A strange way to run the parks department of the most populated state in the country, as reported by the Sacramento Bee.
“A new probe of financial scandals at the California Department of Parks and Recreation found that officials maintained a hidden cash surplus for as long as 20 years – far longer than previously known.
“The investigation by the California state auditor, released Thursday, tracked a surplus going back to 1993 in the State Parks and Recreation Fund, the primary fund that collects and disburses revenue generated by the 278 state parks.
“The Bee first reported in July that department officials maintained a secret surplus in this fund which at the time amounted to $20 million. Although the surplus amount varied over time, no evidence has emerged that the money was spent illegally.
“High-ranking officials at state parks headquarters stayed quiet about the surplus even as the department moved to close 70 parks, for the first time in history, to achieve state budget savings. The surplus would have been enough to avoid these cuts.
“In the months since the scandal, the leadership staff at park headquarters has been replaced, and the Legislature and governor have approved a plan to spend the $20 million surplus on park operations.
“The surplus existed because department officials routinely reported different fund totals to the State Controller’s Office and the Department of Finance in violation of state accounting rules.
“But like other recent investigations – completed by the Department of Finance, the Controller’s Office and the attorney general’s office – the state auditor was unable to explain how the surplus accumulated in the first place.
“Neither current staff nor documentation we reviewed in the department’s accounting and budget files had an explanation for what originally caused the differences or why the issue was never resolved,” investigators wrote.
“This unresolved question continues to frustrate lawmakers and park lovers.
“I’m appalled that a department in the state of California can operate with such a loose accounting system,” said Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, a member of the Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.
“The Department of Finance on numerous occasions between 1999 and 2003 warned parks officials that they were reporting improper fund balances, according to the latest audit. Those warnings were ignored, and then mysteriously stopped coming from finance officials in subsequent years.
“Last year, after the hidden funds were revealed, the Finance Department imposed a new rule stating that department heads are now required to certify – under penalty of perjury – that the accounting information they report is accurate.