Plum Season

It’s plum season in Colorado.  Near the top of the list for Colorado Governor-elect Bill Ritter’s transition team is making political appointments.  In the federal government there are nearly are about 7,000 such positions in the executive branch, set forth in full in a book called the “Plum Book” after the color of the publication’s cover.  The positions identified in that book are known as “plum jobs.”

But, Colorado’s Governor has a free hand in appointing only sixteen full time civilian employees outside the Governor’s own office, subject to state senate approval, out of about 31,000 who work in state agencies governed by the state personnel system.  Referendum A, designed to give the Governor greater discretion in making appointments, went to the voters in 2004.  It failed with only 39% support.The 31,000 other jobs must be appointed from a list of three persons provided by the state personnel board, and the person making the decision is frequently a personnel system employee him or herself, often at the division within a department level or lower.  They can be fired only for cause and have their compensation set largely by a state personnel board, two seats of which are filled by a vote of state employees, subject to state budget constraints.  A similar parallel process applies to judges.  Neither merit system appointees, nor judges, require state senate approval.

Roughly 125 state employees, usually direct subordinates of agency heads or employees one level below those persons, are members of the Senior Executive Service, who are appointed through the merit system, but unlike other other state employees have negotiated compensation and year to year contracts.  Their bosses can choose not to renew those contracts at the end of the fiscal year, effective June 30, without cause.

A large share of the senior executive service contracts that expire over the next year will not be renewed by Ritter’s new cabinet members.  Instead, the state personnel system will provide new candidates and eagerness to carry out the agenda of the new boss will be a key qualification making an appointment from among the three finalists for the position.

In addition to full time government employees, the Governor appoints hundreds of board and commission members, most part-time with a narrow mandate and limited discretion, but a few of whom have considerable power, on a staggered basis as vacancies arise.  Historically these posts have often been rewards for political supporters.  While these appointments come up in waves as old appointees see their terms expire and new people are appointed, the cumulative effect is that four years from now the vast majority of them will be Ritter appointees.

Who does the Governor appoint?

* The top official in each of the following 15 state departments: Agriculture, Corrections, Health Care Policy and Financing, Higher Education, Human Services, Labor and Employment, Local Affairs, Military and Veterans Affairs, Natural Resources, Personnel and Administration, Public Health and Environment, Public Safety, Regulatory Agencies, Revenue, and Transportation.  Four of the principal departments (education, law, state, and treasury) are run by other elected officials.
* The Commissioner of Insurance, who runs a division within the Department of Regulatory Agencies
* The Governor’s office staff
* Military line officers of the state militia above the company level (e.g. Generals, Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and Majors), and military staff officers of the state militia (regardless of rank).  Company level officers are elected by the unit.
* The Public Trustee (i.e. chief real estate foreclosure administrator) in each county
* Vacancy appointments to certain elective offices.


The Governor also appoints myriad board and commission members, a few of the most important ones are:

* State Parole Board and Juvenile Parole Board
* Public Utilities Commission (3 members)
* Three members of the Colorado Reapportionment Commission (for state legislative districts) in in April of 2011 (should Ritter be re-elected)


Members of boards and commissions, other than the handful mentioned in the state constitution, can be paid only per diem allowances for doing board business, and be reimbursed for expenses.  Some of these boards manage particular state institutions or funds, some help craft regulations and adjudicate cases such as professional discipline cases, some try to get multiple agencies to work together on issues, and some come up with new ideas for running the state.

Manage State Assets
11 run higher educational institutions
30 govern particular state assets such as stadiums, trust funds, loan money, grant money, and the state fair grounds.
4 manage water resources

Make Policy and Handle Specific Cases
11 help state agencies set broadly applicable regulations and policies
11 help set environmental regulations
2 make historic preservation decisions
2 regulate property tax valuations
24 regulate specific professions
16 regulate or promote specific industries

Interagency Coordination
7 help multiple agencies coordinate administrative matters
9 advocate on an interdisciplinary basis for a group of people/conditions (e.g. people with developmental disabilities, utility consumers)

Idea Factories
19 propose new policies for difficult or complex issues
42 provide non-binding advice in particular subject areas


Who does the Lieutenant Governor appoint?

* The Lieutenant Governor’s office staff

Who does the Secretary of State appoint?

* One deputy

Who does the State Treasurer appoint?

* One deputy

Who does the Attorney General appoint?

* One deputy
* Attorneys who are assistant attorneys general

Who does the State Board of Education appoint?

* The Commissioner of Education

Legislative branch and judicial branch employees are outside the state personnel system.  The state auditor is appointed by the legislature and the auditor has three exempt employees, in addition to personnel system employees.

State college and university faculty and many administrators in that system are outside the state civil service system, but they are also not appointed by the Governor (beyond the governing board for institutions outside the University of Colorado system). 

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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