The D.C. City Council's chief legislative employe has filed suit in U.S. District Court here in an effort to exempt about two-thirds of the council's 145 staff members from the federal Hatch Act that bars most District government employes from engaging in partisan political activity.
"These are political positions," said Bruce Comly French, legislative counsel for the City Council since 1979. "We have no job protection, we are political employes. We have no long-term right to job tenure."
French, who wants to work for the reelection of his boss, council chairman Arrington Dixon, has asked for a temporary restraining order to allow about 100 employes who owe their jobs to council members to take part in organized political activities.
The District and federal governments are scheduled to respond to French's suit Monday. Employes of the mayor's office and other executive branch officials would not be affected by French's suit.
French said council employes are now forced to "frequently and consistently violate" the law by the nature of their jobs, dealing with political issues that could mean the election or defeat of the council members.
But the law also prohibits actively working for political candidates even on their own time, French said. "We can't even take leave without pay and work for somebody," said French.
French worked for Dixon as a staff member when Dixon represented Ward 4 on the council and later was appointed by Dixon and confirmed by the council as legislative counsel in 1979.
To get around the Hatch Act provisions in 1978, when Dixon was running for chairman, French resigned from the council staff. He said Monday that he had planned to do the same thing this year, but a part-time job opportunity fell through at the last minute and he decided to file suit.
"It's a dumb situation. I know of no other legislative staff in the country that is 'Hatched,' " French said Monday, noting that congressional staffs are exempt.
District employes were placed under the Hatch Act in 1940, a year after the measure was approved by Congress..
The Hatch Act has produced some odd results in the District, French said.
In 1968, when Congress allowed the city to elect school board members, the school board and staff employes were exempted from the Hatch Act because the elections were set up on a nonpartisan basis and were the only local elections held here.
"As a result," French said, "tenured school employes in the school system and the University of the District of Columbia, whose jobs are protected, have more rights than we do."
French said in his lawsuit that he wants the right to speak out at political forums, raise money and do other campaign activities on Dixon's behalf and believes other political appointees to the council should have that right.
RECESS--The City Council, completing its property tax rate legislation for this year, goes on a month-long recess in August, with its next legislative session not scheduled until Sept. 22, a week after the Sept. 14 primary elections.