Delaware Treasurer candidates square off in debate

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Delaware Treasurer Chip Flowers squared off against opponent Sean Barney during a debate Tuesday night at Widener Law School.

Flowers and Barney are vying to be the Democratic candidate in the November election for state treasurer.

Flowers said if was reelected, he’d continue to help the state invest in ways that result in positive returns and push for additional financial reform.  

Flowers highlighted that he has helped the state generate $44 million in revenue during his four years in office. He also continued to promote his “Honest Way” amendments aimed at reforming the Cash Management Policy Board.

Barney, a former policy director for Gov. Jack Markell, said if elected, he’d work to make sure investments are protected while providing additional financial education for Delawareans.

Audience members asked the candidates what powers the treasurer’s office should possess after legislation was passed earlier this year “clarifying” some of the treasurer’s responsibilities with regards to the Cash Management Policy Board.   

The legislation was introduced after Flowers and members of the board clashed over how to manage the state’s $2 billion portfolio.

During the debate, Barney accused Flowers of going around the board and making his own decisions for the portfolio.

“He has tried to go around the Cash MManagement Policy Board and at times he’s tried to do away with it,” Barney said. “I think that would be a very dangerous thing. We have a Cash Management Policy Board for a reason. It is a safeguard. For one elected official to have control of $2 billion is a recipe for corruption.”  

Flowers said he went around the board after some members asked him to put the state’s money in banks where they held stocks. He also said some of his investment decisions clashed with Gov. Jack Markell, who has also held the state treasurer’s seat.

“People can have a legitimate disagreement of opinions, it doesn’t mean you go rewrite the law to get your way,” Flowers said.

The candidates were also asked how they’d get legislation passed to strengthen transparency and make the office more accountable.

Barney said Flowers failed to help the General Assembly pass legislation that would require members of the Cash Management Policy Board to disclose their finances yearly instead of every three years. 

“Not a huge change, but he couldn’t get it done,” Barney said.

Flowers said he’s been working on strengthening financial disclosure laws for years, but has been met with resistance by Markell’s administration.

Flowers said he’d like to set term limits for board members and have a better mix of members to include more elected officials.

The issue of travel also came up during the debate. Flowers has been criticized for traveling to meet with banks that hold the state’s money, while Barney argued that performance reviews can be conducted electronically. “There’s no need to be wined and dined in New York to conduct this,” he said. Flowers said the trips are a necessary oversight.

“In the days of Bernie Madoff and other sham operations it’s unacceptable to give people money and not have oversight and expect them to come to you,” he said.

The primary election will be held Sept. 9. 

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