Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Governor Argues Authority to Hire and Fire Wolf Attorney Defends Firing of Aide before State Supreme Court

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Governor Argues Authority to Hire and Fire Wolf Attorney Defends Firing of Aide before State Supreme Court

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA - Lawyers for Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday tried to persuade the state Supreme Court that the governor was within his rights to undo former Gov. Tom Corbett's late-term appointment of a Republican legislative aide to head the state Office of Open Records.

A divided Commonwealth Court ruled in June that Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, had overstepped his authority in dismissing Erik Arneson, who had been a top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi and who was involved in developing the state right-to-know law.

In a courtroom in City Hall, Senior Deputy Attorney General Bart DeLone argued that "with the power to appoint comes an inherent power to remove." He said the fact that the executive director is given a six-year term does not protect him or her from dismissal by the governor.

Matthew Haverstick, an attorney for Senate Republicans, who joined Mr. Arneson in contesting the dismissal, responded that the General Assembly believes it made clear that the records chief was supposed to be insulated from removal by the governor. He noted that a governor can choose whether to appoint a director to a second six-year term.

Joel Frank, an attorney for Mr. Arneson, told the justices that the independence of the Office of Open Records is "vital and critical" to ensuring it can function as intended.

Only four justices heard the case, after Justice Correale Stevens recused himself, saying he was doing so "out of an abundance of caution" because of a project he is working on with the governor's office and Office of Open Records. A tie vote would affirm the Commonwealth Court decision.

The firing of Mr. Arneson initiated an early dispute with Senate Republicans. Pennsylvania is now embroiled in a state budget standoff, after Mr. Wolf on June 30 vetoed a Republican-crafted plan that sidestepped his proposals to raise the sales and personal income tax rates, reduce local property taxes and boost education spending. …

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