Feb 2, 2011 7:16 AM by Bea Karnes

Secretary of state backtracks, won't take side job

DENVER (AP)-Colorado's new secretary of state has changed his mind on taking a side job that earned him widespread criticism from both parties.

Republican Scott Gessler, who oversees elections, said last month that he couldn't get by on his official annual salary of $68,500 and would take a side job working 20 hours a month for his old law firm, Hackstaff Law Group.

The side job elicited howls of protest because the firm is known for handling elections law. Gessler's insistence that he wouldn't handle cases related to his official duties didn't silence critics who called the job a conflict of interest.

Gessler asked Republican Attorney General John Suthers for a ruling on the matter. Suthers delivered an oral opinion last week, and though both officials cited attorney-client privilege in keeping the conversation secret, Gessler said Tuesday he will forgo work for Hackstaff.

Gessler said in a letter that Hackstaff wouldn't allow him to disclose his clients in order to assure the public that he wasn't working on cases related to his official duties.

"I cannot in good conscience expect anyone to subject themselves to public scrutiny, merely because I am doing some legal work for them," Gessler wrote.

Another newly elected official, Republican Treasurer Walker Stapleton, has said he'll continue working part time for a real estate investment firm. That firm is publicly traded and doesn't do business in Colorado.

Suthers works part-time as a law professor.

Gessler's side job, first reported by the Denver Business Journal, prompted debate in the Capitol about whether statewide officials need a raise. Gessler, who lashed out at critics who pointed out that he knew the secretary of state's salary before he ran for the job, said in his statement Tuesday that he didn't want to ask for a raise given the state's budget woes.

"I carefully avoided recommending any higher compensation for elected officials, because it is truly an honor to serve as secretary of state. But like many middle-class families in these tough economic times, I am trying hard to square my family obligations with my salary restrictions," Gessler said in his letter.

One of Gessler's top critics, Colorado Ethics Watch head Luis Toro, praised Gessler's decision to back off taking a side job with a law firm that handles elections disputes.

"It just wasn't appropriate," Toro said. "There was broad consensus about that."


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