Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson has yet to receive an explanation from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for her decision to fire him mere months before the end of her term as mayor and in the midst of the city’s reaction to a scathing Department of Justice report about the Baltimore Police Department.
“My perspective on this is, obviously, I didn’t think what she did was fair,” Nilson said Tuesday, a day before he stepped down as the city’s top lawyer. “I didn’t think it was done the way you would expect two grown-ups to act in a situation like this.”
Nilson acknowledged the city solicitor serves at the pleasure of the mayor and he can be asked to leave for no reason or for reasons “lacking in substance or merit,” but he said he feels he was owed a conversation.
Nilson said he was informed Thursday by Rawlings-Blake’s staff that she would be announcing his “retirement” the same day he ended the city’s contract with Glen K. Allen, a contract attorney who was found to have had ties to a neo-Nazi group. Nilson objected to the use of the term “retirement” because he was not leaving voluntarily after nearly a decade in the position.
“I didn’t want the mayor or anyone to think that I was choosing to leave in the aftermath of the Glen Allen situation,” Nilson said Tuesday.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported last week that Allen, who started working for the city in February, was a supporter of the National Alliance, a white nationalist anti-Semitic group.
Nilson said he spoke with Allen on Wednesday when the SPLC placed calls to several attorneys within the office listing some of their allegations. After the story was released late that night, he asked Allen to speak with him first thing Thursday morning.
“He said early in that conversation, ‘I think we need to terminate the relationship between me and the city,’ and I said, ‘I think that’s right,’” Nilson said.
The two met Thursday afternoon and terminated the contract by mutual agreement.
Nilson said he did not have any discussions with the mayor during the process but kept her staff informed. At one meeting, after Allen’s contract had been terminated, Nilson said the mayor’s staff expressed understanding that there was no way he could have known about Allen’s affiliation with the National Alliance in the 1980s.
An hour later, Nilson said he was called back and informed of the mayor’s decision to announce he was stepping down.
“From the point of view of the best interest of the city, I have a lot of trouble understanding how what she did was in the best interest of the city,” he said.
In the end, the mayor released a terse statement Friday afternoon announcing Nilson’s departure from the office effective Aug. 24 and thanking him for his service.
Rawlings-Blake’s office did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
Nilson said he is proud of the staff he has assembled during his time as solicitor.
“We have a very collaborative office,” he said. “I’m absolutely the proudest of the law firm that I have run.”
Nilson, 74, was appointed city solicitor by then-Mayor Sheila Dixon in January 2007 after many years at DLA Piper US LLP. He also served six years as a deputy attorney general of Maryland and was chairman of the General Assembly Compensation Commission for eight years.
In the near future, Nilson said he hopes to spend time with his grandchildren and at his home on the Eastern Shore. After traveling in September, he said he will consider his next steps.
Deputy City Solicitor David Ralph will serve as interim solicitor when Nilson leaves office Wednesday.
“Obviously, it’s easier to have someone in the office [taking over],” Nilson said, but added there are matters that were significant which Ralph was not involved in, including the office’s response to the Department of Justice report.
Nilson said he spent more than two hours briefing Ralph and other attorneys in the office. He had previously compiled lists of critical matters and significant litigation expected to affect the office and in the next few months.
Nilson said he was not planning to continue serving as solicitor for much longer, with a new administration coming in later this year. He had been in talks with state Sen. Catherine Pugh, the Democratic nominee, about how to handle the transition.
“My intention was, only with Sen. Pugh’s approval, to stay on sometime into early 2017,” he said.