Politics & Government

More vacation leave cashouts, accounting disarray at California’s parks department

State investigators have found unreported cases of an illicit program that let state parks employees trade leave time for cash and, despite extreme media and government scrutiny, “still has not done enough to prevent such practices from occurring,” according to an audit released Tuesday.

The 43-page report sampled operations at five park districts within the $574 million Department of Parks and Recreation and found a budgeting system so disorganized that district administrators make an educated guess at how much money they’ll receive when the fiscal year starts each July. They reset their budgets, sometimes several months later, when they find out how much money they have.

Expenditure tracking also is so poor that four of the five districts had their own systems for watching their expenses. That has created duplicate work in some instances – and the department still does not know how much it costs to operate each park. Auditors blamed the disarray on the lack of sound business processes, unclear communication in the organization and chaos created by extreme budget cuts the past few years.

If not fixed soon, the lack of sound financial information could thwart compliance with a law that kicks in July 1, 2014, requiring that parks cut costs at individual facilities if funding falls below certain levels.

The report also says parks officials routinely have 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.

Auditors turned up four additional instances of inappropriate leave buybacks between May 2010 and March 2011 that totaled $16,394. Parks officials couldn’t document the rationale for the largest payment, $8,721. Payroll records suggest the money bought down 340 hours of time an employee banked for extra time worked.

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