2 officials fired from PSC sue to get jobs back

A 3rd official sued earlier and won reinstatement

October 29, 2004|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

A week after a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled that a former Maryland Public Service Commission employee was wrongly fired by the PSC chairman and ordered her reinstated, two more former PSC employees have filed suit in hopes of winning back their jobs.

Blaine L. Keener, the PSC's former chief engineer, and Randy M. Allen, the commission's former chief auditor, claim in a lawsuit filed yesterday that Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler lacked authority to fire them and did so for political reasons. The two were among five PSC professionals dismissed by Schisler in April.

"In an exhibition of blatant partisan politics, [Schisler] terminated the positions of specialists who were nonpolitical and had been recruited by the commission after salaries for the jobs were raised to attract skilled personnel," said the suit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court against the state, the PSC and Schisler.

On Oct. 20, Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan ruled that Schisler, chairman of the agency that regulates Maryland's utilities, acted improperly when he fired Chrys Wilson, the agency's former manager of external relations, and denied her appeal without consulting the other four commissioners. Kaplan ordered the PSC to reinstate Wilson.

As of yesterday, Wilson had not been reinstated.

"She has not yet been permitted back, and we understand [there will be] a commission meeting about her return, and we're waiting for the meeting to take place," Cary J. Hansel III, Wilson's attorney, said yesterday. "We've been very patient and courteous in waiting for the meeting and trying to be reasonable, but it's been over a week since she was reinstated. ... We expect her to be invited back to work immediately."

Susan S. Miller, the PSC's general counsel, said the commissioners have not scheduled a meeting to discuss the judge's ruling. Schisler did not return calls yesterday.

The latest lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, the same grounds successfully cited by Wilson.

"Judge Joseph Kaplan found that Chairman Schisler did not have the right to fire [Wilson]," said Morton Edelstein, an attorney at Edelstein & Radford who represents Keener and Allen. "We would hope the court would be consistent and rule in favor of Mr. Allen and Mr. Keener, both outstanding employees who were fired for what appears to be political reasons."

Schisler, a Republican former state legislator who was appointed chairman by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in May 2003, has refused to discuss what he called "personnel matters" with his colleagues.

At the time of the firings in April this year, three Democratic-appointed commissioners, Harold D. Williams, J. Joseph "Max" Curran III and Gail C. McDonald, challenged his actions, saying Schisler lacked authority to terminate key technical advisers and public information officials on his own. They said they wanted to see the five reinstated.

McDonald has since completed her term and been replaced by Commissioner Allen M. Freifeld, a Republican appointee. The fifth commissioner is Ronald A. Guns, a Democratic appointee.

Miller said that the commission would have 30 days after the judge's ruling in the Wilson case is entered into the court docket to decide whether to appeal.

But Hansel said the PSC does not have 30 days to allow Wilson to return to work. "The law is, when the court issues an order that says immediately, that means immediately, and you don't have a 30-day stay on the order. We're trying to give the PSC every opportunity to comply with the court's order, but the reasonable time to do so is quickly drawing to an end."

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