- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DENVER (AP) - More state workers have been hired without traditional public-employee protections, and more is being spent on them, after voters approved a constitutional change backed by several governors.

The Denver Post reported Wednesday (https://tinyurl.com/momnhd3) that Gov. John Hickenlooper and his predecessors Bill Ritter and Bill Owens said 2012’s Amendment S would allow managers to hold workers more accountable, and that legislative staff determined the overall spending impact would not be significant. The legislation allows political appointees to hire so-called “at will” workers whose jobs aren’t guaranteed past the next election.

The Post found at-will hiring and moving workers to new positions resulted in an increase of more than 300 such executive branch employees. The number of traditional employees also grew during the November 2012 to January 2014 period the Post studied.

At-will executive branch salaries jumped more than 91 percent over total at-will salaries, from $31.4 million in 2012 to $59.5 million in January.

The state personnel department’s executive director, Kathy Nesbitt, told the Post a larger percentage of new at-will hires are in the top salary range because the categories outlined in Amendment S are for management and other top staff.

Miller Hudson, a former Democratic state representative and former executive director of the Colorado Association of Public Employees who was the main opponent to Amendment S, said the change could open the way to patronage.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration at all,” Hudson said. “This is about power and control by allowing the governor to appoint high-level jobs.”

The Post said its review of new at-will employees shows many have no obvious connection to Hickenlooper, but several are campaign supporters. Among the campaign supporters is Dr. Larry Wolk, who in June gave Hickenlooper a $1,100 campaign contribution - the maximum allowed in Colorado. That September, Hickenlooper appointed him to head the Department of Public Health and Environment at a salary of $212,000 a year, hiring records show.

Ronnie Carleton was hired as a manager at the Department of Agriculture in 2012. In December, he gave Hickenlooper the maximum campaign contribution.

Hickenlooper told The Post: “You should do your research. You’ll find there aren’t friends and family” benefiting from hiring rules.

Amendment S, approved by 56 percent of voters, allowed the executive branch staff to move workers from protected to at-will positions in six categories, including deputy directors, public information officers, human resource directors and executive assistants to top leaders.

The executive branch moved the 125 statutorily allowed senior executive services jobs - often top executives on one-year contracts - from protected to at-will. The executive branch is capped at moving 1 percent of state employees to at-will jobs under the amendment.

The amendment also provided changes in testing requirements for hiring and expanded preferences for veterans.

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Information from: The Denver Post, www.denverpost.com