Mesa State may opt out of state system

GJ Republicans to sponsor bill to let employees vote on issue

DENVER — Mesa State College workers could hold a vote to opt out of the state personnel system under a bill introduced by two Grand Junction Republicans on Wednesday.

While Rep. Laura Bradford, who introduced House Bill 1007 with Sen. Steve King on the opening day of the 2011 session, said classified workers at the four-year institution favor the idea, a union that represents state workers said that’s hard to believe.

“The personnel system was put into place at higher-education institutions for a reason, which was to protect the taxpayer from abuse of public dollars at public universities and to prevent nepotism and abuse of the system,” said Scott Wasserman, political director for Colorado WINS.

“This definitely is a slippery slope,” he said. “This would just be opening the door even wider. Some of the state colleges are taking advantage of the financial crisis and throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

The state personnel system, which is set in law, defines such things as classifying state jobs to determine what workers are paid, what their benefits are, oversees employee-conduct policies and outlines how they can be hired and fired.

Bradford, who said she was asked to carry the measure by college employees, said the employees she talked to support the idea.

“Go along with this? This has been a majority of their idea,” the Collbran Republican said. “The group that I’ve been meeting with are the employees, and they have had hands-on in the drafting of this bill.”

She said Mesa State President Tim Foster has kept his distance during the drafting of the idea, adding it’s the employees who want to have an election on the subject.

“They want to be able to have an election so they can have a choice to move from the state system to a system that the college has,” Bradford said. “In all the meetings that I’ve had, President Foster was only there once. He did not want his hands on it, and they needed to own it and needed to know they had direct contact with me as the sponsor of the bill.”

She said some of the college employees are considering the idea, in part, because they are uncertain about the future of the state’s pension plan under the Colorado Public Employee Retirement Association, which has been hit hard by the stock market.

She said the bill allows an election to get out of the system, but in case they reject it, it requires Foster to wait at least a year later before he can hold another vote on the same subject.

Bradford said the current personnel system makes it harder for the school to fire workers, something it wants to do with a few of them.

“It gives the college the ability to hire and fire at a discretionary level that they currently do not have,” Bradford said. “Their hands are tied at certain times with the unions. There’s employees there now — I don’t know how many, I certainly don’t know names — but that the administration would like to make some changes in, and can’t.”

Wasserman said the college wants it both ways. It wants to get millions in state funds, but it doesn’t want to follow state rules governing its workers, he said.

“They’re saying, ‘We want public dollars, we want to be part of the state system, but we don’t want to have to be held accountable to the taxpayer when it comes to how we use this money for our personnel,’” Wasserman said.

“They’re saying to employees, ‘Would you like to give up your rights, and would you like to give up some of these protections?’”

He said the bill also would allow the college to create another layer of bureaucracy at a time when legislators are talking about limiting government and streamlining operations.



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