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Calif. Parks Enlist Outsiders to Reform System

The California state parks system, beset by financial problems and scandal, is launching a study commission that leaders hope will reshape the system and restore public confidence and financial stability.

As reported by the Associated Press, the group of private sector business leaders will study everything from how big the park system should be, to whether individual parks can do a better job generating revenue, and if the current practice of promoting only law enforcement rangers to leadership positions has led to a lack of innovation at the top.

“Everything is going to be on the table,” John Laird, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, told The Associated Press.

On Monday, Laird is scheduled to announce formation of the independent Parks Forward Commission, a privately financed panel that will study how to revamp the parks system for 18 months. It comes a year after scandals and problems threatened to shutter a quarter of the state’s 280 parks.

Laird will appoint up to a dozen leaders from business, finance, public policy and arts communities to examine the structure of the department and assess future needs for a state of 38 million people and growing.

“They have to be intellectually honest and creative in coming up with solutions, especially in how we are organized,” said Anthony Jackson, a retired Marine Corps major general appointed last fall to lead the parks department out of its troubles.

Jackson already has hired new top management and is looking at other changes. Staff is testing technology that allows visitors to swipe credit cards to pay for entrance and parking, rather than collecting cash and driving it to the bank as is done now in what Jackson called “1950s technology.”

Jackson also is looking at making park passes more accessible by selling them at retail sporting goods outlets, as fishing and hunting licenses are.

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