recovery Program grant.
Wohlers was told he essentially had two choices — resign as police chief or end his candidacy.
“So we are the recipient of federal grant money … the COPS grant that we worked so hard to get and direct stimulus money,” Wohlers said.
Wohlers said the notification that he wouldn’t be able to run was a “bombshell.”
“We made the decision and had (Democratic) Party support to run as the candidacy for sheriff, and then at the last minute found this Hatch Act was an issue,” Wohlers said.
Wohlers said he felt the best thing to do was to end his candidacy.
“I’m done. I’m out of it (and) very disappointed we couldn’t run and debate issues … with the opposition …,” Wohlers said.
Randy Wheelock, a Clear Creek Democratic Party spokesman and former chair, said Wohlers having to end his bid was a shock to the party.
“Even though we’ve had several people tell us that they don’t think this is an appropriate application of the law and that it has anything to do with the intent of the law … Chief Wohlers has made a decision … to step out of the campaign because he doesn’t want to bring any or cast any aspersions upon either himself or our party,” Wheelock said. “… We’re pretty uptight about the fact that this thing has been launched against us and seems to be completely outside the spirit of the law and could, interpreted wrong, tarnish somebody’s reputation, and that’s the thing about it that is most troubling.”
Wheelock said he believes that an official who signs grant papers for funds administered by other members of the city government, and who has no final control over use of those funds, shouldn’t be in violation of the act.
“It’s hard to find a better training ground for something like county sheriff than the police chief of the largest town in the county,” Wheelock said. “And I just don’t know where you find your candidates without being able to use those local training grounds for an office like that to build competence.”
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