by CalWatchdog Staff | July 27, 2012 1:33 pm
July 27, 2012
By Katy Grimes
The recent scandal inside of the State Parks and Recreation Department is no surprise to anyone, but the levels of corruption, schemes and deceit, is.
The agency director, Ruth Coleman, resigned. But as she resigned, she tried to distance herself from the vacation buyout scheme, and the $54 million surplus hidden away in two accounts. As the parks department was making cuts, threatening to close 70 state parks, and claiming to need to make $22 million in cuts, Coleman was accepting private donations.
I wrote about my sources at the state who say that Coleman’s fingerprints are all over the evidence, and now we see that the agency attorney, Ann Malcolm, resigned, as did Colemen’s special assistant, Jay Walsh.
But these people are resigning–they weren’t fired. They will keep their taxpayer paid benefits, and taxpayer-paid pensions, and probably get hired elsewhere by the state at some point.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown is publicly playing down the scandal, glibly saying that it was the first time the government is in trouble for saving money. “When somebody comes and says, ‘Hey, guess what, we have some money over here,’ that’s better than saying ‘Whoops we don’t have the money.'”
Former Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, had a few run-ins of his own with Parks Director Ruth Coleman.
During his time in the Assembly, DeVore found that there were Parks Department employees and Fish and Game employees and volunteers living on state property, paying no rent or nominal rent, far below fair market value.
The Bureau of State Audits was already investigating the Fish and Game employees in 2003, when DeVore presented evidence of Parks employees doing the same.
DeVore said that he was a freshman Assemblyman when his office discovered this. He contacted Coleman and invited her to meet with him. But DeVore said that Coleman appeared unconcerned, which DeVore attributed to term limits. “She knew I’d be gone at some point,” DeVore explained, “and that this would probably blow over.”
But during the investigation, the state auditor found that there were 13 state departments which own property and had employees living rent-free and not reporting, or were underreporting this. “Additionally, because departments charged employees rent at rates far below market value, the State may have failed to capture as much as $8.3 million in potential rental revenue in 2003,” the report stated.
According to the state auditor’s report, the Parks and Recreation department was the biggest offender with 487 housing units available for state employees.
If rented at fair market value, the income to the state should have been more than $4.7 million.
But the Parks and Recreation agency took in only $763,488 of actual rent charged to state employees or volunteers, losing the state more than $4 million in revenue.
The taxable fringe benefit should have been $373,198. The unreported taxable fringe benefit amounted to $3,641,810.
And Coleman was unconcerned with these findings, according to DeVore.
Undeterred, DeVore authored a bill to address this specific problem. Democratic Assemblyman Alberto Torrico signed on as a co-author, and AB 1708 passed through the Legislature and was signed into law.
Under AB 1708, the state would be required to charge state employees renting housing on state property on a sliding scale, depending on location. Prior to AB 1708, departments only charged $148 a month per unit, and did not differentiate between prime beachfront locations or inland locations. DeVore said that, at the time of his bill, approximately 443 parks employees lived in park housing, but that the number fluctuates based on season.
AB 1708 requires the Director of the Department of Personnel Administration to determine, by rule, the fair and reasonable value of maintenance, living quarters, housing, lodging, board, meals, food, household supplies, fuel, laundry, and other services furnished by the state as an employer of its employees.
But DeVore said that he is concerned that the law is not being enforced.
There have been several calls for additional audits of the Parks and Recreation Department.
Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, called for a special audit of the agency. As members of the Budget Committee, Gaines and Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, appear to be pursuing this corruption.
The California State Parks Foundation submitted a letter to the governor and Legislature asking for an investigation, as well. The non-profit foundation has been a partner with the state, and surely must be feeling the sting of Director Coleman’s and the agency’s deceit.
“On behalf of the California State Parks Foundation, our 130,000 members statewide, and our 43 year history of enhancing, protecting and advocating for California’s state parks, I cannot convey enough how deeply shocked and dismayed we have been to learn of the irregularities that have surfaced from the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) in the last several days,” Parks Foundation President Elizabeth Goldstein wrote.
“The news of the unauthorized vacation buyout program, coupled with the discovery of more than $50 million in 12 year fund balances that should have been disclosed and directed to parks and recreation operations, has affected our members, our partners, and the public’s trust in our state park system.”
The foundation was working with Coleman to get volunteers to help work at the parks, and asking for donations.
HERE is the letter from the Parks foundation.
Source URL: https://calwatchdog.com/2012/07/27/parks-dept-corruption-not-isolated/
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