Political & Election Law: New Executive Director Installed at Texas Ethics Commission: Wholesale Turnover at Agency is Halfway Through

Friday, February 17, 2017

Last month, the Texas Ethics Commission formally announced that Seana Willing will be its new Executive Director. Ms. Willing assumes office on February 13, 2017, filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Natalia Luna Ashley. For the previous thirteen years, Willing has served as the Executive Director of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the agency responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct and for disciplining judges.

Willing’s hiring continues a period of significant turnover at the Commission. The appointed Commission itself is comprised of eight bipartisan appointees, with four appointed by the Governor, two by the Lieutenant Governor, and two by the Speaker of the House. Last year saw the appointment of three new commissioners, two by Governor Greg Abbott and one by House Speaker Joe Straus. Of the remaining five commissioners, it is highly likely that most, if not all, will be replaced at some point this year.

Currently, one Commissioner is “holding over” despite a term that expired in 2015. Four other Commissioners have terms expiring in November of this year; of those four, three were appointed by politicians no longer in office. Some of those members will likely be ineligible for reappointment due to the Commission’s constitutionally imposed term limits. The Texas Constitution provides that a “vacancy on the commission shall be filled for the unexpired term” but goes on to say that a “member who has served for one term and any part of a second term is not eligible for reappointment.”

With the Texas legislature in session, a new Executive Director (hired from outside the agency) on board, three relatively new commissioners, and five commissioners facing replacement this year, 2017 has to potential to be a transformative year for the Texas Ethics Commission.