Future uncertain for DOW director after election loss
Aspen, CO ColoradoRifle resident and former state lawmaker Russell George is joining the ranks of job-seekers.If he is hired, though, his new office should look quite familiar.George is applying to become executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources. It’s work he knows well, because he holds that title now.George works for Gov. Bill Owens, who is leaving office Jan. 9 because of term limits. Democrat Bill Ritter, who defeated Republican Bob Beauprez in November, will replace Owens.Beauprez had said during the campaign that if he were elected he would love to keep George on the job. But the future is far less certain now for George, who is a Republican.Nevertheless, George said he has applied for the DNR job. He also has applied to be interbasin compact director, which deals with water issues between river basins within the state. George took on the latter duties over the course of his work as DNR director, but has recommended to Ritter’s transition team that the two jobs be split because of the time each of them requires.”I said if you want me to serve in either one I’m more than happy to do it,” George said.Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said he can’t comment on applicants for Ritter’s staff.”It’s a personnel process so we’re trying to be as respectful of that confidential process as possible, for everybody,” he said.George said he and the governor-elect are “good friends,” but he hasn’t spoken to Ritter about his interest in being part of Ritter’s cabinet.”He’s been so busy, and he has his transition teams,” George said.One of those teams is handling recommendations for the DNR appointment. Co-chairing that committee is state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, whose district includes eastern Garfield County and who chairs the House legislative panel that oversees natural resources. Also on the natural resources transition committee are Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt and Glenwood Springs resident Jim Lochhead, both Democrats. Lochhead served as DNR chief under Owens’ predecessor, Democrat Roy Romer.Houpt said Friday the committee recommended four candidates for DNR chief to Ritter for his consideration. She said she’s “sworn to secrecy” about the process and can’t comment about George’s interest in being reappointed.Houpt said the caliber of applicants for the job was high, and she would be happy if Ritter selects any of the four recommended candidates.She had asked to be named to the committee, she said.”That particular department is very involved with issues going on in Garfield County. I wanted to be able to give some input on that process, on that selection,” she said.George’s department includes agencies overseeing oil and gas development, mining, wildlife, water and parks, among other areas. Houpt long has advocated for better protecting local residents impacted by natural gas drilling.George said he wouldn’t predict his chances of getting reappointed to his job.”It’s so important for us all to let the governor-elect be free to make those choices because there’s so many competing choices; so many interests have to be balanced,” he said.George said he doesn’t consider it a big obstacle that he and Ritter belong to different parties. He said Owens had appointed Democrats to his cabinet over the years.”The departments, when they’re operating at their best, are nonpartisan anyway,” George said.George is considered a moderate Republican and Ritter a moderate Democrat, meaning their political views may not be far apart.George served in the House of Representatives in the 1990s, eventually becoming speaker, the top House leadership position. He then headed the Colorado Division of Wildlife before being named to Owens’ cabinet about three years ago. An attorney, George said he got to know Ritter when Ritter was a district attorney and was working on legislation of interest to the state’s DAs.”We’ve always been good friends. I have enormous respect for him,” George said.Glenwood Springs resident Steve Smith, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society, served on a committee chaired by George that made recommendations to Owens about how roadless areas in Colorado should be managed. He said he can’t say whether George is the right person to serve as DNR director under Ritter, not knowing who else has applied and whether George would be a good fit with others on Ritter’s administration. But Smith thinks George has done a good job under Owens.”I think he’s a real pleasure to work with, and I think he genuinely seeks to include and listen to a variety of points of view, and I think that’s the sign of a real good state official,” he said.George said he hasn’t applied for any other jobs, to avoid sending the message that he could be courted for other work while overseeing a regulatory agency. He said his department has briefed Ritter’s transition team on key issues, and especially matters that might require decisions within 90 days after Ritter takes office.George also plans to leave his office in good condition for whoever occupies it after Jan. 9, even if it’s him.”My desk needed to be cleaned up anyway. … We’ll have it clean for whoever takes over.”
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