Sen. Harris refuses to fire aide, bucking Senate president

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By Len Lazarick

Republican Sen. Andy Harris is refusing to fire his chief of staff Kathy Szeliga, as Democratic Senate President Mike Miller told him he should.

Szeliga is also not planning to stop her unofficial campaign for the House of Delegates, the other alternative Miller suggested in a letter to Harris Tuesday.

In a letter to Miller that Harris gave reporters, Washington attorney Dirk Haire, an Annapolis resident representing Harris, said the order was misguided.

The letter says Assistant Attorney General Sandra Benson Brantley misinterpreted General Assembly rules, which say “an employee must resign” as soon as the worker “has filed with the elections board to run for state legislative office.”

Szeliga, a Republican, has a campaign committee that has been raising money and she has a Web site touting her candidacy for state delegate in the 7th district. But she has not formally filed as a candidate. Harris is expected to be a challenger for Rep. Frank Kratovil’s seat in the U.S. House this November.

Brantley said in an opinion requested by the General Assembly’s presiding officers that Szeliga’s committee, fundraising and Web site “are sufficient to trigger the prohibition against employment” with the General Assembly.

Haire said Brantley was plainly “wrong” and told Miller:

“Senator Harris is confident that Ms. Szeliga is in full compliance with the policy you reference and will not take any action with regard to her current employment or her exploration of a potential candidacy for the House of Delegates.”

Miller’s action against Szeliga was based on a complaint from members of the Baltimore and Harford counties Democratic Central Committees, according to Szeliga, who would not furnish the complaints.

The 7th legislative district, which Harris represents in the Senate, runs from Lutherville into Harford County.

“I’m lawfully employed and should have a job on Monday,” Szeliga said. “If Mike Miller fires me, I will be filing for wrongful termination or something similar.”

But as of Thursday afternoon, she said she had not heard directly from Miller or his office about the matter.

Miller’s chief of staff, Victoria Gruber, said his office had not received the letter, and would not comment, since the issue was still considered a confidential personnel matter.

Harris and Szeliga are also suggesting that Brantley may have been biased in her opinion because she gave $250 to the State Democratic Central Committee last May, according to the campaign finance Web site of the Center for Responsive Government. She has also contributed to Democratic candidates, according to the Board of Elections database.

“To make that leap is completely without merit,” said Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for the office of the attorney general. “Our assistant attorney generals make their opinions based on law.”

“Letters of advice are based on the legal findings,” Guillory said. “They’re not made on a political basis.”

She noted that the last time this personnel guideline was enforced involved a Democratic employee of the legislature.

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