Colorado energy office plagued by sloppy accounting

11:36 PM, Jan 29, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - Colorado's embattled energy development office is plagued by misspending, sloppy accounting and high turnover.

That's according to a blistering state audit released Tuesday.

The audit blasts the Colorado Energy Office for not keeping track of travel expenses and contracts and for not following up to make sure projects were completed.

The audit says that the agency can't demonstrate that $252 million spent over the past six years was spent cost-effectively. Much of it was federal stimulus money.

There were only a few examples that seemed to show misspending of state funds.

In one case, the energy office paid $1,500 to send a former employee to training. The worker had resigned a month beforehand.

"All I can say is that the individuals that made that decision are no longer with this office anymore," interim director Kevin Patterson said. "That was not a direction that we gave."

The problems go back to Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's administration, including training and travel overseas with no explanation of benefit to the state. The audit also found lax oversight of contracts and a lack of record-keeping.

In one example, the office spent $25,000 and marked it simply "2008 membership" with no further info. There was no record of what group the energy office became a member of, nor of how that membership might benefit the state.

The energy office now confirms this was a membership to the Climate Registry, a nonprofit group. The Colorado Energy Office is no longer a member.

The energy office says this is mainly a paperwork problem and the money did go to energy programs.

"That's what they've tried to say for years is 'just trust us, we are spending the money the right way.' Right now we don't have any documents to prove it," said Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling,) who sits on the state audit committee.

"I think that's fair," Patterson said. "You can't go back and re-do things that weren't done."

Audit committee members from both parties say the Hickenlooper administration seems to be righting the ship.

The energy office is making a number of changes and will report back this summer.

Audit committee chair Angela Williams (D-Denver) wants to make sure "we clean this office up. We make sure that it's operating efficiently, and we move forward."

All of this leaves a burning question: how did all of this happen?

Patterson points to the federal stimulus.

"I think what happened was there was a large infusion of dollars with a very short period of time given to spend those," Patterson said.

"Shovel ready" was the term tossed around with the stimulus funding.

It appears the energy office wasn't ready for "shovel ready."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)

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