Top

No Charges Stemming From Calif. Park Scandal

January 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Sacramento County district attorney said Thursday (Jan. 24) that her office will not pursue criminal charges against California state parks officials in the “hidden funds” scandal because of a “failure to identify any crime” by the state attorney general.

District Attorney Jan Scully responded after the attorney general turned over its investigation into the matter, anticipating the district attorney would decide whether crimes were committed, The Sacramento Bee reported.

The investigation concluded that numerous high-ranking employees at the California Department of Parks and Recreation kept at least $20 million hidden in a “rainy day fund” for as long as 13 years, a violation of state budget rules. This continued even as the department moved in 2012 to close 70 state parks in response to general fund budget cuts.

“There is no indication who your office considers to be suspects, and if so, what crime they may have committed,” Attorney General Jan Scully wrote in the letter. “It is thus unclear why the matter has been referred to our office at all, and whether your office intends to retain its historic authority in the prosecution … of such cases.”

Officials at the attorney general’s office previously emphasized they were asked by Gov. Jerry Brown to conduct only an “administrative” investigation. Thus, most of its interviews with current and former parks employees were done without the legal admonishments required for a criminal proceeding.

Yet officials at the Natural Resources Agency, which oversees state parks, anticipated the investigation would allow the district attorney to decide whether crimes were committed. It now appears unclear whether the question of criminal behavior will ever be settled.

“I just hoped, after all this has transpired, that everything would be forthcoming and everything would be dealt with in the best way possible,” said Lynn Rhodes, a retired chief of enforcement at state parks who has been critical of previous management at the department. “I’m not sure whose place it would be to ask the attorney general to clarify its report.”

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Any Criminal Acts in California Parks Coverup?

January 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Six months after the public learned that California state parks officials had concealed $20 million even as they were crying poor and closing parks, one crucial issue remains foggy as ever:

Were any crimes committed, and if so, will anyone be held to answer?

The Sacramento Bee reported that the state attorney general’s investigation into the secret funds, released Jan. 4, made it clear that $20.5 million was kept hidden in the State Parks and Recreation Fund (SPRF). The fund is the primary collection point for all visitor fees paid at the 278 parks in the California Department of Parks and Recreation system. Another $33 million, held in the Off Highway Vehicle Fund, was not intentionally hidden, according to the report, but was obscured nonetheless by complexities in managing that fund.

The investigation also revealed that, although the amount of the hidden funds varied over time and originally piled up because of budgeting errors, numerous high-ranking officials at parks headquarters in Sacramento made a decision to keep the money concealed from state finance officials for as long as 13 years.

“It is clear,” the investigation states, “that by no later than 2003, and perhaps as early as 1999, the failure to accurately report all SPRF monies … became conscious and deliberate.”

This finding raises the specter of criminal conduct, according to several legal experts interviewed by The Bee. And many state parks advocates – who opened their own wallets and volunteered time to keep parks open – are waiting for answers to this question.

To read the entire article click here.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Report: California Parks Knowingly Hid Millions

January 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Former California state parks leaders engaged in a “conscious and deliberate” effort to hide millions of dollars for as long as 13 years, according to an investigation by the state attorney general’s office released Friday.

As reported by the Sacramento Bee, the long-awaited probe was ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown after revelations that headquarters officials at the California Department of Parks and Recreation kept a stash of “hidden funds.”

At the time, the total was reported as $54 million, held in two special revenue accounts.

The attorney general’s investigation concludes, however, that only $20.5 million held in the State Parks and Recreation Fund was truly concealed. The remaining $33 million, held in the Off Highway Vehicle Fund, was not intentionally hidden but simply obscured by long-term complexities in managing that fund.

The $20.5 million piled up because the department had a practice of reporting one fund total to the state Controller’s Office and a smaller amount to the Department of Finance, the agency with final authority for compiling the overall state budget. This violated state budgeting rules.

The accumulation of money, however, was “unintended,” according to the investigation, and did not accrue from any misconduct.

Active efforts to keep the money hidden, however, raise questions about whether any employees committed crimes. The attorney general’s office, known as an aggressive law-enforcement agency in other arenas, did not probe this crucial question.

The investigators also were unable to fully explain how the money piled up, despite interviewing 40 key employees in more than 2,000 pages of testimony.

To read the entire story click here.

 

 

 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Ex-Marine Named to Head up California’s Parks

January 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Anthony Jackson can relate to the many Californians who are furious with the State Parks Department.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the retired Marine and his wife were among the outdoor enthusiasts who dug into their pockets this year to save a beloved local park after Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration announced there was no money to keep dozens of them open. Then it turned out that parks officials had concealed tens of millions of dollars — enough to keep almost everything operating — from state bookkeepers.

