Ex-Marine general to head California parks department

11/14/2012 12:00 AM

11/13/2012 11:31 PM

An expert in drafting battle plans has been appointed to lead the California Department of Parks and Recreation out of the trenches of its recent financial scandals.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday appointed retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson as state parks director.

Jackson, 63, served in the Marine Corps for 36 years, most recently as San Diego-based commander of all Marine Corps bases in the Southwest. He also served two years in Iraq as assistant chief of staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Jackson replaces Ruth Coleman, an economist and lobbyist who led the parks department for a decade. She resigned in July amid revelations that the department had hidden $54 million in two special funds, even as it was planning to close 70 state parks to achieve state budget cuts.

Numerous other staff members at parks headquarters were fired or reassigned in the wake of the discovery. About two-thirds of the hidden money remains in limbo and two investigations are ongoing.

"Under Major General Jackson's leadership, I am confident that the stewardship of California's beaches, forests, estuaries, dunes and wetlands is in good hands," Brown said in a statement, "and that the confidence and trust of Californians in our Parks Department will be restored."

Jackson, who retired from the Marines in 2011, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He is expected to start work Friday.

Jackson was raised in Oakland and attended San Jose State University on a football scholarship, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in history. He is married with two grown sons.

Jackson enlisted in the Marines in 1975.

"I wanted to be in a service that I thought would most likely be involved in something significant," he told San Jose State's alumni magazine in 2009, explaining why he chose the Marines. "I wanted to be tested in a crisis."

He will get that chance again as parks director. Revelations of mismanagement by parks headquarters staffers have left a rift in public perceptions of the department.

Jackson has limited experience with parks but a great deal of history managing public lands, in the form of military bases. He has advocated for renewable energy programs within the military.

"These are tough times for parks," said Ruskin Hartley, former executive director of Save the Redwoods League, which supports North Coast parks. "They need someone who can help build the department back and build strong, lasting partnerships with those who have helped the department in time of need."

Many state parks operate with help from small nonprofit groups. Amid the state budget crisis, many of these groups took on fundraising campaigns to avoid park closures, and some signed contracts to operate parks themselves.

The discovery of hidden funds came as a betrayal.

"I'm really excited there's going to be a new director, because I think it's going to help us to move on," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that works closely with the department. "I also think it's really an opportunity because somebody will come to the department with fresh eyes."

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