Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton has the authority to hire and fire her own staff, Attorney General Andy Beshear said Thursday in an opinion requested by Hampton.
Hampton sought the opinion after Gov. Matt Bevin fired her chief of staff Steve Knipper and deputy chief of staff Adrienne Southworth without consulting her.
“We advise that the lieutenant governor is the appointing authority of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and, as such, has the power to appoint and terminate employees of the lieutenant governor in accordance with the provisions of Kentucky Revised Statute Chapter 18A,” the three-page opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Taylor Payne said.
She has attempted to rehire Knipper but the state Personnel Cabinet has refused her appointment. She has said Southworth continues to assist her. Southworth also has appealed her termination to the state Personnel Board, which is scheduled to take up Knipper’s appeal Friday.
“I applaud the attorney general for doing what is right,” Knipper said Thursday. Southworth could not be reached for comment.
Given pending litigation, the attorney general’s office declined to comment when asked about the terminations.
Bevin had no immediate comment on the attorney general’s opinion. He chose state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, to be his running mate in this year’s election for governor instead of Hampton.
The Bevin Administration fired Knipper in January for his refusal to follow its policy of leaving state government when he decided to run in May’s Republican primary election for secretary of state. He was unsuccessful in the election.
It fired Southworth in May. Southworth said she didn’t know why she was fired but that she had been investigating Knipper’s dismissal.
Bevin’s chief of staff, Blake Brickman, said he had authorized Southworth’s dismissal for “remarkably poor judgment in a number of ways.”
Hampton said the firings of her top two staffers were unauthorized and then asked for prayer against the “dark forces” at work against her. She did not elaborate.
Bevin said later that his relationship with Hampton is “good.”
He also said Brickman “absolutely” has the right to authorize the dismissal of any politically-appointed employee.
“When people have lost the trust of those for whom they work, the reality is they lose their job,” Bevin said.