Released today: The Attorney General’s “Report of Investigation into Discrepancies in Financial Reports Submitted by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.”
The audit of the California state parks department sheds light on why senior officials covered up an unreported funding surplus of as much as $29 million for a decade or more. The report says department managers hid the surplus first because they were concerned about future budget cuts, then out of fear of "embarrassment" if the cover-up were to be disclosed. The report's executive summary concludes the extra money seems "to have represented an essentially useless reserve that could not be spent by the Parks Department as there was no legislative appropriation to do so."
Former State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned when the surplus was reported last July. She denied any knowledge of the hidden funds, and the audit found that reports that she was aware of the extra funds are "unreliable."
The report says charges that the department also hid more than $34 million in the parks Off-Highway Vehicle fund were unfounded.
The revelation of the surplus engendered outrage this summer in light of the scheduled closure of dozens of 70 state parks because of what was thought to be a $22 million budget gap over two fiscal years. But, as The California Report's Rachael Myrow wrote in July, "Most of those closures did not happen because of near-heroic fundraising from non-profits across the state. (T)he money, [however], could also have prevented cutbacks in hours, staffing and services systemwide."