What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to suzanne.ziegler@startribune.com.

Higgins quits her city job, ending speculation about possible Hatch Act breach

Posted by: under Politics and government Updated: June 21, 2012 - 4:53 PM

State Sen. Linda Higgins quit her job Wednesday as an analyst for the city of Minneapolis, but declined to say if her decision was tied to questions raised this week about whether her candidacy for the Hennepin County Board might violate the federal Hatch Act.

For the record, it doesn’t — now that she has severed her employment with the city, where she worked for nearly seven years in the regulatory services department on business licensing and problem properties.

"It seemed the prudent thing to do," she said Thursday.

But she declined to comment on whether her decision had anything to do with the fact that the Star Tribune had asked questions and obtained her employment record from the city attorney’s office.

It was in the city’s problem properties unit, where Higgins had been on leave since January, that a portion of her salary had been paid with federal money. Under the Hatch Act, which restricts the political activity of federal workers or local government officials who handle federal funding, that’s a no-no for someone running in a partisan election.

Higgins said only that it was tough for city officials to keep the job "open that long, so it just seemed like the right thing to do.They’ve been patient and accommodating with my schedule."

She added: "I don’t think that I am affected by the [Hatch] act but this is a way to ensure it’s totally clear that I’m not."

Her first electoral test comes Aug. 14, when she squares off against nine other candidates in the primary election.

Hennepin County Board races are nonpartisan, in that party affiliations aren’t listed on the ballot alongside candidate names. But Higgins won the DFL Party’s backing in May, making her a leading contender for the Second District seat recently vacated by Mark Stenglein. Her signs and brochures likely will reflect her DFL endorsement.

According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in Washington, which handles Hatch Act violations, the employee running for office might transform a nonpartisan race into a partisan one if they seek or advertise a political endorsement. Officials in Washington would make that determination.

The Hatch Act recently tripped up the candidacy of Darrell Washington, a city employee who had been endorsed by the DFL for the Minneapolis school board but dropped out of the race earlier this month because he was told federal law might stand in his way.

Three years ago, former Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum got a formal ruling that the Hatch Act prevented him from running for governor as long as he was a state commissioner overseeing an agency that received federal money. He dropped his campaign plans.

No penalties attach to the Hatch Act unless Washington decides there’s a violation and the candidate refuses to either quit his job or drop out of the race. By ending her employment with the city, Higgins remedied the situation for good. No harm, no foul.

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