|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: June 26, 2006
You have the following question related to the race for the sessions court judgeship in which the city attorney is a candidate: Can the fire chief take the city's fire engine to a political rally for the city attorney?
The answer is clearly no. Of course, municipal equipment can be used by the fire chief where he has a legitimate reason to use it, and when that reason is consistent with the ordinances, and other rules and regulations for the use of the city"s fire equipment. It may be that in some instances the use of a fire engine in a gathering of people may be justified, but generally the use of such equipment for the purpose of a political campaign, particularly in local elections, is both unnecessary and transparent.
Section 4-206(19) of the Municipal Code itself prohibits the use of the city's fire truck for political purposes. It provides that:
Employees have the same rights as other citizens to be a candidate for state or local political office (except for membership on the city's governing body) and to participate in political activities by supporting or opposing political parties, political candidates, and petitions to governmental entities. No employee may campaign on municipal time in municipal uniform nor use municipal equipment or supplies in any campaign or election . (Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 6-54-901) [Emphasis is mine.]
It is similarly provided in ' 4207(2) of the Municipal Code that:
No employee may use or authorize the use of municipal time, facilities, equipment or supplies for private gain or advantage to oneself or any other person, group or organization other than the municipality . Decisions about aid to charitable, civic or other organizations will be made exclusively by the governing body.
There is little doubt that the phrase "or other organizations"in the last sentence does not include aid to political organizations or campaigns.
The violation of either or both of the above ordinances by the fire chief, if proven, are certainly grounds for his termination or other discipline.
In addition, Tennessee Code Annotated, ' 39-16-102 also makes official misconduct on the part of public officials a Class E Felony. That statute appears broad enough to include the use by a public official of city equipment in a political campaign in violation of a municipal ordinance prohibiting such use of city equipment.
Sidney D. Hemsley
Senior Law Consultant