Leyens files complaint against Stirgus for politicking

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mayor Laurence Leyens has submitted a complaint letter to the U.S. Justice Department, saying Jim Stirgus Sr., executive director of the Vicksburg Housing Authority, is a federal employee and is violating federal law by openly campaigning for Leyens’ mayoral challenger Democrat Paul Winfield.

“The Hatch Act is very clear,” Leyens said. “He (Stirgus) is spending a lot of time calling people and trying to influence their votes; trying to get them to vote for Paul Winfield. He needs to cease and desist, and we’re asking for immediate relief.”

Stirgus, who served a four-year term on the Mississippi Ethics Commission through November 2006, could not be reached.

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The Hatch Act of 1939 forbids federal employees from partaking in certain campaign activities, including trying to influence or bribe voters. Its purpose is to combat patronage — having federal rank and file jobs filled through political favoritism.

While Leyens contends Stirgus is clearly a federal employee, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel — which investigates Hatch Act cases — said he could not comment. “Our policy is we don’t make any comments on open matters,” said Darshan Sheth.

Stirgus, a former school superintendent who has managed the VHA for more than 20 years, is believed to be an at-will employee of the VHA commission, which has five members appointed by the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The VHA operates on rents collected from tenants and federal allocations, mostly through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Winfield, who lists Stirgus’ endorsement on his campaign Web site, dismissed the complaint as “typical Laurence Leyens politics.”

“Laurence Leyens will stop at nothing to destroy the character of anyone who opposes him or has a different point of view,” he said. “He got the support of Stirgus the past two elections and he never had any complaints. In my opinion, this is just meant to divert peoples’ attention from the real issues in this campaign.”

Leyens said he has received numerous calls since the May 5 Democratic primary — in which Winfield bested three opponents by garnering 61.5 percent of the vote — from people who claim to have received calls from Stirgus encouraging them to vote for Winfield. Stirgus has even called an elected official to try to influence his vote, said Leyens, who declined to name the official.

“The people who received these calls didn’t tell me to go file a Hatch Act complaint. I did that on my own initiative,” said Leyens.

Leyens is seeking his third term as an independent, while Winfield is making his first bid for public office. They will be on the June 2 general election ballot.

Before filing the complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Leyens sent a letter to VHA Board Chairman Jay Kilroy asking him to ensure Stirgus stops making the calls and informing the VHA board of his intent to file a federal complaint.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com