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Whitehead: Parks Dept. even worse than I thought

July 26, 2012|By Mike Whitehead

Ahoy!

In last week's column, I commented on how the California Department of Boating and Waterways (Cal Boating) becoming a division of the Department of Parks and Recreation was simply a money grab for Cal Boating's dedicated funds. The parks department has been whining for years about being broke, and the only option is to close numerous state parks as the only alternative.

Therefore, the transferring of Cal Boating under the parks department looked great to the governor and state lawmakers in Sacramento as a means to tap into the non-general fund special dollars. Why not?

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Cal Boating already looses roughly $25 million of the boaters' tax dollars annually to Parks, however, someone forgot to mention that the parks department has a $54-million surplus. Furthermore, some of these funds were being used for questionable purposes and findings have had heads rolling in senior management.

Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned last week, but not before firing Deputy Director Michael Harris. As the scandal broke, another secret program was revealed that involved questionable vacation buyouts to staff for more than $250,000 that led to Deputy Director Manuel Lopez resigning in May. It appears that the unused vacation time buyback program was not approved, especially during these difficult financial times. Furthermore, the paper trail is difficult to trace as official forms are lacking with some requests submitted and written on note paper.

Reports say that this practice of hoarding taxpayer's money and illegal payouts have been going on for at least 12 years. This defies logic as to why senior management would allegedly hide the money except for some sort of personal gain.

In response to the recent financial discoveries, Gov. Jerry Brown has started an investigation with the Secretary of Natural Resources Agency John Laird, assisting the Department of Finance and the attorney general's office to uncover the details about this financial shell game. I find it ironic that the state requires municipalities to annually audit their financial records, yet the state does not require its own departments to conduct financial audits?

So now, we are throwing more meat to the wolves with the transition to the parks department of Cal Boating's annual revenues in the tens of millions of dollars. Can we afford to have the parks department manage Cal Boating, and can we allow them the fiduciary responsibility to manage the money paid by boaters?

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