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State audit rips Calif. park bureaucrats

February 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A new audit requested by lawmakers confirms state park bureaucrats knew about accounting discrepancies in which $54 million in budget surpluses were deliberately unreported for years.

An employee brought them up back in 1999 and a different worker did so again in 2011. But managers at parks headquarters kept sweeping it under the rug until an embarrassing scandal exposed it last year.

"Some of the staff there did tell us that they were told to continue to report it the way it had been reported, and out of fear of what it might have on their appropriations," said Margarita Fernandez with the State Auditor's Office.

Assemblyman Adam Gray has already called a hearing for Tuesday.

"I have some concern that his could be a broader problem. Is this just the Parks Department? Are there other departments out there?" he said.

When the Great Recession forced budget cuts in recent years, the state created a list of 70 parks to close. Again, no one piped up to say hidden money could save them.

The audit also criticized how parks came up with a closure list. In some cases, the department used numbers from 2002 to determine which parks would close in 2012.

In other instances, bureaucrats didn't even know how much it cost to run a particular park. State Senator Lou Correa had some parks in his district on that list.

"It shows me the decision-making process was probably not the best. It shows me the decision-making process needs improvement," Correa said.

The Parks Department agrees with the audit and has already made improvements so this doesn't happen again.

"The bottom line here is we're committed to improvements and openness and transparency to put our parks system back together for a better fiscal future," said Roy Stearns with California Parks and Recreation.

Most parks employees involved resigned or have been terminated. The Attorney General declined to press criminal charges, and no parks have been closed.

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