Scandalous State Parks dept needs privatization

July 16, 2012

Katy Grimes: While the State Parks and Recreation department, under agency Director Ruth Coleman’s leadership, has been soliciting private donations to keep state parks open, top agency employees were bilking the state for vacation pay buyouts.

Is it really any surprise to read of the latest state employee pay scandal, this time ripping off the State Parks and Recreation agency of more than $271,000?

While California has been preparing to close 70 state parks, senior Parks department employees were taking large vacation buyouts.

“A high-ranking official at the California Department of Parks and Recreation carried out a secret vacation buyout program last year for himself and other headquarters staff, according to an internal audit, former employees and other documents obtained by The Bee,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

The scam

The scam goes like this: In the past, state employees have been allowed to sell unused vacation time back to the state for cash payouts. But these employees hadn’t received the proper authority to do this from the California Department of Human Resources. They did it anyway, and someone at the state approved the checks cashing out the vacation time.

According to the HR department spokeswoman, no vacation buyouts have been approved since 2007.

Vacation buyouts should never be approved, and and in fact, are abused regularly by state agencies. “State workers are allowed to accrue up to 680 hours of unused leave time during their career, but that cap is routinely ignored,” the Bee reported. This is a well-known scheme at the state, and one of the many perks of being a state employee. Because vacation is an earned benefit, all employers, including the state, are required to pay for all unused vacation when an employee quits, retires or is terminated.

Internal Audit–tip of the iceberg?

As for the cover-your-butt internal audit, I’ve been hearing about this vacation scandal for nearly a year from state employees. Several employees suggested that I contact the Bureau of State Audits for the records of the state employees vacation payouts, but I found nothing about the Parks and Recreation department.

And now it makes sense.

Low and behold, it turns out that the Parks and Rec agency has been doing its own little internal audit, and then fed the results to the Sacramento Bee in an attempt to do damage control. But the story was devoid of the names of the offenders, with the exception of the one parks department employee no longer with the agency. I am sure that Parks department officials feel that Manual Thomas Lopez who resigned, is enough of a sacrificial lamb, and this scandal will blow over.

Parks department gossip

It seems that most of the state parks agency employees also knew about the vacation rip off, and created several very public blogs sharing this information.

56 Parks and Recreation employees availed themselves of the buyout. But the Bee noted that  “the program was made available only to employees at parks headquarters.”

Did the story call it a “program?” Was this vacation buyout scam a “program?” If so, someone other than the Bee should be digging through the internal audit, and heads should roll.

Privatize the state parks

I recently participated in a televised panel discussion with Coleman, Director of  the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and Shelly Sullivan with the AB 32 Implementation Group, about the state of the state. I knew the information about the thieving parks employees, but was advised to opt for civility on the panel instead. I won’t make that mistake again. I’m nothing if not uncivil, when it’s called for.

During the taping of Politics on Tap with Greg Lucas, Coleman kept discussion centered around happy parks facts and sounded like the agency PR director.

However, Coleman is an experienced government employee, having worked many years for  the state, and the last 10 years for the State Parks and Recreation agency.

“Before coming to State Parks, Ms. Coleman worked in the state capitol as Policy Director for Assemblywoman Helen Thomson, [D-Davis,] and Legislative Director for State Senator Mike Thompson, [D-Napa,] focusing on environmental legislation such as, salmon and steelhead restoration, the protection of the Headwaters Forest, park bonds, water bonds, agriculture policy and water policy,” her biography states.

“Ms. Coleman also has worked for the Air Resources Board in the electric vehicle program and the Office of the Legislative Analyst, focusing on fiscal and policy issues in the natural resources area…”

Scandals such as this one can’t occur without many people knowing about it. This is gross mismanagement, an abuse of taxpayer money, and an abuse of power and position, and everyone involved should be brought up on charges.

This is a textbook example of why the state parks should be privatized. Since Coleman is soliciting for private dollars to keep parks open, those donating money, as well as taxpayers, should push for total privatization. The money saved by unloading the expensive state employees and instead hiring private sector employees, would allow for the continuation of California’s great treasures, and probably at a huge savings.

13 comments

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  1. Claire Voyance
    Claire Voyance 16 July, 2012, 14:36

    Is there a criminal investigation? If not, why not?

    If a person took money and such person knew that they were not authorized to take such money, such person committed larceny.

    Reply this comment
  2. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 July, 2012, 16:20

    Never happen…..

    California park workers are the only line of defense against nasty bikers, generic urban fruitcakes, homeboys, recoverings from whatever, frustrated parolees with weekend permission slips, cheepskates, gypsies, yellow tinged/grey haired hippes, etc.

    You want their jobs?

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 16 July, 2012, 17:02

    CalTURDS 2012 Return= 1%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The sky just fell!….. On Teddy,…… Teddy died today with CalTURDS!

    Reply this comment
  4. I'm just saying...
    I'm just saying... 16 July, 2012, 17:16

    Oh great, now you exposed the truth and some state employees won’t be able to take advantage of the program — poor state employees.

    Reply this comment
  5. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 16 July, 2012, 17:39

    Parks don’t need people in uniforms, carrying badges to run the parks. But I agree that parks need rangers and law enforcement. This should be done as government oversight, in conjunction with private sector administration.

    Katy

    Reply this comment
  6. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 16 July, 2012, 23:55

    Yosemite run by a private company. It appears to be run a bit better. The food need serious serious attention!

    Reply this comment
  7. Joanne Genis
    Joanne Genis 17 July, 2012, 09:19

    I heard this story reported on our local news station last night and also read about it in the Sac Bee. Apparently, the requests for the pay-outs were not filed on an official form, but Post-it notes, to avoid a paper trail. I wonder how the people that have been donating money to the State Parks must feel about this one?! Thanks for the story Katy!

    Reply this comment
  8. Donkey
    Donkey 17 July, 2012, 09:33

    Yep Katy, there are crooks in every RAGWUS bureaucracy!! 🙂

    Reply this comment
  9. computernerd
    computernerd 20 July, 2012, 15:36

    According to KMJ-580 here in Fresno, Coleman resigned and her #2 was fired..!!! They were squirreling funds while claiming there was no money.

    Reply this comment
  10. Nancy Heltman
    Nancy Heltman 20 July, 2012, 17:59

    There are sad cases of the abuse of public trust in the private sector too. In fact the ones doing the abusing are living in mansions and making millions. I am disappointed in what has happened here but see no reason why this is a reason to turn the parks over to the private sector which has been known to do worse with very little oversight.

    Reply this comment
  11. Lowell Landowski
    Lowell Landowski 9 August, 2012, 21:42

    So Grimes supported the crime going on at Parks with the Privitization moves, which we now know were crooked. Part of Schwarzenegger’s side of the rake hey Grimes? While the far left foundation’s are in on the rest of the take? It is all take take take and no give for loyal civil servants, who stood in the gap against the corruption for years now, comming at us from elements of both sides of the isle. Same on you guys.

    Reply this comment
  12. Lowell Landowski
    Lowell Landowski 9 August, 2012, 21:47

    I am tired of clever people robbing the taxpayer, while beating on good and loyal rank and file civil servants.

    Reply this comment

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