SACRAMENTO -- Legislators on Wednesday ordered the state auditor to investigate the "culture of deception and entitlement" that enabled the Department of Parks and Recreation to hide $54 million in special funds revenues over a dozen years.
The department has been under fire since it was revealed it had stashed $54 million in two special funds -- at the same time private donations were being solicited to keep dozens of parks from closing. The director of the department, Ruth Coleman, resigned and her deputy was fired, though the secret stash began 12 years ago.
"This is unacceptable. Where is the oversight? Where is the accountability?" Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, who co-authored the audit request, told the Joint Legislative Audit committee. "Californians feel betrayed and this audit is essential to gaining back their trust."
In a 13-0 vote, legislators asked the auditor, Elaine Howle, to finish her review by January after she initially said it would take seven months.
The auditor's office will, among other tasks, determine how long the reserve in both funds accumulated; how the parks department reports its financial data to the Finance Department and state Controller's office; and whether finance and the state Controller's office have the ability to ensure the data is accurate.
"We've heard constituents and state parks supporters from around the state, and they are outraged," said Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-San Jose, a co-author of the audit request. "With this audit, I remain committed in uncovering what happened, why it happened and taking the necessary steps in preventing a similar incident from ever happening again."
The unified outrage behind the audit request served competing political purposes. Democrats, who want voters to approve a tax hike ballot measure in the fall, are scrambling to show they are responsible stewards of state money. Republicans, on the other hand, are milking the drama as much as possible to call attention to government dysfunction in hopes of turning voters away from the tax initiative.
An audit by the Department of Finance showed that no other departments had similar stashes. Gov. Jerry Brown's office and the attorney general's office are conducting separate investigations into the parks department. The Assembly Budget Committee is also holding a hearing to examine the state's 500 special funds, while the Senate will conduct its own hearings next week.
Republicans are calling on Coleman, the former director, to testify, along with 17 others, including chief deputy Michael Harris, former administrative deputy director Manuel Harris, and chief counsel Ann Malcolm.
A pair of legislators also requested an audit to determine whether the state has spent mental health funding from a 2004 ballot initiative the way voters intended.
The request comes after The Associated Press last month reported tens of millions of dollars raised under Proposition 63 have gone to programs that benefit people who don't suffer from mental illness. A May 2011 report by this newspaper also detailed how money was being squandered on planning and consultants, with too few funds filtering down to clients and their families.