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State Parks Staff Kept Millions Off Books While Saying it Had Shortfall

Local legislators say they are "shocked" by recent discovery that State Parks was offering vacation buy-outs and squirreling away $54 million while calling for closure of 70 parks due to "budget shortfall."

 

The Sacramento Bee reported Friday that State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned and her deputy was fired after officials learned the department has been sitting on nearly $54 million in surplus money for as long as 12 years. 

State Parks carried out a secret vacation buyout program for employees at department headquarters last year, in which employees could sell unused vacation time back to the state, at a cost of more than $271,000, the Bee reported.

Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), who represents southern Sonoma County and Marin in the state legislature, said in a statement that it was "troubling and frustrating" to hear that  officials secretly withheld $54 million in state funds.

Huffman chairs the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and also serves as co-chair of the Legislative Environmental Caucus. State parks such as because of state budget problems.

"(It comes) at a time when my colleagues and I, along with hundreds of California residents, over the past few years to scrape up enough funds and resources to help save 70 state parks from closure due to budget cuts," he said. "While many of these state parks have since been saved, it is only temporary relief as we continue to secure a more sustainable funding stream.

"I find it shocking that $54 million in state funds were kept off the books over the past several years, when we’ve been told several times by State Parks officials that the funding wasn’t there to keep all of our parks functioning."

Huffman, who represents the 6th Assembly District, which encompasses southern Sonoma County and all of Marin, has repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of transparency and the "fortress mentality" at State Parks.

"The only good news I can see from this scandal is that it will bring much-needed transparency, accountability, and a serious ‘reset’ to an agency that desperately needs it," he said. "One thing that’s clear from this scandal is the state has the duty to keep every park open while we clean house at State Parks and resolve problems.

Huffman said he would work with Gov. Jerry Brown and and state Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird on the changes that are going to be necessary to restore public trust and confidence in state parks management and operations.

Brown appointed a replacement for Coleman on Friday.

don July 23, 2012 at 09:30 PM
I feel all who have or had knowledge about this cover up, and that's what it is, need to be terminated immediately, have their state employee "entitlements" removed and no eligibility for EDD for the first year after termination. These dirt bags broke the law and caused much upset with the people of California. This is despicable and there is NO excuse for these people.
don July 23, 2012 at 09:45 PM
I just posted a comment and got the noreply email stating my comment was posted "live" and so where the hell is it?
don July 23, 2012 at 09:46 PM
never mind!
Janette Brown July 24, 2012 at 02:54 PM
So agree with you Don! I hope they also have recovered the money and now can put it back towards our parks !

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