County employees reminded of political participation policy

A proposal that would prevent ballot issues or candidate petitions from circulating on Centre County property failed to gain traction during a county commissioners meeting Tuesday.

The motion was made by Commissioner Michael Pipe, who said he had checked into the county policy regarding ballots and petitions out of curiosity.

“It’s sort of an unwritten rule about the discretion of distributing petitions here while folks are at work,” he said.

Pipe said he thought it was in the best interest of the county government to have some sort of language in the policy on whether an employee can circulate petitions during county business since the policy doesn’t address that specific action.

Under county campaigning policy, “employees may participate in the political process on his or her own time and outside of the workplace, but that person may not use county facilities for such purpose.”

Pipe’s motion would add, “The circulation of ballot issues or candidate petitions is prohibited on county property.”

He said he’d been approached by employees who said that, in some cases, their superiors had asked them to sign petitions, adding that he thought it was completely inappropriate and distracting.

Chairman Steve Dershem said the situation could be viewed differently if the employee were on lunch or on his or her own time versus sitting at a desk doing county business. Using the term “county property” is wide as well, meaning participation in an event at the courthouse annex could put an employee in violation of the policy.

Vice Chairman Chris Exarchos said it’s not necessarily the employees who are asking for signatures, it’s the elected officials.

Policies regarding county employees are unenforceable when it comes to elected individuals.

“I’m sympathetic to what you’re trying to achieve,” Exarchos said, “but I think it may create a lot of unintended consequences.”

He said he would be happy to send out a memo to all county employees reminding them of the current policy regarding political participation and can revisit the issue if there is a problem in the future.