State parks reveal more financial bungling

As if hiding a $54 million stash of money wasn’t enough, a new audit reveals that the California Department of Parks and Recreation has been overpaying more than 200 state employees.

The report, released by the state controller, shows that employees were overpaid more than $500,000 by managers who did not have the proper authorization and documentation, thus violating state policies.

State Controller John Chiang said in a news release:

“The deliberate disregard for internal controls along with little oversight and poorly-trained staff resulted in improper payouts to Parks’ employees. When security protocols and authorization requirements so easily can be overridden, it invites the abuse of public funds.”

The report is the latest addition to the troubled department’s woes. When dozens of parks were slated for closure, it was revealed that $54 million in funds were hidden within the department. Ultimately, the revelation cost former parks director Ruth Coleman and another senior official their jobs.

Results from additional investigations by the Department of Finance and state attorney general are expected in coming weeks.

Many of the payroll issues related to “out-of-class” compensation, which can be paid to employees who perform duties far outside the scope of their position, however, this type of pay can only be used under limited circumstances and for a specific number of days, according to the state controller’s report.

The review followed payroll from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2012 and found that management violated state rules and regulations and processed out-of-class payments to employees without the necessary approval or documentation. During this review, 203 employees received a total of $520,000 in extra pay.

Caryl Hart, chair of the State Park and Recreation Commission and director of the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department, told the Sac Bee:

“It doesn’t in any way justify these results, but it’s reality. It sounds to me as if there was just sort of a pattern of not following the rules. People start to skip essential steps and stop doing what they’re supposed to be doing when there’s so much to do.”

We can all admit that mistakes happen, but the department has had a very unfortunate year. You better go visit Yosemite before the State accidentally sells it to BP for oil drilling.