Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold has made history. Whether it involves her deputy, her chief of staff or other jobs in her office, our secretary of state has single-handedly redefined the term “revolving door.”
In just two years in office, Griswold has already burned through the same number of deputies as there were in the previous two decades at the Secretary of State’s Office — and that’s just her deputy.
You read that right. Between 1999 and 2019, there were only two individuals — Bill Hobbs and Suzanne Staiert — who served as deputy secretary of state.
Republican Donetta Davidson appointed Hobbs in 1999. He served as deputy in four full administrations — including Democrat Bernie Buescher’s. Hobbs announced his retirement in 2012, and Scott Gessler tapped Staiert to become deputy. She served under both Gessler and Wayne Williams until just before Griswold took over.
And yet, as of Jan. 15 — as Griswold begins her third year in office — she is already seeking Deputy #3. Griswold’s predecessors (combined) averaged one new deputy SOS per decade; now she’s averaging one per year.
First it was Jenny Flanagan, who Griswold appointed deputy in January 2019. One year later, Flanagan was already bolting. She and Griswold signed a “Release and Settlement Agreement,” which laid out the obligations and terms of Flanagan’s pending departure once a new hire was made or Flanagan obtained new employment.
Curiously, that agreement actually included a page of talking points that both parties committed to: Seven bullets for Griswold and just two sentences for Flanagan. Whereas Griswold’s points were fairly glowing about “Jenny,” Flanagan’s two lines didn’t even mention Griswold by name. Could her employment have been that unpleasant?
Flanagan left in February 2020; Melissa Kessler stepped in as acting deputy for one month. Ian Rayder took over from April through December 2020. It’s now vacant. Again.
That’s just the deputy position. A review of staff employment charts from January 2019 through December 2020 reveals dizzying turnover — easily over 200%.
For context, there are five positions the secretary personally appoints: deputy, chief of staff, communications director, legislative liaison and executive assistant. Only the executive assistant hasn’t budged since February 2019.
Griswold’s chief of staff position has featured three different titles (as if changing titles would boost staff retention) and already five different officeholders. Griswold has had two communications directors so far, with a four-month vacancy in between. Her first director of government and public affairs (legislative liaison) served just five months. After the post was vacant for six months, Reese Edwards stepped in December 2019 through November 2020. It appears vacant since then.
Several other positions changed hands, some multiple times. Remarkably, this level of appointee turnover and multiple extended vacancies alone is unprecedented at the office in this century.
Williams promoted his communications director to another project and Lynn Bartels replaced him. The same thing happened with his assistant. Williams lost nobody and promoted from within. Gessler’s first deputy (Hobbs) retired, and his legislative liaison departed at the end of his term. Bernie Buescher never lost anyone, even after taking over for Coffman. And on it goes.
Secretaries Davidson, Denis, Coffman, Buescher, Gessler, Williams – this kind of thing genuinely just didn’t happen. Until Jena Griswold.
So, why has the Office of Secretary of State, traditionally known for its remarkable staff stability, faced so much staff turnover in Griswold’s first two years in office? (I sent this question to Griswold’s office; I’ve received no answer as of deadline.)
It certainly isn’t the pay; the deputy SOS, for instance, makes six figures and more than three times Colorado’s median income. Perhaps it’s because Griswold can’t lead and doesn’t provide a valuable working environment. Consider what former Griswold appointee Edwards said in a public LinkedIn post two months ago, after his position became available. He advised that there are “other options that are better suited for talented individuals looking to make an impact in Colorado.”
Why? “Given the overwhelmingly positive nature of LinkedIn I will keep to the platform’s general ethos by only pointing out that this office has over 200% turnover within its executive team in less than two years under current leadership.”
Not exactly a glowing endorsement of your former boss, yet an abundantly reasonable admonition.
What does this mean for Coloradans? For starters, deputy SOS and chief of staff are the two most senior staffers. When those posts keep changing hands, how can the people of Colorado trust that there will be a job well done with elections, business oversight and the rest?
By statute, the deputy decides campaign finance cases and chairs the title-setting committee for ballot initiatives.
Every time a deputy leaves, Colorado voters lose consistency and historical knowledge; cases linger forever. That’s just one appointee.
Jena Griswold always enjoyed criticizing former President Trump for sport. Many critiqued Trump for his cabinet turnover, but Griswold’s revolving door makes Trump’s look normal.
Jimmy Sengenberger is host of “The Jimmy Sengenberger Show” on News/Talk 710 KNUS. He also hosts “Jimmy at the Crossroads,” a webshow and podcast in partnership with The Washington Examiner.