Now it’s Jackson’s job to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. In November, Brown appointed the state government neophyte to run the Parks Department, which has 280 facilities across 1.4 million acres and a $500-million budget this year.

“There’s a lot of pressure on me,” Jackson, 63, said in an interview. “Sometimes my wife chuckles, ‘You’ve got yourself in it.’ ”

Faced with an accounting scandal born of longtime insiders playing by their own rules, the governor put in charge an outsider with a record of order, discipline and creative thinking about the environment. In his last military post, Jackson, who had risen to major general, commanded more than 73,000 people on seven bases. He pleased conservationists by promoting green energy policies on those bases and helping to fight a toll road near Camp Pendleton that would have cut through San Onofre State Beach.

“It’s kind of shocking how much I like him,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California and a self-described “liberal peacenik.” In a November letter to Sierra Club members, she said Jackson “may be exactly the right man at the right time for state parks.”

To read the entire story click here.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Report: New Law Won’t Erase Calif. Park Woes

January 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The grand act of atonement that California state leaders signed into law to correct a financial scandal at the state’s parks department may not turn out to be the healing gesture it first appeared to be.

As reported by The Sacramento Bee, the new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, AB 1478, allocates $10 million to provide “dollar-for-dollar” matching grants for private donations to the state parks system. The intent, in part, was to reassure wary parks supporters that at least some of the $54 million in “hidden money” discovered in the scandal would go back to the parks and not be diverted for some other government purpose.

The $10 million was appropriated from the State Parks and Recreation Fund, one of two special funds where California Department of Parks and Recreation officials were found to be hiding the $54 million for many years. Another $10 million, and other monies, are targeted to cover operating and capital costs.

This vast amount of hidden money, first reported by The Bee on July 20, would have been more than adequate to cover the $22 million in budget cuts that required the state to close 70 parks. Yet department leaders kept the money hidden even as they signed complex and unprecedented contracts with local governments and small nonprofits that agreed to operate the threatened parks.

Many of those groups viewed AB 1478 as a reprieve – a chance to use some of the hidden money to cover the enormous costs they incurred by agreeing to rescue the parks.

But none of the $10 million will be given to them in cash. The state’s lawyers determined that doing so amounts to a “gift of state funds” that would violate the California Constitution.

Instead, rules released by state parks on Nov. 13 specify that grants will be provided only “in kind” – meaning use of state employees or services – to match a financial donation.

“My position is it’s going to undermine the partnerships, for obvious reasons,” said Caryl Hart, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks, which took over Annadel State Park near Santa Rosa when it was threatened with closure. “We need a dollar-for-dollar match to pay our staff to operate the parks.”

To read the entire article click here.

 

 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

California Signs First Pact to Keep Parks Open

December 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

California State Parks officials on Wednesday (Dec. 19) signed an agreement to use matching funds to ensure Henry Coe State Park near Gilroy will stay open for two years.

The agreement is the first signed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation under the terms of AB 1478.

The new state law, adopted in September in the wake of a scandal in the department, allocates $10 million for matching grants to keep state parks open, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The money comes from the $54 million in surplus funds that former parks headquarters officials were found in July to have hidden for years, even as state budget cuts led to park closures.

Henry Coe, at more than 87,000 acres of mountain peaks and oak-studded wilderness, is the largest state park in Northern California and the second-largest in the state.

To view the entire article click here.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Report: California Parks Violated Payroll Rules

December 18, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Dozens of employees at California’s Department of Parks and Recreation were inappropriately paid for working outside their job classification, according to an audit by the State Controller’s Office released Tuesday.

The Sacramento Bee reported these “out-of-class” work assignments may have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars beyond the misuse of funds at the department that has been previously reported.

The audit was triggered by a Sacramento Bee investigation, published in July, that revealed a secret vacation buyout program offered to employees at parks headquarters in Sacramento. This program cost taxpayers more than $271,000, which would have been sufficient to save a half-dozen parks from closure as a result of state budget cuts.

The Controller’s Office opted not to probe the vacation buyout further, saying prior investigations by internal auditors and the Attorney General’s Office had been adequate. However, it did find that an additional three people received vacation buyout payments, for a total of 59. The amount of money paid to these additional three employees is not revealed.

The audit focuses primarily on other revelations involving parks employees allowed to work in positions above their usual pay grade, often done to temporarily fill a staff vacancy.

