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State Parks Chief Resigns Amid Scandal



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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, July 20, 2012

 

State Parks Director Ruth Coleman stepped down Friday along with a chief deputy amid questions about the department's funds. (Read Ruth Coleman's letter of resignation)

An investigation shows the department could have been underreporting funds for at least 12 years.

The Attorney General's office and the Department of Finance will conduct an investigation and audit into the fiscal mismanagement of the Parks Department. A preliminary investigation revealed the department hoarded $54 million at the same time budget problems threatened to close 70 parks this year. Natural Resources Secretary John Laird says it's unclear why the money went unreported.

Laird: "The investigation will have to answer that, but what is, is basically, it was an action to keep it accumulating and not report it, not an action to spend it."

Most of the parks slated to close this year were saved at least temporarily with help from non-profits, private organizations and individual donations. Laird says Governor Jerry Brown's administration will work with the Legislature to see if the money can help parks that are still financially unstable.

Laird: "This is deeply disappointing because we just went to many partners around the state to get them to step up to cover the shortfall and I'm truly sorry about that."

In her resignation letter, Ruth Coleman says she was unaware of the money and personally appalled to find out about it. Governor Brown has appointed California Natural Resources Agency Undersecretary Janelle Beland acting interim director of Parks.

In addition to their audit of Parks, the Department of Finance is reviewing all special funds across state government to verify that departments have provided identical fiscal information to Finance and the Controller.
 
The Department of Finance has also put new protocols in place to strengthen how special fund figures are verified and reconciled with data from the Controller and other sources.

The hidden assets were brought to light when new Parks fiscal staff began an internal review of accounts, following a separate investigation by the Attorney General over unauthorized vacation buy-outs, according to the statement.

Assembly Speaker John Perez says the legislature is preparing oversight hearings to be held at the beginning of August to look into the issue.

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