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Government/Politics

Texas AG Fills Several Top Jobs Without Public Postings

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Ryan E. Poppe

AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office hired several people from his campaign and elsewhere, before they submitted applications or the jobs were posted publicly, as required by state law.

Fourteen people who worked on Paxton’s campaign or for former Gov. Rick Perry or U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were given administrative jobs in the new attorney general’s office, the Austin American-Statesman.

Only one of those jobs was advertised, and records obtained by the newspaper show that Paxton’s office had chosen someone for it the day before the posting went online. The hires highlight ethics laws that are often ignored and have no enforcement mechanisms behind them.

Several Perry hires were found last year to have received their positions without any competition, the newspaper reported.

And another new statewide official, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, created four assistant commissioner positions — each paying $180,000 annually — and appointed people for all of them. Two assistant commissioners donated their time as consultants for his campaign.

A state law requires agencies to list any openings that will involve external candidates with the Texas Workforce Commission.

Cynthia Meyer, a spokeswoman for Paxton, said his office was “confident that we followed applicable law in selecting high-level staff.”

“It is common practice for high-level positions to be appointed to help the constitutional officer implement the policies the people elected him or her to do," :she said in a statement. She did not respond to questions about what positions Paxton's office had designated as "high-level."

One letter released by the attorney general’s office was written by the East Texas field director of Paxton’s campaign, Thomas Taylor. In the letter, Taylor said he hadn’t looked for jobs after the campaign because he expected to work for the attorney general's office “based on conversations I have had with Ken over the past year.”

Taylor eventually received a $95,000-a-year position as a grants administrator.

Others in Paxton's office went through a rigorous hiring process. Assistant Attorney General Jessica Lesser competed against six other candidates and went through multiple interviews, according to her personnel file.

By comparison, longtime Paxton staffer Ben Williams' employment application was almost completely empty. He received an intergovernmental relations position that pays $90,000 a year.

Paxton faces a separate ethics inquiry related to investment advice he gave without registering with the state. Two special prosecutors say they'll soon present evidence for a possible felony securities fraud charge to a North Texas grand jury.

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, the group that filed an initial complaint into Paxton's securities work, said the state requirement to post jobs is “black and white.”

"In Texas, cronyism is allowed," McDonald said. “But you have to at least follow the rules.”