A fired aide to Kentucky's lieutenant governor asked the state's personnel board on Friday to reverse her dismissal, which deepened an election-year rift between Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton and Gov. Matt Bevin's administration over Hampton's depleted staff.
In her appeal, Adrienne Southworth is seeking reinstatement as Hampton's deputy chief of staff with back pay and benefits.
Southworth's appeal claims that Bevin's staff lacked legal authority to fire an aide to the lieutenant governor. The reasons given for her dismissal were "factually inaccurate," she said.
Neither Hampton nor Bevin's office immediately responded to emails seeking comment.
Bevin dropped Hampton from his ticket in January as the Republican governor launched his reelection campaign. Southworth's dismissal intensified Hampton's fight with Bevin's administration over staffing reductions in her office.
The issue erupted again late last month, following Southworth's dismissal, when Hampton sent a tweet asking for prayers in her fight against "dark forces."
Hampton has signaled she intends to defy the dismissal, saying Southworth will continue to assist her, tracking her time until she's officially reinstated so she can receive back pay.
Bevin's chief of staff, Blake Brickman, recently told the Courier Journal that he authorized Southworth's firing, saying she repeatedly demonstrated poor judgment. Hampton called it an "unauthorized personnel action" and said Brickman "overstepped his boundaries."
Southworth was making $81,000 a year as Hampton's deputy chief of staff and had worked in the lieutenant governor's office since late 2015. Hampton has praised Southworth's "stellar" work in constituent services and in tracking bills considered by state lawmakers.
In her appeal to the Kentucky Personnel Board, Southworth said the lieutenant governor has the role as "appointing authority — or agency head — for the lieutenant governor's office.
Hampton never designated her "appointing authority" to anyone else, making Southworth's dismissal "void and unenforceable," the appeal said.
The next step in the appeals process will be to schedule a prehearing conference before a hearing officer, said Mark A. Sipek, the personnel board's executive director.
Southworth's dismissal left Hampton with just one staff member.
Earlier in the year, Bevin's administration fired Hampton's chief of staff, Steve Knipper. He was dismissed for not adhering to an administration policy that requires state employees running for elective officer to resign. Knipper finished third in the state's recent Republican primary for secretary of state. Knipper's appeal of his dismissal is pending before the state personnel board.
As Bevin's running mate in 2015, Hampton became a political trailblazer as the first black person elected to statewide office in Kentucky.
Hampton — who has strong support among tea party activists in Kentucky — had lobbied Bevin for a spot on this year's ticket, but the governor instead chose state Sen. Ralph Alvarado as his new running mate.
The dispute between Hampton and Bevin's administration has flared while Bevin seeks a second term in Republican-leaning Kentucky. Democrats have tried to portray the dispute as a sign that the GOP is splintered as Bevin is being challenged by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in the coming November election.