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California parks department still needs fixing, new audit says

Jobs and WorkplaceBeth Gaines

SACRAMENTO — The California parks department, which was rocked by an accounting scandal last year, has not completely corrected its practices, according to a new audit.

The department still lacks a system to track spending at individual parks, said the report, released Tuesday. And its budgets are calculated too slowly for officials to adequately plan park operations.

The audit also found that more employees than previously believed were inappropriately reimbursed for unused vacation time. Roughly $42,000 was paid to several employees in 2010 and 2011, the report said. That's on top of $271,000 already discovered in an internal review.

The payments did not follow state guidelines for when such reimbursements can be made, or they were made without the necessary approvals.

Although the money was distributed before new leadership took over the parks department last year, the audit said not enough has been done to prevent the practice.

The department disciplined four managers involved in the payments, the audit noted, but "it has not changed its processes or provided appropriate training to its staff."

The parks scandal broke last summer when it was revealed that the department had a surplus of $54 million at the same time the state was threatening to close parks because of a budget crisis. A subsequent investigation determined that roughly $20 million was deliberately hidden by parks officials.

Vicky Waters, a parks spokeswoman, said Tuesday that the department plans to have a new accounting system by the end of the year. She said there would be a "solid platform" to help "restore trust and accountability to the department."

New policies would prevent unauthorized payments to employees, she said.

"We have been working on this for a number of months," she said. "We're acting to make sure this does not happen again."

The Tuesday report is the second part of a review conducted by the state auditor at the request of California lawmakers. The first part was released in February.

Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R-Rocklin), who requested the audit, said parks officials should be moving faster.

"California's state parks are among its most precious and beautiful resources," the lawmaker said. "At the very least, they deserve reliable bookkeeping and quality leadership, neither of which they have right now."

chris.megerian@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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