Colorado treasurer kept blank state checks for disaster spending
Associated Press Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
DENVER (AP) ” Former state Treasurer Mike Coffman said Friday he wasn’t satisfied with a plan by ex-Gov. Bill Owens to keep government running if a disaster shut down the state Capitol, so he stashed blank checks worth up to $1 billion in a safe deposit box.
Coffman said he and three other state employees were authorized to sign the checks, which only required one signature. The checks are still in the safe deposit box, even though Coffman has since become secretary of state.
Coffman said he was concerned over how the state would pay its bills if someone attacked the Capitol and shut down the state’s computer system, which controls bank accounts. He said he set up the safe deposit box in a local bank in 2005 as a backup plan.
Coffman, a member of the Marine Reserves, said with his military background, he didn’t think the governor’s office was thinking big enough about the potential for a disaster. Coffman said he didn’t inform Owens about his plan because he had the authority to do it on his own.
“We were talking about a complete breakdown of government, and what we would do,” said Coffman.
“The checks would be drawn on the state’s operating account, which on any given day has over $1 billion in assets,” a source who previously worked in the treasurer’s office told The Associated Press. “We never anticipated we’d do it, but we were prepared.”
Coffman identified the four authorized to sign the checks as himself, deputy treasurer Ben Stein, and two employees who manage state accounts. All but one, Doug Windes, have left the department.
Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who took over after Coffman left office in January, said all four still have access to the safe deposit box but only Windes still has the authority to sign the checks.
Kennedy said she will look at Coffman’s plan and determine if it’s still needed. She said she had no immediate problem with it but that most of the operations in her office are done electronically and her employees can work from home.
“I’m concerned we’re spending money on a safe deposit box we may no longer need,” she said.
Kennedy said a backup plan allowing employees to work from remote locations was put into effect during recent blizzards and worked well. Employees unable to report to their regular places of work have the same authority as they have in their state offices to transfer state funds, she said.
“Our backup plan went into effect when the Capitol closed for the December blizzard. We were able to make all of the transfers from remote locations,” Kennedy said.
Coffman said that in July 2005, he was not satisfied with the state’s plan for running a backup computer system and developed his own plan to move operations to a conference room in the bank where the state keeps its blank checks.
Coffman said the J.P. Morgan bank has international connections and would be more likely to have more backup systems than the state.
Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, said she didn’t know about Coffman’s plan and was very concerned about the lack of control or supervision for state funds.
“I’m horrified that in a democracy, one person thinks they can do that on their own. I don’t think that was within his authority,” she said.
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