Late last week, the Sacramento Bee broke the news that the Department of Parks and Recreation — the same department that state legislators want to absorb the highly efficient and boater-funded Department of Boating and Waterways — has been sitting on a $54 million surplus that dates back as far as 12 years. Despite the threat of massive parks closures, the department has had in its coffers a veritable fortune that it’s failed to report. The Attorney General’s office is investigating, and a full audit is planned, but already Director Ruth Coleman has resigned over the matter, and Chief Deputy Michael Harris has been fired. While Coleman says she had no knowledge of the surplus, she accepted responsibility for the oversight, writing in her resignation letter, "I am personally appalled to learn that our documents were not accurate." At this point, it doesn’t appear any money was stolen, so it’s unclear if the situation was caused by an accounting error or if there was some motive for hiding the funds. Close on the heels of this revelation, the Bee also exposed an unauthorized secret vacation buyout program that cost taxpayers more than $271,000.
Unfortunately, the surplus is just a drop in the bucket of what’s needed to fund the apparently dysfunctional department. So while the 70 parks that were targeted for closure — including China Camp State Park, a favorite of San Francisco Bay boaters — were given a reprieve last month, grassroot groups working to keep the various parks operational aren’t counting on the found money to help them in their efforts. "Working with the Parks’ Marin District, we are proceeding with our plans to operate China Camp," noted yesterday’s press release from the Friends of China Camp. "The park is open daily, and we will expand and improve services and programs for park users. We need your support as much ever in these uncertain times."