SACRAMENTO— Poor management and insufficient training at the California Department of Parks and Recreation led to a scandal in which parks officials hid $54 million as state parks faced millions of dollars in cutbacks, an audit released Friday said.
For 19 years, parks staff intentionally under-reported funds used by the governor's office to craft the state budget, the audit by the state Department of Finance said.
"We found the methodology was inconsistent, parks staff could not provide reasonable explanations, and supporting documentation was not retained," the audit stated.
Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned and a senior parks official was terminated last summer after it was revealed that some employees kept $54 million hidden in two special funds. The funds were kept hidden even as local governments and nonprofit organizations contributed money to keep open 70 parks that faced closure in July because of budget cuts.
Friday's audit did not say why the department reported different numbers to the state controller and the governor's office. The attorney general is investigating and the audit was released just days after the controller found that managers overpaid parks employees more than $500,000 over a three-year period.
"Parks must improve accountability, transparency, and communication to restore trust with the public," the audit stated.
In a written response, new parks director Anthony Jackson agreed with most of the audit's findings and said he is implementing better internal controls.
The department has 60 days to complete a corrective action plan.
The audit also found that parks staff failed to track donations and employees made improper charges on state-issued credit cards.
Auditors found that donations sometimes lacked supporting letters specifying what the money should be used for. Three of six $100,000 donations or larger were accepted without authorization, the report found.
The audit also found $3.9 million in the State Park Contingent Fund that had no assigned purpose, including $1.5 million that has "remained dormant while earning interest since at least 2004."
Finance found park employees made some unallowable purchases such as paying for state park internet and memberships to associations.