The wife of a Kennebec County sheriff’s captain filed an election complaint against the chief deputy of the Somerset County sheriff’s office, then used a false name to alert media.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel rejected the complaint from Sharon Picard that alleged Somerset County Chief Deputy Sheriff Dale Lancaster violated the federal Hatch Act by using his office to campaign. Picard is the wife of Kennebec County Capt. Dennis Picard, who is a friend and an active supporter of Waterville police officer Kris McKenna, Lancaster’s opponent in the race for Somerset County sheriff. The special counsel is charged with enforcement of the Hatch Act.

The claims of wrongful and negative campaigning have put three area law enforcement agencies in the spotlight less than two weeks before the Nov. 4 election.

Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of the special counsel’s Hatch Act Unit in Washington, said she will not pursue the complaint even if the alleged activities occurred because Lancaster’s actions were not a violation of the law — only partisan political activity is prohibited by the Hatch Act, she said.

The Somerset County charter provides for a non-partisan election, in which candidates for county office — county commissioner, sheriff, treasurer, register of deeds — do not run for office with political party affiliation.

Sharon Picard, who is an administrative assistant at Unity College, used the name Beth Downs to send notice of the complaint to Maine newspapers and television stations. The Picards live in Unity in Waldo County.


“Beth Downs is the name I have used when commenting on news articles,” she said in an email to a Morning Sentinel reporter. “Many people use pseudonyms. … I used that name to express my opinions without fear of retribution.”

Dennis Picard acknowledged that he has campaigned for McKenna, but referred to Lancaster as a member of the same law enforcement team.

“Everyone knows that I am friends with Kris and have been for 15 years,” Dennis Picard said. “We went to the academy together. I helped recruit him to Waterville from Somerset (sheriff’s office). I have attended numerous events with Kris in my off hours. I also work closely with Dale (Lancaster), and we are very much on the same team.”

Picard said his wife has a strong personality and independent will and does not “seek permission or require guidance” from him when she sees something she believes is wrong. He said he supports this “powerful feminist trait” in his wife of more than 20 years.

Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, said there have been no other recent complaints of alleged impropriety in campaigns for county sheriff in Maine, but a panel has been formed to adopt an advisory policy to address possible future problems.

“What clearly should be avoided is things like use of county property, use of vehicles, on-duty time, computers or laptops or cellphones — anything that is paid for by tax dollars should not be used during a campaign,” Liberty said.


Liberty said an advisory program is being developed for new sheriffs by Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry, Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett and Hancock County Sheriff William Clark. “That will be prepared and ready to go in January,” he said.

The Hatch Act limits political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, District of Columbia and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs.

The law’s purpose is to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion. Political activity is restricted of individuals employed by state, county, or municipal executive agencies in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a federal agency.

Lancaster, 58, of Cornville, who has 40 years of law enforcement experience, said his department is not funded by federal money, and he is running neither as a Democrat nor a Republican, per the county’s charter.

Galindo-Marrone noted those points in a letter to Picard and to Lancaster announcing that the office was “closing the above-referenced file without further action.”

Lancaster said in an interview that even while the Office of Special Council found no violations of the federal Hatch Act, he did not engage in any activities that could be considered unethical.


“I have not campaigned in uniform,” Lancaster said. “I have been working extremely hard to separate work and campaigning. What they allege and what transpired are two different things. I don’t want to be part of negative campaigning.”

McKenna, 38, of Skowhegan, who has been a patrol officer in Waterville since 2006, said he has also tried to separate himself from any perception of negative campaigning. He distanced himself from involvement with the complaint filed by Picard, calling it petty.

“People had made observations about ethical violations — I stayed away from it,” he said. “I am trying to run a clean campaign. I was aware that they filed. I wanted to run a positive campaign based on issues. Others felt it was wrong to use county resources to campaign with and acted on it.”

Sharon Picard cited the following examples of ethics violations on the part of Lancaster, alleging that he:

• wore his uniform while campaigning, used uniform and physical office for campaign literature;

• used a county vehicle to take campaign volunteers to and from campaign appearances (such as) parades;


• counseled a deputy sheriff under his command regarding the deputy’s wife supporting the other candidate;

• made an administrative assistant under his supervision in the jail division his campaign treasurer;

• answered an email to his work email address accepting political help from a constituent and encouraging the constituent to contact him at his office number;

• allowed his administrative assistant to use her sheriff’s department office to campaign;

• during a county endorsed torch run for the Special Olympics, had a deputy wear his campaign shirt, while representing the sheriff’s office.

Lancaster said his role as chief deputy and his bid to be elected sheriff can often cross paths, especially since Sheriff Barry DeLong, who is retiring after 20 years in office, is taking a reduced role in operations in recent months.


“I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s department,” Lancaster said. “There are four branches within the sheriff’s department — the civil, the courts, law enforcement and the jail — so I do have to wear a uniform on occasions.”

He said he has worked holidays, weekends and nights campaigning on his scheduled time off.

“People who know me know I don’t operate outside the boundaries of the law,” he said. “There is no intent to actively campaign while working, but sometimes those lines are not as clear as if you weren’t in office at all.”

Lancaster said his campaign volunteers, including an administrative assistant at the jail, Laura LaPointe, his campaign treasurer, are registered with the state Ethics Commission and do the work on their own time and from their home. He said he does not use county vehicles for campaign purposes.

“Regarding the Special Olympic Torch Run last June, officers participate on their own accord and volunteer their time for a great cause,” he said. “They decide what they want to wear for clothing.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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