Ritter's new COO draws GOP fire

By Katy Schultz
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Members of Colorado’s Republican Party were quick to criticize Gov. Bill Ritter’s June 8 appointment of Don Elliman, the head of his Office of Economic Development and International Trade, as Colorado’s first Chief Operating Officer. Ritter created the post to facilitate Colorado’s economic recovery and to implement the state’s portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Bringing Don into the new role of COO will allow us to more fully integrate his private-sector management skills, his economic-development leadership and his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expertise into all of state government’s operations,” said Ritter, as he introduced his newest appointee.

“This will allow us to better capitalize on our successes at creating jobs, helping businesses and developing a 21st Century workforce as we lead Colorado forward and position ourselves for a strong recovery.”

The Republican response came fast and furious. House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said Ritter appears to have lost interest in running the state himself.

May said adding a $146,000-a-year position is “more than odd” in a state where the budget was cut by hundreds of millions of dollars in 2009.

“It’s just not appropriate. He has plenty of help up there. He just needs to use it effectively,” said May, whose rhetoric led Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer to dub him “Colorado’s own little shock-and-awe show.”

May takes that as a compliment.

“I’m happy to wear that badge of Mr. Shock-and-awe,” May jokingly told The Colorado Statesman. “I could call (Ritter) ‘Governor Adrift.’”

Colorado Republican Party Chair Dick Wadhams joined the chorus of critics.

“This is nothing against Elliman as a person,” said Wadhams. “This is against Ritter’s weak leadership.”

When contacted by The Colorado Statesman, both Elliman and the governor’s office declined to respond to the Republican onslaught.

Although Ritter created the position of state COO for Elliman, governors in Georgia and Illinois also have COOs on their staffs.

Elliman came on to Ritter’s staff in March 2007 as the director of Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

The gubernatorial-COO-to-be came to the state in 1997. He spent 32 years at Time Inc., where he was publisher of People and Sports Illustrated. In 2000, he took the reins of Ascent Inc., now Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Colorado Avalanche, the Denver Nuggets and the Pepsi Center, leaving in 2004 to become active in public policy issues.

Katy@coloradostatesman.com