“Sell the zoo animals,” bellows Ron Swanson, the director of Pawnee, Ind.’s (fictional) Department of Parks and Rec in NBC’s television show by the same name, when faced with a severe budget deficit. “To cosmetics labs, weird restaurants. I’m just spitballin’ here.”
Director Swanson has attained cult status among fans of the program, now in its fourth season, in no small part because he plays a buffoonish, penny-pinching bureaucrat who, owing to his strong libertarian tendencies, despises bureaucrats.
Would that we had such problems in our own state government! Instead, our (real) state parks and rec outfit has recently endured an embarrassing scandal involving the discovery of $54 million in assets hidden for years at the same time the department was pleading poverty and warning of park shutdowns.
The story began earlier this summer when investigative reporters at The Sacramento Bee learned about a secret “vacation buyout” program at the California Department of Parks and Recreation, costing the state some $271,000, in which employees were permitted to “sell” their unused vacation time back to the state.
While this discovery may have seemed like small potatoes, it led to more inquiries by The Bee, which in turn revealed that the department had been regularly underreporting its revenue for years to the state Department of Finance. Specifically, the agency was harboring $20.4 million in its Parks and Recreation Fund and $33.5 million in its Off Highway Vehicle Trust Fund.
Shortly after the revelation, Ruth Coleman, State Parks director, announced her resignation. More to this Opinion Piece……