Candidate Penry rails against the ‘big government’ employing his family

State Senate Majority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, has been attacking Gov. Bill Ritter for months and with what appears to be increasing disregard for facts. A standing broadside features unsubstantiated criticism of the state’s alleged expanding higher education employee rolls. Penry says campus hiring has been excessive under Ritter and that Ritter’s defenses on the matter are “preposterous.”

It’s an odd topic for Penry to target and it’s even odder that he got it wrong, given that he might simply have consulted his sister or his wife for the facts. Penry’s sister Kristi Pollard is presently Acting Director of Development at Mesa State College. Penry’s wife, Jamie, was Interim Director of Development and also Assistant to the Director of Development at the school.

That those appointments smack of nepotism comes as no surprise to observers of the Mesa State administration of President Tim Foster– observers like the reporters at the Grand Junction Sentinel, for example, who reported the Penry family connections in a piece published this past Saturday on jobs created not by shiftless governance but by expanding student enrollment at the school. The larger point of the piece is that the college’s new hires do not appear to be excessive.

The 16 percent job growth correlates with an enrollment increase of 17 percent and a 40 percent boost in the square footage of college facilities over the past four years, according to Mesa State spokeswoman Dana Nunn.

“With the kind of enrollment growth we had last year, we had to hire some adjunct faculty,” Nunn said, referring to faculty in part-time positions.

Blogsite Colorado Pols put together the press clippings that undercut Penry’s politicking, comparing the dramatic assertions Penry made to the Denver Post about runaway university hiring under Ritter and the Sentinel’s report on actual hiring at Mesa State. Penry’s assertions came as part of his attack on Ritter for expanding government in a recession. That broader case was also picked apart as an opportunistic exaggeration by the Denver Post.

On the Penry-Mesa State connection, the Sentinel notes for discerning readers that Penry’s relatives were not hired in the usual competitive process for at least two of the three positions they hold or held. Because Penry’s sister and his wife were hired to assume “acting” and “interim” positions, they were likely appointed and did not have to compete with other applicants.

Another recent Mesa State hire, Derek Wagner, was likewise appointed as “acting” director of strategic initiatives. Wagner faced no rival applicants. As the Sentinel reports, Wagner worked for Colorado U.S. Republican Sen. Wayne Allard from 2001 to 2007. At Mesa State, he will “assist college President Tim Foster with ‘special projects’ within college operations.”

If Ritter was in fact being preposterous, as Penry claimed, when he said the governor’s office had no control over university hiring and firing and he really did have control, then surely Ritter would have started any round of layoffs at the offices of the GOP friends and family welfare program Tim Foster appears to be running out of Mesa State.

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