Committee: Barring Dayton workers from political activities may be unconstitutional

Barbara Doseck, Dayton's law director, speaks at a city of Dayton press conference. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Barbara Doseck, Dayton's law director, speaks at a city of Dayton press conference. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Most city of Dayton employees generally are prohibited from engaging in off-duty political activities, but some city officials and community members believe it could be unconstitutional and should be changed.

Section 105 of the city’s charter says classified employees should not take part in political management, affairs or political campaigns other than to cast votes and privately express their opinions.

But multiple members of Dayton’s charter review committee said this provision likely violates First Amendment rights and would not withstand a legal challenge.

“You guys are pretty open to a First Amendment lawsuit,” said Mohamed Al-Hamdani, a member of the charter review committee and Dayton Public School board president. “You are leaving yourself vulnerable here ― this is on their own time, and if somebody sues you, you are going to lose this lawsuit.”

The committee is deciding whether to recommend putting a charter change proposal before Dayton voters later this year.

Mohamed Al-Hamdani
Mohamed Al-Hamdani

Section 105 puts restrictions on what classified employees can do politically on their own time, said Kenneth Couch, Dayton’s director of human resources.

Most city employees are classified. Unclassified employees include staff in the city manager’s office, directors, deputy directors, division managers and executive secretaries, Couch said.

Over the years, multiple people have questioned the prohibition on political activities, Couch said.

“Essentially, you cannot be a member of either of the parties ― you can’t be involved in any of their activities,” he said. “Other than putting a sign in your yard or voting, your political activities are restricted.”

Dayton City Hall
Dayton City Hall

Couch believes political activities should be allowed as long as employees are not using city resources or doing it on while on the clock.

Kerry Gray, a member of the charter review committee and a former city commission office director, said he hopes city employees do not feel pressured into taking part in political activities.

Stanley Earley, a member of the charter review committee, said employees should not be allowed to campaign for city commissioners, the mayor and possibly other local candidates. He said city employees should be allowed to take part in political activities related to national congressional and presidential races.

The majority of employees who have complained and raised concerns about the charter’s political restrictions to the law department were interested in national elections, said Barbara Doseck, Dayton’s law director. Couch said most of the complaints he received also were about state and national contests.

Doseck said she would draft language for a proposed charter change. She expects to develop a few different options.

“I will come up with options for you all to consider and otherwise edit, review and comment on,” she said.