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WTF? State Parks Dept. Sat On Whopping $54M Surplus While Parks Were Threatened With Closure

Photo of the Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park by Emma Gallegos/LAist
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State Parks Director Ruth Coleman has resigned this morning in the wake of a scandal revealing that her department sat on a massive $54 million surplus at a time when 70 state parks were threatened with closure.

The scandal unraveled after the Sacramento Bee conducted an investigation revealing that a high-ranking employee approved unauthorized vacation days for employees. The buyouts cost more than $271,000. Even those numbers were enough to infuriate the paper's editorial writers, given how little was needed to keep some of the parks open:

This gaming of the system, by the very people who handle money transactions, came at a time when the state parks system was announcing the closure of 70 state parks and nonprofit organizations were striving to raise private funds to keep parks open. That $271,000 could have helped keep parks running.

Fortunately, the 70 state parks at risk of closure this year didn't have to shut down and were able to find nonprofit and local government partners to take over temporarily.But the scandal now looks even worse. Both the Attorney General's office and the Department of Finance have opened investigations into how and why the Department of Parks and Recreation squirreled away so much money for so long when it seemed to be desperately in need of those funds. It's not clear what connection, if any, the surplus might have had to the vacation buyout scandal.

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The Bee reports that the surplus money included $20.3 million in the Parks and Recreation Fund and another $33.5 million in the Off Highway Vehicle Fund. The newspaper explains that those are the two primary operating funds at the agency.

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