Auditors found 203 employees over a three-year period were assigned to these “out-of-class” assignments at state parks. It remains unclear whether all of these were improper, because the department did not follow required record-keeping procedures before approving the assignments.

To read the entire article click here.

 

 

 

 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

California Park Donors Demanding Money Back

October 5, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

Donors in California, angry over state mismanagement of park funds, are demanding the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars they gave to keep Northern California’s largest state park operating.

California Watch reported that the Coe Park Preservation Fund, based in Scotts Valley, donated $279,000 earlier this year to prevent the closure of rugged, 87,000-acre Henry W. Coe State Park, about 30 miles south of San Jose.

“We’re going to ask for the return of the $279,000 back to the Coe Park Preservation Fund,” said Dan McCranie, treasurer of the group’s board.

If the money is returned, the group plans to offer refunds to its donors.

The state, however, says it has no obligation to refund the money. “As it stands, there is no legal mechanism to actually return the money,” said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the state Natural Resources Agency, which oversees the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

But in an email, Stapler wrote that the agency does not rule out the possibility of a compromise. “We are very eager to speak with the Coe folks,” he said.

On Sept. 25, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1478, which prohibits the parks department from closing or proposing the closure of any park from now until July 2014.

Last year, the parks department announced plans to close Henry W. Coe State Park, along with 69 other parks, after the state cut the department’s budget by $22 million. Nonprofit groups, municipalities and county governments around the state responded by coming up with millions of dollars to keep many of those threatened parks open, at least temporarily.

Yet, the department was actually sitting on a hidden surplus of almost $54 million. About $20 million was in the state Parks and Recreation Fund, which comes mainly from fees paid by park goers. Another $34 million was found in a fund for off-road vehicles and can only be spent on parks that allow them. The Sacramento Bee reported on the funds in July, and three of the department’s top officials resigned or were fired.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

California Park Donors Demanding Money Back

October 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Donors in California, angry over state mismanagement of park funds, are demanding the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars they gave to keep Northern California’s largest state park operating.

California Watch reported that the Coe Park Preservation Fund, based in Scotts Valley, donated $279,000 earlier this year to prevent the closure of rugged, 87,000-acre Henry W. Coe State Park, about 30 miles south of San Jose.

“We’re going to ask for the return of the $279,000 back to the Coe Park Preservation Fund,” said Dan McCranie, treasurer of the group’s board.

If the money is returned, the group plans to offer refunds to its donors.

The state, however, says it has no obligation to refund the money. “As it stands, there is no legal mechanism to actually return the money,” said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the state Natural Resources Agency, which oversees the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

But in an e-mail, Stapler wrote that the agency does not rule out the possibility of a compromise. “We are very eager to speak with the Coe folks,” he said.

On Sept. 25, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1478, which prohibits the parks department from closing or proposing the closure of any park from now until July 2014.

Last year, the parks department announced plans to close Henry W. Coe State Park, along with 69 other parks, after the state cut the department’s budget by $22 million. Nonprofit groups, municipalities and county governments around the state responded by coming up with millions of dollars to keep many of those threatened parks open, at least temporarily.

Yet, the department was actually sitting on a hidden surplus of almost $54 million. About $20 million was in the state Parks and Recreation Fund, which comes mainly from fees paid by park goers. Another $34 million was found in a fund for off-road vehicles and can only be spent on parks that allow them. The Sacramento Bee reported on the funds in July, and three of the department’s top officials resigned or were fired.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

California OKs Parks Funding, Stops Closures

September 26, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed several bills to keep state parks open and ensure greater spending oversight after a scandal in which parks officials hid $54 million.

According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, the bills establish a two-year moratorium on parks closures, provide about $30 million in funding and give the parks new fundraising tools.

AB1478 by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, splits $30 million to help state parks that already are at risk of closure stay open, complete overdue maintenance and provide $10 million to match donations from private groups and local governments as a way to keep parks from closing.

The top parks official resigned this summer after it was revealed that some employees kept $54 million hidden in department special funds for more than a decade, even as 70 parks were threatened with closure. Blumenfield said rogue bureaucrats lied to all Californians and noted that hundreds of individuals and organizations made donations to save the parks.

“My heart goes out to parks advocates who feel burned by this fiasco,” Blumenfield said in a news release. “They heroically raised millions to help keep parks open. … This bill was designed to ensure that a lot of good will come from their hard work.”

Brown also signed AB1589 by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, which gives the parks department new fundraising tools, including allowing Californians to donate to the department by checking a box on their income tax returns.

The new laws also give the State Park and Recreation Commission more authority to oversee the Department of Parks and Recreation.

 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

« Previous PageNext Page »

Bottom