Colorado Agency Plays Fast and Loose with Unauthorized Funds

January 28, 2015

CO gov’s administration contrite for spending without legislative OK

By    January 27, 2015

Henry Sobanet, director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, called Colorado Department of Human Services’ decision to spend millions of dollars hiring staff at both the youth detention and Pueblo’s mental health institute a “miscommunication.”

Photo courtesy

MENDING FENCES: Hickenlooper budget director Henry Sobanet asked lawmakers to reverse their decisions to take money away from human service.

“Whatever I can do in my power to never have this happen again I will do,” he said.

Interim Chief of Staff Kevin Patterson said he understands why lawmakers from both parties were upset by CDHS actions.

“We are not begrudging your reaction to this one bit,” he told the Joint Budget Committee staff.

Last year, CDHS hired 53 new staff members for juvenile detention facilities, spending $1.2 million it had left over from contract placements, and hired 30 staff members, at an annual cost of $2.4 million, for the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. It was part of policy to bring inmates who were found not-guilty because of mental illness back from Department of Corrections custody to the mental health institute.

While CDHS staff repeatedly appeared before the JBC to discuss funding the hires for the next fiscal year, they never told lawmakers they were already bring the staff on board with leftover money.

This upset lawmakers and staff.

“The fact that the Department elected to make a policy change, spend state funds to implement that policy change, and take actions that are not easily reversed prior to seeking authorization from the General Assembly is completely inconsistent with the legislature’s plenary power over appropriations,” staff wrote in a JBC briefing paper.

“You raise the cultural of understanding, the partnership of understanding,” Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said during Monday’s hearing. “I’m curious who knew what, when.”

Photo courtesy State Legislature website

ANGRY LAWMAKER: State Sen. Pat Steadman has repeatedly expressed his anger at CDHS going around lawmakers and spending tax money.

Sobanet dodged the question of what happened to allow CDHS to spend the money without notification, but he repeatedly assured lawmakers it will not happen again.

“We take very serious our relationship with the committee,” he said. “We have a ‘no surprises’ rule and that is something we need to manage better internally.”

Patterson said after the hearing he believes it was an honest mistake by CDHS staff in failing to inform the Legislature, and he said there have been internal discussions but no consequences for human services staff failures.

In the past two weeks, JBC voted unanimously to rescind the money CDHS spent on the hires and Sobanet said if lawmakers don’t reverse that stance they may be forced to return inmates to DOC custody and possibly lay off some of the juvenile detention staff. Or the administration might have to exceed its budget, he said.

Arthur Kane is an investigative reporter who covers Colorado and Oklahoma. You can follow him at @ArthurMKane. If you have tips or investigative ideas, email him at

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