The Democratic Candidate for Lt. Governor, Joe Garcia, has asked to take a leave of absence from his position as President of Colorado State University Pueblo.
This comes just days after an announcement that Garcia had been chosen by Denver's Mayor John Hickenlooper to run on the ticket. It was a blow the Colorado State University Systems Board of Governors didn't see coming. "There is this melancholy that you have to consider down the line. But for the moment, we have to put our energies and our focus on what's best over the period of time between now and the election," said Chancellor of the Board, Joe Blake.
Blake and the rest of the board met on Tuesday and Wednesday during a previously scheduled meeting, to discuss their options. When it was all said and done, the board opted to keep Garcia in his position for a transition period that would allow them to put a temporary president in place without to much disruption to the university.
The board asked CSU-Fort Collins President Dr. Tony Frank to step into the role and run both universities on the short term basis. Frank agreed and will work hand-in-hand with Garcia until September when he will take the reigns himself. "The ability to understand from Joe what issues are ongoing, where he's at in his planning processes. To pick up the ball and not lose any momentum is absolutely critical," said Frank.
The board took great care to explain its decisions were being made in the best interest of the University and its ability to function at a high level. Since Garcia arrived in Pueblo four years ago, the school has become one of the fastest growing schools in the state.
Meanwhile, State Republican Chairman Dick Wadhams praised the board of governors for what he calls the repudiation of a scheme to abuse taxpayers. Wadhams argues that because Garcia is not an elected official and a full time state employee (paid with taxpayer dollars), he should not be allowed to get paid while he campaigns across the state.
In a statement released by his office, he accuses Garcia of trying to bilk Colorado taxpayers. "Joe Garcia arrogantly declared this past weekend that he planned 'to serve as president of CSU-Pueblo through at least the November election' despite campaigning virtually full time around the state. Mr. Garcia apparently assumed Colorado taxpayers had a duty to pay him while he abandoned his duties in Pueblo to campaign," read an excerpt from Wadhams statement.
However, insiders at the college tell KKTV it was Garcia's idea to seek a leave of absence in the first place and that the board did not force this on him.
The board of directors did work with Garcia to reach what both sides are calling an appropriate final agreement in which Garcia will continue to work at the University until early September. He will work with Dr. Frank and Chancellor Blake getting them up to speed on the schools operations and status. During this time, he will not be allowed to campaign during business hours, and he will not be allowed to use college resources at any time.
If Garcia wants to campaign during business hours, he must request and take vacation time to do so. After September 10, Garcia is being allowed to use up all of his vacation time for the year. This amounts to an estimated five weeks. After that vacation time is used up, he will switch over to an unpaid leave of absence status.
KKTV talked to Garcia after the agreement was made official. He agrees with Wadhams on one point, a paid state employee should not be campaigning on the taxpayers dime, and that is why he sought this leave of absence. "It is the right thing to do. We need to make sure that people look at CSU-Pueblo and the CSU Board of Governors as scrupulously following the law," said Garcia.
When asked if he would demand that any Republican candidates who are non-elected, full time state employees, resign from their positions Wadhams said, "Absolutely, if they were running for statewide election." He also says the agreement the CSU Board and Garcia have reached is an appropriate one.
As for the long term effects of this race, if the Hickenlooper-Garcia ticket wins the governors race, Garcia will resign from CSU-Pueblo. If they lose, Blake says, Garcia will return to his position as President of the University.