The Texas attorney general may be the state's top law enforcer, but Ken Paxton has raised eyebrows recently by hiring two high-paid staffers without following the law, the Dallas Morning News reports.
The positions for assistant attorney general and communications director were not listed for the public, even though two outsiders were hired, the News reports. Texas law states that jobs must be posted and open to the public if outside applicants are being considered. Paxton personally selected the two men he hired and did not advertise their positions.
Paxton hired Jeff Mateer, an attorney with the non-profit law firm, First Liberty, which litigates so-called religious freedom cases, and Marc Rylander, a former pastor at Paxton's church.
Paxton's office confirmed to the News that the positions weren't publicly posted, and that he interprets the law to mean he can appoint people who are above the level of deputy to taxpayer-funded positions.
“It’s important that the attorney general, or any leader of any of the state agencies, has in his leadership positions persons he trusts and believes have the ability to lead the particular organization,” Mateer told the News. “Those have been, historically, positions that have been appointed, and I think that is across the board, not just in the attorney general’s office, but across Texas state government.”
This type of activity isn't new for Paxton -- or for Texas' conservative leadership.
The Austin American-Statesman last year reviewed hundreds of pages of personnel files and found that several people with political ties to Paxton, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Rick Perry were given coveted government jobs before they had even filled out applications -- if they ever filled them out at all.
Others, who didn't have those connections, faced "months of red tape, interviews and vetting — just the sort of competition that state law envisions for coveted state jobs," according to the Statesman. Documents obtained by the paper indicate Paxton was promising well-paid public sector jobs to his political allies before he took office.
A spokeswoman for Paxton's office told the paper that jobs were doled out to hand-picked appointees without advertising or even the necessary paperwork -- and claimed there was nothing wrong with that.
"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,” Cynthia Meyer wrote in an email to the Statesman. “We are confident that we followed applicable law in selecting high-level staff.”
The result? High-level staffers making more than $70,000 a year -- hired without competition. One of those, according to the Statesman, was Paxton's former spokeswoman Allison Castle, who sailed into the $137,500-a-year job without ever bothering to apply for it. Rylander replaced Castle.
Per the Statesman:
Neither [Castle or Meyer] answered questions about how the agency picks and chooses who is appointed and who must face traditional hiring hurdles. Nor could the office point to any specific exemption from the far-reaching state statute, which reads: “Any agency … that has an employment opening for which persons from outside the agency will be considered shall list the opening with the Texas Workforce Commission.”
While the hirings appear to be illegal, the Statesman points out there is no enforcement provision written into the law.
“We don’t enforce the rule,” Lisa Givens, spokeswoman for the Texas Workforce Commission, told the Statesman. “We accept the postings. There’s no enforcement in this provision.”
Mateer confirmed to the News that Paxton personally approached him to offer him the job.
While neither man has experience working in government, both are making slightly more than their predecessors, the News reports.
Rylander helped slash the prosecution budget targeting Paxton in a securities fraud case for which he is indicted, urging the Collin County Commissioners Court in August to cut the $2 million in funding for the case. That day, the commission agreed to cut the budget drastically down to just $285,000, then later to $100,000 -- though they have since been forced to pay more than double that for prosecuting attorneys' work on the case, the News reports.
Paxton is facing three felony counts and has unsuccessfully tried to have the indictments dismissed, according to the News. He is accused of " funneling his legal clients to a friend’s investment firm without being registered with the state as an 'investment adviser representative,' a third-degree felony," along with two fraud charges of allegedly encouraging two people to invest in a tech start-up without disclosing he was being compensated by the company.