By Brandon Martin
A formal complaint was filed against Martinsville City Council Member Danny Turner due to his role as an enumerator for the nationwide census.
After seeking legal advice, Martinsville City Council Member Jim Woods said he filed an OSC Form-14 with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
The form is used to submit a complaint alleging a prohibited personnel practice or other prohibited activity within OSC’s jurisdiction.
During an Oct. 13 council meeting, Woods alleged that Turner had potentially violated the 1939 Hatch Act by working as an enumerator for the Census Bureau.
Woods said he served as an enumerator in 2010, and that he tried to apply for a similar position this year. However, Woods holds an elected post, and he said he was told that disqualified him from being hired.
“I clicked ‘Yes,’ and it said I was disqualified,” Woods said. “Why would one elected official be allowed to do it but another one wouldn’t?”
Turner has maintained he checked with census officials and was told he could serve as an enumerator.
However, Woods said he contacted an official with the Census Bureau and was told “that no elected official could do it (participate) because of the Hatch Act. I sent an email, and he said ‘no, you’re restricted by the Hatch Act.’ I’m hoping Mr. Turner is not in violation of the Hatch Act.”
In a Sept. 22 email to Michael Stowers, Senior Partnership Specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, Woods wrote, “I was checking to see if local politicians are allowed to be engaged by the US Census Bureau as volunteer enumerators. When I had attempted to re-up with you all in 2020 (as I was an enumerator in 2010 as a private citizen), I was disqualified because of my position on City Council. I would appreciate it if you would clear up any confusion.”
“Sorry to hear that you cannot participate due to the Hatch Act restrictions,” Stowers wrote in a Sept. 23 response. “Overall, the Census is winding down anyway.”
According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the Hatch Act limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs.
Turner said that he identified as being a current employee of the city during his application process, and that he spent 12 days as an enumerator. In addition to Martinsville, he also worked in other areas, including Henry and Franklin counties.
“I had offered to volunteer as a non-responsive enumerator to help get a more conclusive count for Martinsville-Henry County, but I was told all enumerators had to be paid,” Turner said. “I was offered the opportunity to work in other states but I declined because my only interest was local.”
Given the nature of Wood’s allegation, Turner contacted Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, to ensure that he had not violated federal law.
Griffith said members of his staff followed up with the Census Department, which issued a series of follow up questions for Turner, such as “if he wore a lapel pin or had a campaign bumper sticker” while enumerating.
With no proof that Turner had done such, Griffith said the department did not believe he had violated the act “as long as he wasn’t wearing a lapel pin or sticker. If he were up for reelection this year and was out campaigning then it might be an issue.”
Although he is an attorney, Griffith said he is not an expert in the Hatch Act. However, the department’s response “seems reasonable as to what the interpretation might be.”
At the time, Griffith noted that a formal complaint had not been filed against Turner claiming any violations of the Hatch Act. Unless or until that happened, he said it is impossible to give a formal legal opinion on Turner’s role.
“He’s not up for reelection but he’s recruited two people in running so he has a vested interest,” Woods said. “He could have affected the election if he were out politicking for them.
“If everything works out for him (Turner) then that’s wonderful,” Woods said. “I just want to make sure that we, as elected officials, are being held to account. I truly hope he didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t have sour grapes or anything.”