State parks officials intentionally under-reported the amount of money in two state accounts for 19 years, according to results of a formal audit released Friday by the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown.
"Parks must improve accountability, transparency, and communication to restore trust with the public, their partners, and internally within the department," says the executive summary of the 27-page report (PDF) issued by the state Department of Finance.
The revelation this past summer of $54 million being secretly stashed in two parks related accounts resulted in the resignation of then parks director Ruth Coleman, and a housecleaning of top officials within the department. It also raised questions about the reliability of government accounting practices, and about how why money - which would have required legislative approval to spend - would be hidden away in the first place.
A criminal investigation by the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris into the parks scandal is still underway.
While it's been known for months that the money had been hidden for years, the Department of Finance audit found a trail that went back to 1993, much further than previously assumed.
But auditors didn't seem to figure out an answer to the ultimate question: why?
"We found the [accounting] methodology was inconsistent," says the audit, "parks staff could not provide reasonable explanations, and supporting documentation was not
The report also identified other parks accounting practices which raise questions. For example, the audit found not all large donations to parks from private individuals were approved by administration officials as required. Three of six $100,000 or larger donations were accepted without prior authorization, says the report. The audit also found questions about the proper accounting of millions of dollars in the State Park Contingent Fund, including $1.5 million that "has remained dormant while earning interest since 2004."
Meantime, the audit raises questions about the parks department's use of state credit cards, including some unallowable purchases and some approvals made by the same employee(s) that were doing the purchasing.
The audit is more of a look back than a look at the situation as it exists now, due to the turnover of top officials in the wake of the summer scandal.
"The new leadership," said director Anthony Jackson in an emailed statement, "has set a course for improvements in management at every level."
Jackson, a retired Marine Corps general was tapped by the governor last month to lead the department.