WatchSonoma Watch

GOLIS: The $54 million injustice


Gov. Jerry Brown wanted to prentend  it was no big deal. About the $54 million state parks surplus that went unreported for a dozen years, Brown joked Wednesday, “Hallelujah! More money it better than less money.”

Nice try. This particular dance is what we expect from a politician who hopes voters will approve a tax measure in November. But Brown knows the political damage is done.

Pete Golis.

Anyone who worked to support parks in Sonoma County (or even wrote columns in support of local parks) knows the feeling. People feel disheartened. There is a sense of betrayal.

Consider Deb McGauley’s letter to the editor on Thursday. The Santa Rosa woman recounted how her family contributed money to the state for a picnic table that honors her parents’ memory.

That picnic table is located at a state beach now closed nine months a year, supposedly because the state parks department was broke.

Then McGauley opens the newspaper last week to learn that the department is sitting on $54 million. (The San Jose Mercury News on Friday reported that two groups who made large donations are asking for their money back — or a commitment that the $54 million will be spent on parks.)

In her Close to Home commentary, also on Thursday, Lauren Dixon, deputy director of the Parks Alliance for Sonoma County, reminded us that state government has managed to deliver us the worst of both worlds. The financial problems for state parks will continue, but it will now be more difficult to solve them.

“We remain faced with the same question,” Dixon wrote. “What happens next year and 10 years from now? We need a sustainable solution to support our parks.”

“We were on the brink of doing something transformative in Sonoma County when this happened,” Caryl Hart, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks, told the Sacramento Bee. “This has so many layers of destruction.”

Dixon and Hart have been leaders in efforts to create a new model for managing and sustaining parks in Sonoma County.

“This has been an outrage to the public, and we feel outraged as well,” Carolyn Schoff, president of the California League of Parks Associations, told the Associated Press. “Even if the money is returned back, it’s not resolving the crisis, and now the public trust has been betrayed.”

Somehow, state government accomplished what seemed impossible, which is to make Californians even less trusting of government than they were before.

Within hours of the first reports, Sonoma County officials pulled the plug on consideration of a November tax measure in support of parks. No one wanted to be caught asking voters to bail out a state government that claimed to be broke and wasn’t.

The damage, of course, won’t be limited to state parks. How many times have we heard groups complain that government has plenty of money?

You don’t need more taxes, they say, you have lots of money.

You could repair all those roads, save parks and restore schools, pay higher salaries and do a hundred other things, they say, if you really wanted to do them.

For all those folks, the $54 million in unreported assets becomes the latest excuse for opposing almost everything (except the expenditures important to them). Hey, government has the money somewhere, and besides, it can’t be trusted.

Deep down, people may know that this $54 million fiasco doesn’t mean that government is flush. Sadly, no one can argue that state government has demonstrated over the last decade that it can be trusted.

And it’s too bad because — in case you hadn’t noticed — there’s work to do if California is to remain prosperous.

School performance is declining. Highways and roads are falling apart. There are issues related to water resources, climate change, energy reliability and — God knows — financial reform in government.

Unfortunately, state government keeps finding ways to remind us that it isn’t trustworthy — launching yet another assault on the optimism necessary to save parks and do a thousand other things.

It would be pleasant to believe that one day soon the governor and Legislature will be able to make the hard decisions necessary to restore the state’s confidence in the future.

Sonoma County should be proud that community groups managed to spare five local parks from the state’s closure list. Those 25 nonprofit groups shouldn’t second-guess their efforts, now or ever.

But their task becomes harder now — and yes, it is a terrible injustice.

Voters are right to be outraged, but outrage needs to be channeled toward constructive ends. This is the time to insist that politicians create financial controls that don’t allow $54 million to go unreported. This is the time to insist that state government becomes more efficient and responsive and relevant.

This is not the time to let outrage become an excuse to turn away in disgust, leaving California (and its parks) to drift toward mediocrity.

(Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.)


14 Responses to “GOLIS: The $54 million injustice”

  1. Snarky says:


    You are wrong.

    One of the secret funds that the government criminals call “special” funds was supposedly abolished in 2002 yet continues to have cash sitting there today.

    That was the Mexican American Veteran’s something or other fund.

    If it was officially abolished ten years ago, why would it still be in existence today?

    1) incompetence


    2) criminality

    Care to comment on specifics, Mockingbird?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I’m not surprised that departments hid money. They aren’t really slush funds as Kay says, but rainy day funds. Often they aren’t included in the budget figures where the public can see them so any deficit looks bigger. Bob Deis was great at this. I wouldn’t be surprised that the county has hidden in plain sight funds as well. Especially in a negotiating year it helps to look like there is less money available so you can fleece your rank and file for theirs. That’s what the rank and file county employees are finding out. A few months ago there was a deficit, now the BOS says the budget is balanced. So why do they still want $5M from SEIU when they’ve made no committment or move to fix the excess management and their deferred comp problem? Fixing that first is pretty much $5M right there and the workers KNOW IT. The workers got hit last time. Time for a change.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  3. Snarky says:

    Cities, counties, and private citizens across California are now demanding their money back from the State of California due to the secret stash of cash exposed by the media.

    Ventura County wants its cash back.

    If the Press Demo will not report on this, then google it. All the other media outlets are now reporting of the refund demands.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. Follower says:

    …and while the City of Oakland has been laying off cops, teachers and firefighters we now find that they pissed away $15million! Not to mention the $20+million they spent on a new Radio system that doesn’t work!

    Yeah, sure… “it’s just an anomaly”! Government doesn’t waste the money we work hard to earn.

    Besides… if we just TAX THE RICH it doesn’t matter because those people need to be punished for being more successful than me anyway”!

