The Parks Scandal That Keeps On Giving

Politicians love a good scandal.  At least, they do if their hands are not dirty.

That helps to explain the growing tempo, the increasing sound and fury at the State Capitol over the mystery of $54 million in state Parks funds that remained hidden for more than a decade.

Since this story was broken by the Sacramento Bee a couple of weeks ago, it's been primarily Republicans who have been vocal about the need for  answers.  But not all.  On Thursday, Assembly Budget Chair Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando, calling the episode "shameful", said parks officials had "lied to all of us."

This week, GOP leaders Bob Huff and Connie Conway sent a letter to the legislature's Democratic leaders, asking that top Parks Department officials be hauled before oversight budget hearings. That includes former longtime Parks Director Ruth Coleman, who resigned over the issue.

The Republican lawmakers also declared that these officials should be placed under oath.  That's a relatively rare occurrence, but necessary, their letter said, "given the conflicting reports provided to the press regarding the department's knowledge of its budget surpluses, and the inability of members to obtain complete and accurate information.."

In addition, State Auditor Elaine Howle was asked this week to launch an expedited audit of the hidden funds and another controversy in which parks employees reportedly cashed in vacation time without authorization.

That's not all. The Brown Administration is conducting its own investigation, after an internal audit that it says shows no more hidden funds in other state accounts.  And Attorney-General Kamala Harris is conducting her own separate probe of how all that cash stayed stashed in secret for so long.

You have to wonder just how many investigations are needed.

Is there some piling on going on here?

The answer lies in the fact that it's an election year.  An election year in which the issue is especially sensitive, given the governor's hoping voters will approve a package of temporary taxes.

There is legitimate concern about what went wrong at the state Parks Department. Lawmakers are right to seek answers.

But multiple investigations and putting bureaucrats under oath, as if this were an Enron-style misdeed, smacks, not of a level-headed inquiry, but of political head-hunting.

Author Kevin Riggs, an Emmy-winning former TV reporter in Sacramento, is Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

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