A Loan and Friendless

An ex-employee of Secretary of State Vikki Buckley tells about the fallout after a personal loan to his boss.

Everyone knows lending money to a friend can be a dicey proposition. Dicier still is extending a loan to your boss.

Today Emerson Holliday lives in a motel on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Until last year, though, he was a high-level government administrator, answering only to Colorado's secretary of state. He has a story about lending money to his boss.

Holliday was hired in June 1994 by then-secretary of state Natalie Meyer to train other state workers on how to write publications and manuals for the state's voter-registration system. He quickly became good friends with the woman who sat across from him, a twenty-year veteran of the office named Vikki Buckley.

During work hours the two colleagues often ate lunch together. (They spent so much time with each other that some co-workers thought they were having an affair; Holliday says they weren't.) After work, they socialized. Through numerous dinners and functions at Buckley's house, Holliday became even closer to Buckley and her husband, Todd.

So when Buckley announced that she would be running for secretary of state in November 1994, Holliday was only too willing to help. Although he didn't play a large role in her campaign, he was one of her crucial foot soldiers, standing on street corners holding signs, doing whatever needed to be done.

Buckley was sworn in as Colorado's secretary of state in January 1995, the first black woman, and first black Republican of either sex, to win a statewide office. Despite the victory, however, lingering campaign debts and personal financial turmoil dogged her. Holliday learned about her money troubles because he was her friend.

"One day, while we were just talking, she was looking kind of depressed. So I asked her what was going on," he recalls. "And it just came up. It wasn't a situation where she said, 'Emerson, I need some money.'"

Holliday says he nevertheless felt compelled to help out. Although Buckley was now his boss, she was also his friend. Besides, there were larger issues at stake.

"I'm an African-American and she's an African-American," he explains. "My concern was, What will this look like--the first black secretary of state filing for personal bankruptcy? I thought that maybe I could help out the cause. I guess it was kind of an altruistic thing. Anyway, that was my thinking at the time.

"I had the money, so I lent it to her. I just went to the bank and withdrew $2,700 in cash. She said she was waiting on a settlement from an auto accident she'd been injured in. So the agreement was that she'd pay me back within a couple of months, or when the car settlement came in."

About the same time, in August 1995, Holliday saw an opportunity for a promotion. The position of state election officer had opened up, and he applied. The election officer helps county clerks and other local government employees who need information and advice from the secretary of state's office.

Holliday says that at first he and two dozen other applicants competed for the job through the state's personnel department. By November, state human resources officials had narrowed the list down to six; Holliday was one of them. A written test further tightened the field to three. Once again, Holliday made the cut. The final choice would be made by Buckley.

Certainly, Holliday appears to have been qualified for the job. A former college administrator in South Dakota and San Diego, he had extensive management experience. Only the secretary of state herself knows whether the debt she owed Holliday was in the back of her mind as she mulled over which one of the finalists would get the job. (Buckley has not responded to Westword's numerous requests for comment for this story.)

In December 1995 Holliday won the appointment. Was it payback?
"At first I didn't think so, because Vicki and I were friends," Holliday says. "But now I think that may be possible. She may have thought the debt was cleared when she promoted me."

Adding credence to that notion is a lawsuit filed in Denver District Court late last year. In it, November Associates Ltd., a political consulting firm, sued Buckley for $40,000 in unpaid fees and expenses that Buckley had allegedly incurred when she hired the company to help manage her campaign.

Some people inside and outside the secretary of state's office have speculated that Buckley considered the debt paid when she appointed one of November Associates' directors, Lynn Ellins, as deputy secretary of state in early 1995. Holliday is one of those people. "Vikki did indicate [to me] that Lynn should back off trying to get this money because she made him deputy secretary of state," Holliday says.

Now back in the consulting business, Ellins denies there was any such deal, stated or implied, when he took the job as Buckley's deputy. He describes his lawsuit against the secretary of state as a simple contract dispute. Still, according to court documents, November Associates didn't demand the remainder of its fee until just after Buckley fired Ellins in August 1995.

Buckley, who is representing herself in the lawsuit, has contested the debt. Her version of the deal is that November Associates agreed to help her campaign in exchange for some consulting fees, but mostly for the exposure that Buckley herself would generate.

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