Ruth Coleman, Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, voluntarily resigned. Her second in command Deputy Director Michael Harris -was fired.
In the worst scandal to rock California politics since the Enron crisis, it has come to light that the Parks and Recreation Department has withheld $54 million dollars in secret slush funds. This comes at precisely the time when the Department was claiming it was so broke, it was closing 70 state parks to the public who already owns them.
And, the Sacramento Bee reported that a high ranking State Parks official was conducting a secret vacation buy-back program to the tune of $271,000 dollars in taxpayer money. The program allowed State Parks employees to “sell” unused vacation time back to the state. However, according to the state’s human resources department, such buy-backs have not been authorized since 2007.
The Bee also revealed that the secret “buy-back” requests were sometimes submitted on “Post-it” notes, so that there would be no paper trail left behind.
Such behavior constitutes criminal conspiracy.
Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) issued the following statement in response to the $54 million State Parks Scandal:
“This discovery uncovers the ultimate betrayal of public trust. It is inconceivable to me how anyone with an ounce of morals could outright steal $54 million of taxpayer money intended for our historic public lands.”
“They are responsible for the decay at every park in the state that suffers from maintenance that has gone undone, the job losses across the state from shortened park hours or partial closures, the dollars lost by local communities and businesses that depended on the tourism dollars parks bring in to the state. In fact, I’d say, they’re largely responsible for the budget cuts we’ve made as healthcare for the needy has been slashed, school budgets have been decimated and the majority of the people in the state have suffered from reductions to services they depend on for their health and well-being while these selfish bureaucrats stashed away money for their personal gain.”
“But, the real question now is, where does it end? If one department can hoard $54 million for 12 years, who else is playing the same tricks of deceit and thievery? I call upon the Governor to conduct an administration-wide audit of every department and every division to be made available, line by line, to the public.”
“It’s no wonder to me that voters have lost their faith in their elected officials. Acts like these bring shame upon those of us who hold the public trust in the highest regard and take pride and honor in our public service. Public theft should carry special penalties in a court of law. I intend to introduce a bill when session reconvenes to do just that.”
“Lastly, I request the reopening of all parks and beaches in Parks District 1, where the majority of these closures have taken place. Further, I call upon the Administration to immediately submit plans to the Legislature for the reopening of every park that has been closed or incurred shorter operating hours. The people of California deserve nothing less.”
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