The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

August 21, 2012
The parks investigation documents: Read the audit

The California Natural Resources Agency recently released more than 1,000 pages of interviews, adverse action notices and reports that detail a covert employee leave buyback program at the Department of Parks and Recreation during the summer of 2011.

Natural resources issued the documents online in response to media requests after The Bee broke the story of the leave cash-out program, which spurred a subsequent revelation that parks squirreled away millions of dollars while also threatening to close facilities due to extreme budget pressure.

This post is the next in a series intended to make all of those 38 documents readily accessible to the public within the next few days.

Authur J. Lee, the parks department audits office chief, made several findings in this 14-page report:

• Parks leave buyback was not properly authorized by the state's human resources department.
• The personnel service section of the parks department executed a similar $197, 937 leave cash out in 2008. Like the latest cash out, that one lacked sufficient documentation and "does not appear to be in complete compliance" with state rules.
• The department also launched a questionable leave buyout plan for Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation division that paid $111,645, including $20,598 paid to a superintendent.
• Leave payments were taken out of money budgeted for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Auditors were "astonished" that Manuel Thomas Lopez, chief of the administrative services division and the person who launched the leave buyback plan, cashed out more that four weeks of vacation pay in August 2011 using 2011-12 budget dollars after cashing out nearly nine weeks of leave for $19,135 a few months earlier.

Parks Personnel Officer Jason Summers responded to the audit in a letter dated Mar. 27, 2012:

"As a result of the finding and recommendations in your audit report, the Personnel Section and Administrative Division have taken the following actions to improve processes and procedures regarding leave buy back as well as clarify and communicate to staff the Division's expectations for professional excellence, integrity and personal responsibility.

On Aug. 3, Summers was demoted for his involvement. He and two other parks officials were disciplined for "inexcusable neglect of duty," "misuse of state property" and "failure of good behavior" for their roles in the leave scheme.

Audit of Internal Controls Over Leave Buy Back

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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