State Assembly race
Assembly candidate Bill Nojay out at the City of Detroit
New York State Assembly candidate Bill Nojay of Pittsford has been removed from his position as chief operating officer of the City of Detroit Department of Transportation.
A reporter from The Detroit News contacted the mayor’s office Tuesday to ask about Nojay’s role as a candidate for New York State office and conservative talk show host — only to learn two hours later that he was no longer working for the department. The Detroit News reported on its front page Thursday that Nojay had been “reassigned” by TransPro, formerly Envisurage, the company contracted to manage the city bus system.
City officials would not comment on Nojay’s removal, but Detroit’s chief operating officer Chris Brown said Nojay’s campaign in New York was no secret. ”The mayor’s office was aware of his radio show and was informed when he decided to run for office.”
Following up on a reader’s question two weeks ago, the Livingston County News asked Nojay if his candidacy, combined with his job in Detroit, would create a Hatch Act violation. The Hatch Act is a federal law that prohibits public employees from engaging in partisan politics “if he or she has duties in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by federal funds.”
Nojay described himself as a “consultant to a consultant to a consultant.” Nojay’s position was created as part of a $1.1 million contract by TransPro with the consulting firm Parsons Brinkerhoff, which holds the city contract to restructure its Department of Transportation. The goal is to create a regional organization along the lines of the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority where Nojay has served in various roles on the board, including chairman.
“One of the largest law firms in Upstate New York researched [my situation] carefully and concluded there was no danger of my being ‘Hatched,’” Nojay told The County News by email.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is the sole agency authorized to issue binding opinions about Hatch Act violations. Livingston County News Reporter Howard Appell contacted the OSC, and a spokesperson said the agency could only comment on specific cases to involved parties. Appell then filed a complaint in order to answer the question.
The only penalty proscribed by federal law is “removal” when federal employees violate the Hatch Act. State and local governments may choose to retain the violator, but risk losing federal funds in the process. The City of Detroit bus system and its suburban counterpart was recently awarded a $30 million grant from the Federal Transit Authority for capital improvements.
OSC spokesperson Ann O’Hanlon told the County News last Thursday that Nojay’s status as a private contractor might have protected him from the Hatch Act.
“The Hatch Act is all about keeping improper politics out of the federal government, so when the federal funds reach into the states and localities, the Hatch Act follows that money to assure that the power of the federal purse can’t be used to coerce or influence partisan politics,” she said. “Persons covered by the Hatch Act have to be state or local employees.”
When news broke of his reassignment, The County News was in the process of confirming Nojay’s status with the City of Detroit — including whether he had been sworn into civil service, had supervisory and budgetary discretion, and whether he was presented as a public official to other city employees, elected officials outside the city and the general public.
Appell has not withdrawn his OSC complaint until it is clear that Nojay is no longer considered a civil servant with authority over federal funds.
Henry Gaffney, president of a city transit union chapter, told The Detroit News that he believes Nojay is a government employee.
“When I am in New York, big government is wrong and we need to cut back,” Gaffney said of Nojay. “But when I come to Detroit, I need to get more of that federal money, and I pick up my government check every Friday.”
Nojay faces former Avon Mayor Richard Burke in the upcoming Sept. 13 Republican primary. The winner will run against Democrat Randy Weaver, a Hornell pharmacist and Steuben County legislator.