DENVER — With less than 40 days before the 72nd Colorado General Assembly is due to begin, incoming new leadership in the State Senate found itself in the cross hairs of current Senate leadership over the long holiday weekend.
Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, who is expected to be named Senate President, notified Senate Secretary Effie Ameen on Wednesday that she was being let go from her current non-partisan role, and sometime between Nov. 21 and Monday, Ameen lost access to her email and computer.
Garcia, who has no authority to make any decisions regarding the Senate and will not have that authority until the new session convenes in January, also immediately rehired former Senate Secretary Cindy Markwell, who was the secretary when Democrats last had control of the Senate from 2010-2015.
The moves — which the Office of Legislative Legal Services (OLLS) says were against Senate protocol — has already created a rift between Senate Republicans and Democrats.
“Setting aside the audacity to fire a nonpartisan Senate staff member the day before Thanksgiving, the Secretary of the Senate is a staff member who is elected by the 35 members of the Colorado State Senate, and as such, cannot be unilaterally removed by any one member of the body,” current Senate President Kevin Grantham said in a press release. “I have demanded that Effie Ameen be reinstated, as per law, as she is still the elected Secretary of the Colorado State Senate.”
The Office of Legislative Legal Services is a non-partisan department of the Colorado General Assembly that acts as “in-house counsel … and writes laws, produces statutes, reviews administrative rules, comments on initiated measures, and serves as a resource of legislative information for the public.”
In a response to Grantham’s inquiry, Legal Services said in short: “No, neither the current Senate President nor the Senate President-designate has such authority,” the decision read. “Since the Secretary of the Senate is elected by the Senate and serves at the pleasure of the Senate, the Senate has the exclusive authority to remove the Secretary of Senate, which requires a vote of a majority of its members.”
According to Senate rules, to be elected as the “Secretary of the Senate … the Senate must vote to show approval of the appointment by electing the Secretary by a vote of majority of the members of the Senate. This vote occurs when, on the first day of the legislative session, a motion is made by the Senate Majority Leader that a named individual serve as the Secretary during that legislative session.”
According to Senate Republican Communication Director Sage Naumann, because the process was not actually followed appropriately, Ameen remains secretary, and staff was working to restore her credentials. She was not in the Capitol on Monday.
Markwell was in the Capitol on Monday, but was informed at the same time as Garcia that her hire was not official and the proper process would need to be followed when the new session takes up on Jan. 4, Naumann said.
Garcia had not returned request for comment as of press time. The story will be updated as necessary.
Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas said it was his understanding that in the past when new leadership wanted to hire a new Senate Secretary, the President-elect, Majority Leader and the incoming Minority Leader would meet, put out requests for proposal and conduct interviews with qualified candidates. They would then vote on who they would nominate to the full Senate, but only when the legislature is in session.
Holbert said he was not consulted by either Garcia or incoming Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder. He received notice from Fenberg that it had already occurred. He was also not aware of Ameen’s reinstatement until it was announced. Holbert emphasized that regardless, only the full Senate can elect a new Secretary and only when the legislature is in session.
Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, current Majority Whip and soon-to-be Assistant Minority Leader, said knowing Garcia, a Marine, as a rules guy, he’s surprised he made the move on his own and didn’t wait until after the new session started and new leadership was in place.
Cooke said he hopes this type of play by Democrats does not become the norm, although he said it’s a probability.
“I hope not,” Cooke said. “I hope communication is open and honest between the two parties. I think (Grantham) and (Majority Leader Chris Holbert) worked well with Democrat minority leadership. I hope the Dems will work well with Republican Minority Leadership.”