Cal Parks & Rec Secret Accounts Revealed
According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Old Town San Diego is the most visited California state park.
Nonprofit groups in California, led by the California League of Parks Associations, have been leading fundraising efforts and collecting of millions of dollars to keep some 70 state parks from closing because of $22 million in budget cuts.
Turns out, however, the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has two special funds with more than $53 million in them that was not reported to the state Department of Finance.
The existence of secret DPR funds came to light after the Sacramento Bee reported a high-ranking official acted without authorization in allowing dozens of employees to sell $271,000 of unused vacation time back to the state.
The director of California DPR, Ruth Coleman, resigned July 20, and a chief deputy director Michael Harris was fired the same day after officials learned the department was sitting on nearly $54 million in surplus funds. Coleman who joined DPR in 1999, said in her letter of resignation that she was unaware of the surplus accounts and ''appalled to learn that our documents were not accurate.''
For years, California DPR has been threatening to close parks over budget cuts. The funds date back a dozen years, according to California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, whose agency oversees the parks department.
Carolyn Schoff, president of the California League of Parks Associations, judged the secret accounts a public outrage and betrayal.
The California Attorney General's Office and the Department of Finance are investigating DPR spending, but officials report no other unauthorized spending beyond the vacation buyout program.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Finance is reviewing all the state's 560 special funds to make sure their fund balances match what has been reported to the administration and the state controller.
The Senate and Assembly plan hearings on the parks department and the state's special funds after lawmakers return from their month-long recess on Aug. 6.