Fired PSC manager sues in Circuit Court to get her job back

Her lawyer says chairman acted without authority

May 27, 2004|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

One of five Public Service Commission staff members who were summarily fired by the PSC chairman last month filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging the termination.

Chrys Wilson, former chief spokeswoman and director of consumer affairs for the agency that regulates Maryland's utilities, filed the suit in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Wilson, a manager at the PSC since 1996, is seeking a ruling overturning her termination by PSC Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler in hopes of being reinstated, said her attorney Cary Hansel.

The lawsuit challenges the lawfulness of the termination.

"At issue, in a nutshell, is whether the Public Service Commission is a dictatorship," Hansel, an attorney with Joseph, Greenwald & Laake of Greenbelt, said yesterday. "We believe it is operated by majority rule. The question for the court is whether the chairman, acting alone, has the authority to terminate our client. We believe he doesn't."

Schisler, a Republican former state legislator who was appointed chairman of the five-member commission by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in May last year, has declined to discuss the April 15 firings, calling them "personnel decisions." He fired the staff members without consulting the other four commissioners.

The lawsuit says Schisler has tried to take greater control over the commission and its direction since his appointment.

Three of the commissioners have challenged Schisler's authority. Commissioners Gail C. McDonald, Harold D. Williams and J. Joseph "Max" Curran III have said they depended upon the staffers for technical expertise and fear the firings will hamper their ability to balance the needs of consumers and business as they face critical decisions about electricity rate increases as price limits begin expiring as part of deregulation of the electric market.

McDonald and Williams sought an opinion from the state attorney general's office and tried, unsuccessfully, to hire outside counsel to settle the dispute. Schisler rejected their request for an independent lawyer.

The attorney general's office, in an advice letter to a state legislator, said the chairman can fire staff members only if the commission delegates that power to him.

Wilson, who has worked in public service since 1976 and is a former assistant deputy director of intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the first of the five top professionals fired by Schisler to file a lawsuit. Others are preparing to file suit.

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