State rep under fire for health job
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Rep. Ronald Grantland was recently named the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Public Health Alumnus of the Year. Ironically, it's the Hartselle Democrat's work in the healthcare field – specifically his position as a Public Health Director for the state health department -some say is in conflict with his work as a state legislature.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has filed a complaint against Grantland, alleging his work as director of an office in a state agency that receives federal funds violates the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act prohibits employees of agencies that receive federal funds from running for office in a bipartisan election.
In the past, the Hatch Act has applied mainly to federal employees. It does not apply to educators or those seeking offices in non-partisan elections, such as mayoral races.
Grantland said he notified his employer, the State Department of Public Health, he was considering a run for office in 1997.
"In 1998, after I decided to run, and in 2002, when I sought re-election, I notified my employer of my intentions," Grantland said. "Two Attorney General's opinions and an Ethics Commission opinion also gave me assurance that as a state employee I was entitled to run for office."
Grantland said he intends to obey the law, even if it means stepping down from his job with the health department. However, Grantland said until the complaint was formally filed on May 3, no one told him the law definitely applied to elected officials such as himself.
"If the Department of Public Health, or any federal authority, had told me at anytime that I was in fact prohibited from seeking public office, I would have explicitly followed the procedures dictated by law. But that never happened," Grantland said. "Now, it seems someone is actually trying to accuse me of wrong-doing when, in fact, since 1997 I have tried to do more than my part to ensure my public service met both the letter and the spirit of the law."
Grantland did not know who filed the complaint but said if he has to, he will retire from his health department position.
The complaint is now in the hands of the Merit Systems Protection Board. If he is found in violation of the Hatch Act, Grantland could be removed from his health department job and would be barred from other state employment for 18 months. The health department could also be required to forfeit federal funds equal to two years of Grantland's salary.
Grantland has been with the health department for 32 years and serves as the director for Public Health Area Two, which includes Cullman, Jackson, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison and Marshall counties. He's been serving in the state House of Representatives since 1998.
Grantland hired Montgomery attorney Joe Espy to handle the matter and said he intends to follow the regulations, but does feel the complaint is politically motivated.
"Throughout my public life, I have endeavored to meet not only the letter, but also the spirit of the law in all my actions. Now, faced with what is a totally unexpected accusation regarding a federal restriction on the political rights of private citizens, I see no reason to change my position," Grantland said. "I am proud of my service to the people of Morgan and Cullman Counties and refuse to sit by and let the sanctity of their electoral privilege be brushed aside by what is clearly a politically motivated action. I will honor the spirit of the law; there is also a spirit of democracy that merits honor in this case. In the end, I have faith that both the law and our democratic process will be preserved."