TN homeland security chief makes ‘lunch hour’ political speech

David Purkey, Tennessee director of Homeland Security, may have violated state law by speaking at a May 13 campaign event for Bradley County Eric Watson, a former state representative, according to the Times-Free Press.

“I cannot imagine having anyone better professionally or personally in the office of sheriff for your county,” Purkey told a crowd that included the Cleveland and Bradley County mayors, at least one state representative and the district attorney, according to the Cleveland Daily Banner.

By law, state employees may not take part in political events while they are on state business. Purkey said he was on his lunch hour, but his speech was listed on his official daily schedule and the invitations described him as Homeland Security director.

,,,Purkey said that when he was invited during the legislative session to speak at the luncheon, he didn’t realize it was a campaign event. When he learned differently, he said, “I told them I would only do this on my lunch hour.”

Tennessee’s Little Hatch Act, modeled after federal law, says state employees may not “engage actively in a political campaign on behalf of any party, committee, organization, agency or political candidate, or to attend political meetings or rallies during those hours of the day when such person is required by law or administrative regulation to be conducting the business of the state.”

However, the law exempts employees “on leave or during those hours not required by law or administrative regulation to be conducting the business of the state.”

Purkey said officials appointed by the governor also are exempt, and he’s one of them.

“I’m not claiming an exemption based on that,” he said. “I’m saying that I made sure it was during my lunch hour on my way home to East Tennessee.”

His hometown, Morristown, is off Interstate 40 northeast of Knoxville. After accepting the speaking invitation, he added a visit to the Homeland Security office in Chattanooga to his itinerary, Purkey said.

Note: The article says the event may have violated other state laws as well — use of marked police cars and emergency vehicles for political purposes, law enforcement officers attending a political event … and the TFP says there are allegations that some county employees were pressured to donate to Watson’s reelection campaign.