While California was closing parks and state employees giving themselves unauthorized vacation buyouts, the state Parks Department was concealing nearly $54 million for more than a decade. A Democratic legislator denounced this “deceit and thievery” and wondered how much more money state employees had stashed away. In the Parks Department, it’s at least $3.9 million more, according to a new audit by the state Department of Finance.
Auditors found $3.9 million in a fund for donations that had “no assigned purpose.” They verified the hidden $53.4 million and said that the surplus existed since 1993, nearly 20 years, a full eight years longer that previously believed. It may have existed even longer but Finance Department audit manager Frances Parmelee told reporters the auditors “did not look back any further,” and gave no reason for holding back. The reluctant sleuth also failed to determine why Parks Department employees were hiding the $53.4 million. That should be obvious to all but the willfully blind.
Bureaucrats always want more money, and if the Parks Department reports the hidden cash, it makes the case for a smaller department budget with fewer employees. It is also entirely possible that someone planned to decamp with some or all of the money, or use it for yet more unauthorized vacation buyouts and other extravagance. That’s why the Parks Department hid the money for 20 years, or longer.
The Department of Finance cited poor management and insufficient training in the Parks Department. Managers exercised scant oversight of budget personnel and the Department even fails to maintain written policies governing how staff calculates fund balances. The Department of Finance also confirmed its own incompetence by failing to find the missing money sooner and failing to look back further than 1993.
If California wants to find hidden money—an open question—the state should bypass the Department of Finance in favor of competent, qualified persons independent of state government. They should be turned loose in search of deceit and thievery in all state departments. Odds are they would find plenty. Parks, meanwhile, must now find some purpose for the hidden $3.9 million. Given their longstanding fraud and deception, they should give it all back to the donors, and even in California there is a precedent for doing so.