Parks cash disclosed months ago, says ex-employee

6:01 PM, Aug 14, 2012   |    comments
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In the drip, drip of details about the state parks hidden money saga, the latest drops aren't huge... but they do cast even more doubt on the notion that no one knew about the cash until last month.

A new sworn court statement by a former parks employee says not only did an ex-administrator try to cover up the cash, but that an investigator was told about the money in January -- almost seven months before its existence became public.

"I recall the timing and content of this conversation because it happened within days of the Governor's 2012 budget being released," says the affidavit from former parks official Cheryl Taylor, filed Tuesday in Sacramento County Superior Court.

I've uploaded the affidavit, which is a public document, here.

Taylor's statement is part of the record in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Manuel T. Lopez, a former star parks administrator also at the center of a controversial vacation buyout program that cost the state some $271,000.

Lopez was also allegedly involved in discussions about the hidden money -- and, says Taylor's statement -- intent on keeping the money a secret.

"I was directed by Mr. Lopez not to report this information," says Taylor's affidavit about an incident in 2010 when she confirmed the existence of the $20 million that was in the special fund usable for general state parks needs.

Taylor didn't respond to an email seeking comment, and a phone call to Lopez's home was not returned.  The affidavit is part of a sexual harassment lawsuit in which an ex-employee is asking a Sacramento judge to keep the state attorney general's office from representing the parks department, alleging the AG's office never acted on alleged improper behavior by Lopez.

But the document's relevance to the hidden parks money is what raises new questions -- or namely, the familiar question when it comes to accusations of a cover-up: what did they know, and when did they know it?

Spokespersons for both Attorney General Kamala Harris and the state Natural Resources Agency, which oversees parks, declined to comment due to the ongoing investigation.

But where former parks director Ruth Coleman said in her July resignation letter that she had been "unaware" of the surplus cash, Taylor's affidavit suggests even mid-level employees knew of the money almost two years ago.  Futhermore, the affidavit mentions two dates -- January and then again on April 4 -- where Taylor was interviewed by attorneys about parks budgeting.

The state Senate's budget committee is scheduled to discuss the hidden parks money on Wednesday.  And as we reported last week, even with Gov. Jerry Brown's preferences made clear, there's still some debate inside the Legislature about how the money will be used.


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