May 17, 2012 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
An outdated and cumbersome federal law cost residents of Plymouth Township a great opportunity last week.
John Werth, a Plymouth Township resident, and the current director of public safety In Northville Township, had submitted his nominating petitions and was ready to officially announce his candidacy for the office of supervisor of the township when he was derailed by a 1939 law called the Hatch Act. The federal law prohibits a police officer, an elected official or any employee who manages any programs funded with federal money from seeking office in another municipality in a partisan election. It prohibits and regulates fundraising and many other activities, too, but the issue here was that Werth, as part of his job, manages a program in which some officers are paid with a federal grant received by Northville Township.
So Werth, the paragon of a law-abiding citizen, was forced to cancel his planned campaign when he discovered the antiquated and outdated provisions in the law. He initially interpreted the law, as most people do, as a control mechanism to prevent inappropriate fundraising, and was confident he hadn’t even come close to violating any such provisions. But the rather arcane other provisions were used as a political weapon by those who opposed his candidacy, a rather obvious effort to ensure that a candidate as qualified and valuable as Werth wasn’t available to voters. The losers here are obviously those who had hoped that a viable candidate like Werth would provide them an alternative on the ballot and the opportunity to vote for a new attitude in Plymouth Township Hall.
That won’t happen now.
Werth’s most serious concern when he learned from his inquiries at the U.S. Attorney’s office about this law that has not yet been updated despite the ongoing efforts of at least four legislators, was his reputation and his credibility. He worried that there might be some who would claim he was attempting to circumvent or violate the law with his proposed campaign when, in fact, that conduct is contrary to his very nature. He took immediate action when he heard that there might be any question about the viability of his campaign and put a halt to all his plans until he received an answer from the federal experts.
Werth, we believe, really had a sincere desire to serve the best interest of the community and the township residents.
Unlike many other candidates we have seen over the years, we sensed no self-aggrandizement or chicanery in his campaign. We were impressed with his sincerity, his experience and his effortless but direct and compelling management style, something he obviously honed with his decades of man- aging public safety officers, departments, budgets and working with elected officials.
Werth had been very vocal about his concerns in his hometown and critical of the current administration. He had publicly stated that some of the recent board decisions had left him concerned for the safety of his family, and his neighbors, in the township.
We think that concern was genuine, as was his disappointment to learn that some current officials assess the number of votes impacted before making a decision rather than put- ting the best interest of the community at hand.
We were also surprised that after all these decades and elections, we could still be impressed with a potential candidate and believe his motives included both a sincere desire to serve the public and a steely determination to correct festering situations currently metastasizing in township government.
But impress us he did, as a man of honor, sincerity, intelligence and experience who would have not only served Plymouth Township residents well, no matter what their political leanings, but would have also been a man the entire community could have looked to with pride as their chief elected official.
As we said, this outdated law was designed many years ago to keep federal politicians honest and served that purpose as well as could be expected. It gradually shifted down to both state and county levels in an effort to protect residents and municipal employees from less than appropriate election tactics.
It has now been taken so far it actually threatens the civil rights of many to whom it can be applied and was used as a weapon to protect political opponents from having to endure the close scrutiny Werth’s campaign might have precipitated.
What it has also done in this case is actually harm those it was intended to protect. The loss of Werth as a candidate will make the election far less challenging for other candidates and keep many of the real issues from ever being publicly addressed during the campaign.
We don’t have a crystal ball that can predict whether Werth would have been elected, but we don’t need one to know that he would have offered dignity, experience, intelligence and honor to the campaign.
Plymouth Township and the entire area are the real losers here.