The appointees of Bill Ritter Jr.: Where are they now?

The Colorado Statesman

One of the biggest jobs of a new governor is to pick who will lead his cabinet departments and office staff, and some governors wind up performing that chore many times over during their terms in office. Departing Gov. Bill Ritter has had a relatively easy time, administrative-wise, since taking office in January 2007. The governor has control over 15 cabinet departments, and of the 15 chiefs who started with Ritter in 2007, ten are still on the job until Jan. 11. His predecessor, Gov. Bill Owens, replaced eight of his 15 original cabinet appointees during his first term.

As to his own plans for the future, on Wednesday, Ritter announced he would become the director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, and as of Feb. 1 would become a senior scholar at CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability. Ritter hinted at his future job plans when he visited Jefferson County’s Long View High School last month, as The Colorado Statesman reported two weeks ago.

Several cabinet members have gone on to bigger responsibilities — most notably in the Department of Natural Resources, which is on its third executive director in four years. But the DNR’s previous directors are now members of the Obama administration: Harris Sherman, Ritter’s first choice, now heads the U.S. Forest Service; his replacement, Jim Martin, is now regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Statesman recently touched base with Ritter administration cabinet chiefs about their future plans, as well as tracking down those who’ve already moved on. As of press time, a few members of Ritter’s cabinet were not able to disclose their plans, citing pending announcements by Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper.

Jim Martin began his time in the Ritter administration as executive director of the Department of Public Health and Environment. When Sherman was tapped by the Obama administration to become head of the Forest Service in Sept. 2009, Martin moved over to the Department of Natural Resources. In April, Martin was named the regional administrator of the EPA, and replaced by Deputy Director Mike King. Wednesday, Hickenlooper announced King would stay on as executive director.

Martin’s replacement at the Department of Public Health was Martha Rudolph, previously the department’s director of environmental programs. On Wednesday, Hickenlooper announced that Dr. Chris Urbina, Director of Denver Public Health at Denver Health, would become the department’s next executive director. Rudolph’s plans for the future: She will return to her previous position as director of environmental programs; the acting director of that division, Howard Roitman, will resume duties as director of the Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division.

Susan Kirkpatrick has been the executive director of the Department of Local Affairs for the last four years. Kirkpatrick previously served as mayor of Fort Collins and told The Statesman she is returning to that city, but in a very different role. “For my final career, I want to open a retail store in downtown Fort Collins” that will specialize in spices, Kirkpatrick explained. The store fits in with Kirkpatrick’s interest in the economic vitality of downtowns, and the Colorado Main Streets initiative launched by Ritter. “I’m very anxious to wrap things up at DOLA and get on with the next phase,” she said. Monday, Hickenlooper announced Reeves Brown, executive director of Club 20, would become the new DOLA chief.

On Monday, Hickenlooper also said Ellen Golombek, formerly with the Service International Employees Union and Colorado AFL-CIO, would become the next head of the Department of Labor and Employment. Golombek will replace Ritter’s executive director, Don Mares, who has run DOLE for the last four years.

Mares told The Statesman this week that “although nothing is yet set in stone, the bug of helping others infected me during these past four years leading the Colorado labor department. As difficult as the economy has been and as incredibly challenging as it has been for my department, in particular, it proved to me how vital a public service we play… Although nothing yet is finalized I have some exciting opportunities in the works which meet my goal of providing a service to others. Huge thanks go to Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., for helping rekindle my public service fire!”

The current executive director of the Department of Personnel and Administration hopes to go from appointed cabinet to elected office in the coming year. Rich Gonzales has served as DPA’s chief for the entire Ritter term, but his next step is running for an at-large seat on Denver City Council.

Department of Agriculture Executive Director John Stulp is also among the cabinet members who have been at the helm for the past four years. Wednesday, Hickenlooper appointed him “special policy advisor” on water issues and named him chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee. The next head of the Ag department will be former U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., a sixth-generation farmer and rancher who has a 2,500-acre potato farm in the San Luis Valley.

The second member of Ritter’s cabinet to stay in his current position is Air Force Maj. General Michael Edwards, executive director of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and Colorado’s adjutant general. He was tapped by Hickenlooper last week to continue on in that position.

Edwards was Ritter’s appointee to replace Maj. General Mason Whitney, who retired in March 2007 after seven years as head of Military and Veterans Affairs. Whitney didn’t stay retired for long; five months later he was named coordinator of Colorado’s Office of Homeland Security, and in April 2008 was named the office’s first director. The OHS came under fire from state auditors and watchdog groups during Whitney’s tenure, after audits and open record requests showed the department wasn’t keeping good financial or inventory records. Whitney retired again last June and was replaced by Larry D. Trujillo, former Denver fire chief.

Where is he now? Whitney is a member of the Strategic Advisory Council for Bye Aerospace in Centennial.

His plans for the future: Trujillo said he is hoping to stay in his current job, and on Thursday, Hickenlooper said Trujillo would stay on for six months as the administration “evaluates the organizational structure of the agency and other emergency management operations, as recommended by the Homeland Security/Emergency Management transition committee.”

Joan Henneberry, current executive director of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, also is staying on with the Hickenlooper administration, although in a different capacity. Henneberry, Ritter’s only HCPF choice, was last week named director of the Healthcare Exchange Planning Grant project, a yearlong position funded by a federal grant tied to the Affordable Care Act. Hickenlooper has named Sue Birch, CEO of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association in Steamboat Springs, as Henneberry’s replacement.

