One year after a scandal rocked it to the very core, the administration of California's state parks system remains a mess. Breathtaking understatement, perhaps, but it is accurate.
Don't just take our word for it, examine the latest audit by the state auditor's office. In a 43-page audit report released last week the auditor says that despite extensive media coverage the Department of Parks and Recreation has not done enough to stop the practice of allowing employees to take cash payouts for unused leave time.
In fact, the audit found an additional $42,000 in illegal payments that had occurred in 2010 and 2011 on top of the $271,000 that had already been uncovered. For the math-challenged that pushes the number to $311,000.
The Sacramento Bee has done an admirable job of uncovering the significant transgressions of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The department maintained a hidden multimillion dollar fund while budget cuts threatened the closing of parks statewide. It also revealed the inappropriate cash payouts for unused leave.
The auditor's office did not audit the entire $574 million department budget. Instead, auditors sampled the finances of five park districts. The results were not encouraging.
For example, expenditure tracking was in such chaos that four of the five districts had created their own duplicative systems as a means of accounting for funds. Yet, the department still does not know how much it costs to operate a particular park.
The audit also noted that the budgeting system was so challenging that department budget officials must make educated guesses as to revenues the department can expect during the year and then make significant adjustments throughout the year.
But in all fairness, that sounds like a descriptor of the whole of state government rather than a unique criticism.
The audit also made clear that the problems are not new and have not been easy to fix. For example, for years the department reported different fund balance amounts for two of its funds to the State Controller's Office than it reported to the Department of Finance. It was alerted as early as April 1999, but it was not resolved until the fall of 2012, which was after the scandal had surfaced.
The audit also says the department engaged in a budgetary shell game to get around a law that abolishes state positions that go unfilled for months.
But things may be changing. A volunteer commission called Parks Forward has been formed as a result of legislation last year designed to help fix the abuses in the department.
Based on this audit, that commission as well as the state have plenty of work to do.