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PD Editorial: Unanswered questions of parks scandal

Like a leaky faucet, the accounting scandal in the state parks department keeps dripping.

Drop by drop, information is trickling forth without slaking the thirst for the full story.

Beginning last summer, we learned that the department was effectively keeping two sets of books, hiding a hefty surplus even as officials threatened to close 70 parks.

Account balances were accurately reported to the state controller, but millions of dollars from entry fees paid by park patrons and visitor center sales receipts weren't reported to the Legislature or the state Department of Finance, perhaps as a hedge against budget cuts.

The parks director resigned, audits and investigations were launched, legislators held hearings, the agency promised to tighten its fiscal controls.

One of those investigations concluded that the money was deliberately hidden. Last week, a separate audit revealed that accounting problems in the parks department date back to at least 1999.

The same audit found that the department lacks data about the operating costs of its 278 parks and, in many cases, relied on old figures in deciding which ones to close.

Moreover, more than seven months after the hidden surpluses were revealed, we don't know who was responsible, who knew about the hidden funds and whether any of the money was misspent.

We don't know if it's a case of misfeasance or malfeasance. Was it incompetence, or was a crime committed?

On that question, Santa Rosa state Sen. Noreen Evans offered a blunt opinion during a legislative hearing this week.

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