Audit: Bureaucrats knew about Park Dept. surplus

February 14, 2013 8:37:39 PM PST
The scandal over the millions in state park money that was hidden by administrators was back in the news Thursday. We are now learning that the state officials overseeing the parks knew about the secret fund for more than a decade and they did nothing.

A new audit requested by lawmakers confirms state park bureaucrats knew about accounting discrepancies in which $54 million in budget surpluses were deliberately unreported for years. An employee brought them up back in 1999 and a different worker did so again in 2011. But managers at parks headquarters kept sweeping it under the rug until an embarrassing scandal exposed it last year.

"Some of the staff there did tell us that they were told to continue to report it the way it had been reported and out of fear on what impact it might have on their appropriations," said Margarita Fernandez from the State Auditor's Office.

"It's deeply disturbing," said Assm. Adam Gray, D-Chairman of Joint Legislative Audits. He has already called a hearing for Tuesday. "I have some concern that his could be a broader problem. Is it just the Parks Department or are there other departments out there?"

When the Great Recession forced budget cuts in recent years, the state created a list of 70 parks to close. Again, no one piped up to say hidden money could save them.

The audit also criticized how parks came up with a closure list. In some cases, the department used numbers from 2002 to determine which parks to close in 2012.

In other instances, bureaucrats didn't even know how much it cost to run a particular park. St. Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, had some parks in his district on that list.

"It shows me the decision-making process was probably not the best. It shows me the decision-making process needs improvement," said Correa..

The Parks Department agrees with the audit and has already made improvements so this doesn't happen again.

"The bottom line here is we're committed to improvements and openness and transparency to put our parks system back together for a better fiscal future," said Roy Stearns from the California Parks & Recreation.

Most parks employees involved resigned or have been terminated. The Attorney General declined to press criminal charges, and no parks have been closed.

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