Penn Manor seeks to fill board vacancy after board member resigns for Hatch Act conflict
Penn Manor School Board must appoint a new member after a resignation prompted by a law that bars federal employees from being candidates for a partisan political office.
In social media posts, Loren Brown said he did not know that the Hatch Act applied to him when he ran for office as a Republican and won a seat on the board in 2021. Brown’s resignation was accepted by the board Monday.
Nonetheless, Brown is trying to find a way to get back on the board while maintaining his federal job, a move two lawyers with knowledge in the field have said would likely violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.
The Hatch Act was passed in 1939 “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation,” according to the website of the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel.
Brown did not respond to emails seeking comment from LNP | Lancaster Online, but in a Facebook post, he wrote “I would like to apologize for my oversight and the circumstances we are in. The constituents put their faith in me to be a voice for them and represent their children and I am humbled and very appreciative of their support.”
Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, Maryland, according to Brown’s post, had given him an ultimatum: continue as a board member and lose his job or resign as board member in order to retain his job. Brown is assistant fire chief for the U.S. Army facility. A message seeking confirmation of the ultimatum left at Aberdeen’s public affairs office was not returned.
“It’s unfortunate this outdated rule applies to a voluntary school board position for our children,” Brown wrote in his post. “Regardless, the agency made the determination that I need to resign from the school board to resolve this issue.”
In his Facebook post, however, Brown expresses an interest in being appointed to the board, a move that has the support of Free PA, a right-leaning political action group that has its roots in opposition to pandemic restrictions.
At the Monday meeting, Brown asked that he be reappointed, according to Penn Manor spokesperson Brian Wallace.
“We must DEMAND that the board reappoints Loren to the board after he resigns. If he is reappointed as an Independent, his job is not in jeopardy,” said Free PA member Anne Marie in an email to fellow Free PA members.
Stuart Knade, chief legal officer for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said attempts to work around the Hatch Act by seeking appointment could get Brown fired from his federal job. Before taking action, Knade would recommend that Brown speak with an ethics counselor at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Even if he is appointed, Knade said Brown wouldn’t be allowed to run for a seat on the school board once the appointment was over.
The Hatch Act bars Brown from running for the school board while retaining federal employment, agreed Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. Melewsky said she cannot speak to whether seeking appointment would violate the law but said it isn’t the best way forward.
“If it doesn't violate the text of the law, it would certainly seem to run afoul of the spirit of the law of the Hatch Act because it's designed to prevent certain public employees from running for public office,” Melewsky said.
Penn Manor School Board has 30 days following the approval of Brown’s resignation to fill the vacancy.
Eligible candidates, according to a post to the district’s website, must email a resume to school board Secretary Cindy Rhoades and complete an online application by 4 p.m. Friday. The term of the open seat expires December 2023. Wallace said more than 20 individuals had submitted applications as of Thursday morning.
As of Wednesday, Wallace said the district has not finalized any other details of the process including the date and time of a special meeting in which the board plans to interview interested candidates, recommend and approve appointments to fill the open seat. Those details, he said, will be shared as soon as possible.