For as long as I can remember, the Colorado state personnel system has been characterized as being overly bureaucratic and restrictive. This year, we have a chance to do something about it.
Based upon Tammany Hall-type scandals involving government employees around the country in the last half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, governments across the United States enacted merit-based personnel systems that made it all but impossible for politicians to reward their political allies with government jobs as rewards for their loyalties.
Colorado’s state personnel system, which was established in 1918, is among the most restrictive in the country. Governors in our state are allowed to hire very few employees who serve them at their pleasure. Broadly speaking, governors may appoint the members of their Cabinet and their personal staffs. Beyond that, almost all the people entrusted to carry out the governor’s agenda are career service employees who serve regardless of who has been elected.
Additionally, the system for hiring new employees is based primarily on a series of written and oral examinations that often make it difficult for government managers to truly evaluate candidates and then allows interviews to just the top three candidates.
We have a chance to update this nearly 100-year-old system through enactment of Amendment S on this fall’s ballot. Amendment S was a collaborative effort of Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislative leaders of both parties and was referred to the ballot unanimously by the legislature. Its most significant elements include allowing up to 1 percent of state employees (roughly 325 people) to be gubernatorial appointees, creating additional flexibility in evaluating candidates for state jobs, and allowing government managers to interview up to six people for open jobs.
It is a common-sense proposal that leaves necessary merit-based protections in place while updating our state’s personnel system to allow this and future governors needed flexibility to implement their programs and priorities. It deserves our support. I encourage you to vote for Amendment S.
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There are two other statewide initiatives on your ballot. I’ll be voting against both of them. Amendment 64 would legalize marijuana and regulate it on a model similar to existing alcohol regulation.
Amendment 65 is a tortured attempt to address the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. It turns representative government on its head by attempting to amend our state constitution to instruct our federal representatives to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution and instructs state legislators to vote to ratify it if Congress refers the measure. All substance aside, it makes no sense to pass an amendment to our constitution that requires elected officials to take specific positions regardless of their own knowledge or beliefs.
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Finally, Jefferson County voters will be asked whether to retain more judges than in any other county in Colorado. We’ll cast votes on one Supreme Court justice, six court of appeals judges, two district judges and four county judges. Commissions on judicial performance have reviewed each of the jurists and made recommendations that you can find either in the Blue Book which was mailed to all registered voters or on the state’s website.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.