The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

September 10, 2013
Audit outlines California parks' budgeting, vacation leave ills

RP_SUTTERS_FORT_CANNON.JPGCalifornia's scandal-plagued parks department manipulated its roster to keep from abolishing vacant positions, lacks sound budgeting methods for individual parks and, despite extreme scrutiny of an illegal employee leave buyback program, "still has not done enough to prevent such practices from occurring," according to an audit released today.

California State Auditor Elaine Howle said her investigation turned up four additional instances of inappropriate leave buybacks between May 2010 and March 2011 that totaled $16,394.

The department couldn't document the rationale for the largest payment, $8,721. Payroll records showed the department bought down an 340 hours of time an employee banked for extra time worked.

The 43-page audit sampled operations at five park districts and describes a department budget process so unorganized that district administrators make an educated guess at how much money they'll receive when the fiscal year starts each July. They then reset their budgets sometime between August and November when they find out how much money they have.

The poor communication ran the other way. District expenditure tracking is so poor that four of the five districts audited had developed their own systems for watching their expenses on a real-time basis. That has created duplicate work in some instances and the department still does not know how much it costs to operate each park.

The lack of sound financial information would hobble the department's compliance with a law that kicks in July 1 requiring the department cut costs at its individual facilities if funding falls below a certain level.

Auditors blamed the disarray on the lack of sound budget allocation and expenditure processes, unclear communication in the organization and chaos created by extreme budget cuts the last few years.

The report also says parks officials routinely played a personnel shell game to dodge a law that abolishes state positions -- and the budget money that goes with them -- when the jobs go unfilled for months. To avoid the ax, the department temporarily transferred employees into the empty slots ahead of the deadline. The moves made it appear the positions had been correctly filled.

Aaron Robertson, parks' chief deputy director, said in five-page response that the department is either working to correct the problems identified in the audit or will soon. Examples include improving its budget allocation and expenditure-tracking processes, training on personnel issues and increasing the management oversight of leave buybacks.

We've embedded the audit below. Download a copy here.

PHOTO: Workers rebuild the roof at historic Sutter's Fort on Aug. 7, 2013, in downtown Sacramento, a California state park displaying a cannon that John Sutter bought from the defunct Russian outpost at Fort Ross. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

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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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