The executive director with the most cabinet experience may be Ari Zavaras, whose first cabinet post was as head of the Department of Corrections for Gov. Roy Romer. Zavaras was then appointed executive director of the Department of Public Safety for Gov. Bill Owens, where he served two years, and then after a stint as manager of safety for the city of Denver and a run for mayor (against Hickenlooper) Zavaras returned to the Department of Corrections for Ritter, where he has served the past four years.

His plans for the future: Zavaras has not yet disclosed them at this point.

Roxanne Huber has been the executive director for the Department of Revenue for the past four years. Her office said Wednesday she would make her future plans public next week, when an announcement is expected from the governor-elect.

The Department of Human Services has been led by Karen Legault Beye, formerly director of Broomfield Health and Human Services. On Tuesday, Hickenlooper announced that Reggie Bicha of Wisconsin would be the department’s next executive director.

Her plans for the future: Beye plans to do consulting, possibly with the National Governors Association, according to the department.

Among the cabinet chiefs who moved on before the end of the Ritter term: former congressman David Skaggs, who was named executive director of the Department of Higher Education. Skaggs stepped down in Aug. 2009; according to the Denver Post it was the result of “principled disagreement” with Ritter over the department’s management and direction.

Where is he now? Skaggs is now chairman of the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics and a senior strategic advisor and independent consultant with McKenna, Long & Aldridge, LLP. He recently spoke to Colorado’s freshman legislative class on collaboration and cooperation, along with former Sen. Hank Brown.

Skaggs was replaced by Rico Munn, then executive director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies. Munn has served in the Ritter administration from its very beginning, first as head of DORA and then as higher ed chief.

His plans for the future: Munn said Wednesday he is returning to private law practice.

Munn was replaced at DORA by Barbara Kelley, a partner with the law firm Kamlet Reichert.

Her plans for the future: according to the department, Kelley applied to stay on as head of DORA, and on Thursday, Hickenlooper announced she was his pick to continue leading the department.

Republican Peter Weir, Ritter’s choice for executive director of the Department of Public Safety, left a few months shy of the end of the Ritter term. Weir, formerly a judge in the First Judicial District, stepped down from DPS last July to become the senior chief deputy district attorney for felony prosecutions for Jefferson County. The current executive director, appointed in August, is Kathy Sasak. On Thursday, Hickenlooper said James Davis, a 25-year employee of the FBI and its special agent in charge of the Denver division, would become the next head of Public Safety.

Sasak’s plans, according to a department spokesperson, are “unclear.”

Weir was not the only Republican in Ritter’s cabinet. Former Speaker of the House Russell George has been the head of the Department of Transportation for the past four years; he previously ran the Department of Natural Resources for Owens. Friday, Hickenlooper named Don Hunt, president of The Antero Company and Denver’s former bond implementation manager, as the next director of CDOT.

His plans for the future: Wednesday, George was announced as the sole finalist for the president of Northwestern Community College. A final decision on George’s appointment will be made by Community College System President Nancy McCallin and the board of trustees following campus visits later this month.

Members of Ritter’s staff have been quietly leaving after Ritter announced he would not seek re-election last January. But many are still on the job until Jan. 11.

Among those already gone: Ritter’s first chief legal counsel, Trey Rogers, formerly of Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons. Last February, Rogers went back to his old law firm, and was replaced by Deputy Legal Counsel Craig Welling. In November, Welling got a new job: Ritter appointed him to the Adams County District Court.

Ritter Chief of Staff Jim Carpenter left before the holidays to join Mike Stratton at public affairs firm Stratton & Associates, which will be renamed Stratton-Carpenter Associates.

Mary Kay Hogan, the governor’s lobbyist, has returned to the private sector where she has spent much of her career. She launched Hogan Government Relations in October.

Those still in the state capitol during the waning days of the Ritter administration include: Tom Plant, director of the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO), told The Statesman he’s going to enjoy “some delicious micro-brews, mid-week skiing, spending time in Nederland with my wife, and not commuting!” Plant joined the Ritter administration in January of 2007 as director of the Office of Energy Management and Conservation; in April 2007 Ritter ordered the office’s name changed to GEO. Last week, Hickenlooper announced that TJ Deora would become the next GEO director. Deora is the Denver-based project development manager for Horizon Wind Energy of Houston.

Spokesman Evan Dreyer is doing double-duty in his remaining days — he also is the spokesman for Denver City Councilman Michael Hancock’s run for Denver mayor.

Former legislator Todd Saliman has been director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting throughout the Ritter term. Tuesday, Hickenlooper said Saliman would become a “senior advisor” on matters of “budget, policy, legislative, efficiency and operational issues.” Hickenlooper announced Henry Sobanet, former director of OSPB under Gov. Bill Owens, would return as OSPB director.

Republican Don Marostica, who left the General Assembly to become the director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, told The Statesman he will consult with several municipalities that are developing comprehensive master plans. He also will help out with a NASA technology park that will be developed somewhere in the triangle between Denver, Boulder and Colorado State University, a project he worked on in the economic development office. “We’ve done everything we can from a government standpoint,” Marostica said this week. But his first priority is to put a lot more miles on his Harley in 2011. Marostica rode about 1,500 miles in 2010 and “I didn’t like it!” he joked.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com