The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission faces a leadership void as the state agency prepares for the 2006 elections while still dealing with a number of controversial enforcement cases from last year.
The state agency’s two top administrators have resigned within the past month. Executive director Colleen Connor left her post in mid-June to establish her own law and public affairs firm. Deputy director Eric G orsenger has informed the five-member commission he will depart July 22 to join a business and education lobbying association.
After next week, the highest-ranking staff member will be the newly hired campaign finance manager, Geneva Richardson. Gorsenger said he believes Richardson and the other remaining employees have enough experience to keep the agency running smoothly until the commission hires an experienced election lawyer to replace Connor.
The Clean Elections commission manages Arizona’s 6-year-old system of public funding for candidates who run for the Legislature and statewide offices such as governor and secretary of state.
The staff departures come as the commission is reviewing its rules and training for 2006, when a larger number of eligible races will be on the ballot.
The commission expects to provide more than $13 million to candidates in 2006, compared with $4.28 million in 2004 when most statewide offices weren’t up for election.
Still, commission chairwoman Marsha Busching said the staff departures shouldn’t disrupt planning for 2006.
"I don’t think there could be a better time since we’re winding down from the last election and starting to gear up for the next election but aren’t in the middle of it yet," Busching said.
The agency also is still addressing complaints against a variety of legislative candidates from last year. The commission already had hired an outside investigator, Gene Lemon, to deal with several of the most high-profile cases, including state Reps. David Burnell Smith and Colette Rosati, both Scottsdale Republicans.
Now, the commission is working to have Lemon take over the reviews of other candidate complaints, Busching said.
Lemon is a former commission chairman and a retired corporate general counsel.
The commission is accepting applications for executive director until July 25. After seeing those applications, the commission must decide how quickly the agency can move to hire someone, Busching said.