Colorado Revenue Director M. Michael Cooke on Tuesday pledged to fix Lottery management problems found by state auditors.
Cooke's department includes the Colorado Lottery, where Mark Zamarripa resigned as director on Nov. 12, just hours before he was to meet with Cooke to discuss travel expenses questioned by state auditors.
"I think it's fair to say I'm continuing to look at expenses and other issues in the Lottery that have given me cause for concern," Cooke said. "We want to change some of the culture of the Lottery."
Zamarripa described his resignation as a previously planned retirement and said Cooke's critiques over such issues as travel were minor.
Cooke is treating the issues seriously, however, and she said it's premature to speculate on what effect, if any, her further investigation will have on Zamarripa.
She said the controversy will not affect Pueblo's status as Lottery headquarters with the largest number of the agency's employees.
"The Lottery headquarters will remain in Pueblo. That's in law. There's noting I would do to change that," Cooke said.
"We're in the process of hiring a new Lottery director. That director may reside either in Pueblo or Denver, but the instructions are that the work will be in both places and require travel between the two cities," she said.
Pueblo has the headquarters staff, while the Lottery maintains a large marketing office in Denver and smaller sales forces based in Fort Collins and Grand Junction.
Cooke became revenue director last January and has been reviewing the efficiency of all of the divisions within her department.
"My changes are not just restricted to the Lottery," she said. "I've looked broadly at the department to make sure we have appropriate policies and controls."
Cooke agreed with all 15 audit recommendations and started implementing management reforms even before the auditors' report was made public on Dec. 1. They include new controls on:
- Travel expenses. Now, all requests must go to the Revenue Department's accounting and financial services office to make sure the travel is reasonable and appropriate. Then, requests go to Cooke for final approval.
"I make sure there's value added by an employee's participation in a conference or trip. I just go through each one," Cooke said. "I am now reviewing everybody's out-of-state travel requests."
- Cell phone expenses. Employees must show a justifiable business need for a cell phone and must attach billing information to requests for reimbursement. Employees must pay for personal calls.
- Official functions expenses for meals, meetings, employee dvents, retirements and other things outside normal budget line items.
"My approval is required for any dvent with an aggregate expense of more than $100," Cooke said.
Until a permanent successor to Zamarripa is named, Cooke said, she is working with Tom Kitts, Lottery deputy director and former director of the Colorado Division of Gaming.
While Cooke has taken a hands-on approach, she said overall strategy for the conduct of Lottery games continues to rest with the Lottery Commission, which is appointed by the governor.
"The Lottery Commission approves the strategy, and primarily the director and marketing staff make decisions on day-to-day activities," Cooke said. "When it comes to expenses, I have a responsibility to ensure we are as efficient as we can be with the money appropriated to us."
Cooke is tackling other audit findings, including Colorado exceeding the national average for Lottery expenses compared with proceeds going to intended beneficiaries - parks, recreation, wildlife and open-space conservation programs.
Another audit concern was payment of sales bonuses whether Lottery sales are up or down over the year.
Auditors found that 34 of the 39 employees eligible for the incentive pay received bonuses averaging $6,000 a year.
"I can assure you this problem won't come up again (in the next performance audit) in five years," Cooke told the Legislative Audit Committee on Dec. 1.
"The auditors raised the question about whether bonuses were really incentives or too easy," Cooke said.
"I've asked the staff to provid me with the bonus information from a historical perspective and over the last three years. We need to determine if the bonus program is the best way to go or do we need to apply the state's regular pay-for-performance program."