State parks director announces retirement

Published: Wednesday, May. 21, 2014 - 10:43 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 22, 2014 - 12:13 am

The retired Marine brought in to clean up California’s troubled state parks system announced Wednesday that he’s retiring after just 18 months on the job.

Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson, 64, is leaving his post as head of the California Department of Parks and Recreation on June 30. His departure ends four decades of public service, all but four of which he spent in the Marines.

“I sincerely appreciate General Jackson’s service to California and the Department of Parks and Recreation,” Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said in a prepared statement announcing Jackson’s departure. “He came to the department during its darkest hour, bringing stability and consistency. After almost 40 years of public service, he has more than earned the right to retire to private life.”

Jackson’s military background stood in sharp contrast to the chaotic department he took over in 2012. Long-time director Ruth Coleman had been forced out after a Sacramento Bee investigation revealed that parks officials stashed away $54 million in two special funds and ran an off-the-books employee leave cashout program, even as the state was planning to close 70 state parks to meet budget cuts.

In the wake of the scandals, several managers at parks headquarters were fired or reassigned. After being appointed to the post by Gov. Jerry Brown in November 2012, Jackson said he planned to become a student of the organization “putting my own nose to the grindstone,” he told a reporter.

But changing the $654 million-per-year department has proved difficult.

After Jackson took over, the Legislature created a special panel to review parks and suggest improvements. A recent draft report from the Parks Forward commission concludes that “despite years of well-intentioned reports and internal strategic plans, the Department has not yet been able to achieve the magnitude or scope of change needed.”

Jackson gave no indication when he was appointed that his tenure would end so soon.

“I want to thank Gov. Brown and the dedicated group of professionals at State Parks for the opportunity to return to public service and help earn back the public’s trust in one of California’s most valuable assets,” Jackson said in the statement Wednesday. “It has been a challenging, but ultimately fulfilling tenure at California State Parks.”

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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