Lawmakers: Convention will test Colorado security plan
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” The Democratic National Convention next month will test Colorado’s homeland security preparations after three audits criticized the state’s planning and spending, members of Colorado’s congressional delegation said Monday.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., said the convention “will put to the test all of the precautions” put in place since three scathing audits prompted Gov. Bill Ritter to reorganize state planning under a new Office of Homeland Security under his supervision.
Ritter told state lawmakers, police, fire and other first responders at a homeland security meeting the audits were highly critical of the administration of federal programs under former Gov. Bill Owens.
Mike Beasley, Owens’ former director of the Department of Local Affairs, rejected the audit findings when they were announced and said the spending was legal under grant guidelines at the time. He said the rules kept changing and there was no guidance from the federal government.
Ritter created the Office of Homeland Security this year and made the director part of his Cabinet, saying it would reduce “fragmentation” in Colorado’s efforts to prepare and respond to potential terrorist threats and natural disasters.
Ritter appointed retired Colorado National Guard Maj. Gen. Mason Whitney to lead the office, whose 14 staffers are being paid a total of about $1 million a year using money from the state’s federal homeland security grants.
In December, a federal audit found that Colorado officials failed to tightly monitor how they spent more than $156 million in grants from 2003 to 2006 and found that $7.8 million were misspent. It also found that local security officials failed to meet on a routine basis. Ritter scheduled quarterly planning meetings.
Another audit by the state concluded that a long-unfinished statewide radio system for emergency responders still didn’t and the state lacked sufficient information to fix it.
The audit last October showed the Department of Local Affairs had no idea of the number of radios or linking devices that local public-safety and first-responder agencies need to be interconnected, or the additional training and exercises needed.
The failure of agencies to be able to talk to each other became an issue after student gunmen went on a shooting rampage through Columbine in 1999, killing 12 students and a teacher at the suburban Denver school. Several responding law enforcement agencies couldn’t talk to each other on the same radio system.
A third audit criticized the state for a lack of planning and administration of homeland security projects.
Ritter said he’s confident most of the problems have been fixed and the state is ready for any disaster, natural or manmade.
Arapahoe County Grayson Robinson, spokesman for the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said regional planning and cooperation has improved and federal funds have been used to buy equipment that first responders can share in an emergency.
He said there is still a problem getting a straight answer from the federal government on changing guidelines for grants, making it difficult for smaller agencies across the state to get money and qualify for federal programs.
Vail Police Chief Dwight Henniger, representing the Colorado Association of Police Chiefs, said rural communities are having trouble reaching agreement on what they need because of the vastly different communities of interest across the state, ranging from resort communities to mining towns.
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