Posted: Nov. 19, 2013
MORE FLAK FOR CHIP FLOWERS
By Celia Cohen
The state treasurer had another one of those days.
This time he did not have to travel as far as a national conference in Alaska to be called upon to justify himself. He only had to travel as close as the state conference center at Buena Vista near New Castle, where the Cash Management Policy Board met on Tuesday.
This is a panel the average Delawarean should never have to know about. It oversees the investment of billions of dollars of the state's money. If the board is doing its job, it should be like the air. As long as there is nothing to notice about it, everything is fine.
It toiled in blissful obscurity for a long time. Then Chip Flowers came along, and ever since he was elected the Democratic state treasurer in 2010, the board's equilibrium has not been the same.
Flowers asserted that the authority over the state's investments resides in his office, and the board countered that it was expressly set up to ensure that no single officeholder could have such power.
As Glenn Kenton, who was the secretary of state when the board was created more than 30 years ago, famously said about the state's money, "It's not a slush fund for the state treasurer."
The dispute has been heated enough that the General Assembly made noises about getting involved. In a show of legislative muscle, a bill favoring the board was co-sponsored by Patti Blevins, the Senate's Democratic president pro tem, and Pete Schwartzopf, the House's Democratic speaker, although it was not considered before the session ended on June 30.
All of that was before Flowers' travel documentation to Alaska turned into a messy dog-ate-my-homework spectacle. Who could ever forget that room-service breakfast tab for a farmers omelet, wheat toast, pancakes, two orders of bacon, two orders of apple juice, orange juice and a small pot of coffee?
By the time the board met, Flowers was rattled and placating and fighting for his political life. The board saw its opportunities, and it took them.
It decided to go to the attorney general for an opinion clarifying its powers and to the legislature for the bill that would settle its status once and for all.
"I think we need the legislature to come in and resolve this," said Jeff Bullock, the secretary of state who sits on the board.
Flowers wanted no parts of any legislation. He backpedaled, trying to prevent a political setback-in-the-making, and acted as if he had never had a disagreement with the board about its authority.
"The board has the power to make investment decisions," Flowers said.
Never mind that his previous position -- in writing -- was to regard the board "as a violation of the constitutional powers of a state treasurer."
Flowers protested, "You haven't lived my wonderful experience as an African-American treasurer in the state of Delaware."
It probably did not help Flowers' state of mind that Ken Simpler Jr., a financial professional being mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for treasurer in 2014, sat through the meeting.
Simpler also availed himself of the situation by asking if more financial documents could be posted on the treasurer's Web site.
"We are more than happy to be transparent," Flowers shot back. "When we're on the campaign trail next year, I want you to have just as many numbers as I do."
It was something to watch. Collin O'Mara, the secretary for natural resources and environmental control, was there for guidance on some departmental investments but could not resist commenting on it.
"My regional board on fracking is nothing compared to you guys," O'Mara cracked.