    And you idiots fall for it election after election.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. Michael Sheehan says:

    If both political parties were TRULY against budget deficits and irresponsible government spending, we would have no deficits or a $16 trillion debt.

    Both parties campaign against deficits, but they created the problem, and Obama has put the country on the expressway to disaster. So raising taxes will NEVER solve the real problem – elected officials LOVE debt, deficits, and pork spending on their often-stupid pet projects.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. Follower says:

    There it is!

    @Juvenal confirms everything I’ve always said about Government waste. People just can’t bring themselves to believe that their Big Government, Nanny State agenda has a huge, gaping flaw.

    Isn’t it ironic that the Socialist agenda suffers from the same problem as the capitalist agenda, the difference being that capitalists don’t try to hide it. The capitalist is up front and clear about the nature to their agenda while the Nanny Statists will lie even too themselves to justify their agenda.

    Both do everything possible to use the Government to force their victims to “hand over your wallet”.

    The capitalist will say “but I’m just following the law”.
    The Socialist will say “it’s for your own good, now HAND IT OVER”!

    The ONLY solution is smaller, weaker, less intrusive Government because no matter WHICH agenda is running the show, we are subject to theft.

    You can be robbed by a weak thief or a omnipotent one.

    Your choice ….for now.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  7. Snarky says:

    “”" Special fund accounts have drawn greater scrutiny in the past two weeks after the Resources Agency revealed that the Department of Parks and Recreation had HIDDEN* nearly $54 million in two such funds for more than a decade.

    The Department of Finance is auditing 560 special fund accounts to determine whether other money has been inappropriately shielded from view and expects to issue a report later this week.”"

    Sacramento Bee
    July 30, 2012

    *caps added for emphasis. i.e. the parks dept was HIDING the money from voters.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  8. Snarky says:

    The accumulated $54 million dollars, the previous illegal granting of cash to 70 top level managers in the California Parks Dept, and the newly discovered TWO BILLION DOLLARS in “special state accounts” was all under the watch of both political parties.

    Although the GOP might be a minority party at one time or another, or the Dems might be a minority party at one time or another, it only took one person to let the media in on the secret stash of cash yet nobody did. The media had to expose the criminality on its own.

    Neither the Dems nor the GOP did anything to protect the public. They were too busy protecting their own government jobs.

    The public has been the loser. We only have the $$$ back thanks to an investigation by the media.

    Its not a political party issue. Its a criminal issue. Its a honesty issue. Anyone who attempts to blame one party or the other is merely attempting to confuse and distract the voters.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  9. Snarky says:

    Juvenal said, “But let’s not confuse the issue of one-time “found” money …”

    Its not “one time found money.”

    Its $54 million dollars that had been incrementally accumulated over many years and which was not disclosed properly.

    Why else would the State Park’s Dept Director immediately resign? Why else would a top person thereafter be fired?

    You also ignore the previous Parks Dept scandal where the top managers in the Dept granted themselves illegal cash grants. 70 people gave themselves cash grants without approval from higher up and in violation of state law.

    You play fast and loose with the truth. Almost as if you are attempting to manipulate the public the way the Parks department did.

    I might add….. that original “found money” .. described more accurately as “recovered stolen money” because it was not being reported even as the Parks claimed they did not have enough to keep 70 parks operating…. that original $54 million dollars turned out to be the tip of the iceberg in California as the San Jose Mercury News has now identified TWO BILLION DOLLARS that has been kept in “special accounts” of State Government.

    The government is not starved for tax revenue. The state government is starved for honesty.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  10. Juvenal says:

    Yes, this is bad work. Yes, it’s embarrassing, or should be. But let’s not confuse the issue of one-time “found” money with the issue of on-going revenue: taxes are the price we pay for civilization.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 19

  11. Not A Chance says:

    @Sarky Fish

    Just a little history/civics lesson for you: since 1975 the Democrats have had a grand total of 12 years in the Governor’s mansion while the Republicans have enjoyed 24 years at the helm. I would hardly say we’ve been driven into this mess by the Democrats alone.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 11

  12. Snarky says:

    The San Jose Mercury News was the first media outlet to expose the $54 million dollar secret Parks account.

    Before that, 70 senior management staff at California Park granted themselves, illegally and without required approval, cash payments.

    Now the San Jose Mercury News has done further investigating and exposed that the State of California has roughly TWO BILLION DOLLARS sitting in secret accounts that have not been reported.

    Keep in mind, that TWO BILLION dollars in secrete accounts only represents the state level scandal. County, city, and special district secret accounts no doubt exist.

    Oh, I’m sorry. Did I call them “secret” accounts? The State of California and Governor Brown are calling them “Special Accounts.”

    I want my donated money back that I spent on a “fund raiser hike” recently. I was manipulated by a dishonest state government.

    Thumb up 33 Thumb down 2

  13. Kay Tokerud says:

    Hey Golis, where’s the article about the over $2 Billion discrepancy from all the other slush funds, I mean State agencies, that was reported by the San Jose Mercury News? In that story we find that many other agencies are as bad or worse than the Parks Service. It isn’t just one bad apple. It seems like you’re trying to minimize an enormous problem that needs immediate action to correct. The eleven billion dollars in all those rainy-day accounts should be confiscated by the State to plug the budget gap. Why are they sitting on that kind of money when they are asking for more taxes from us?

    They’ve been using the HONOR SYSTEM in the more than 500 agencies to report their fund balances. Are they kidding me? The bunch of crooks running the State should not be trusted whatsoever and some serious auditing should immediately be undertaken. If the amounts reported underrepresent the actual account balances by over $2 Billion, there’s no way to know how much has been stolen over and above that amount. Heads need to roll and those accounts should be frozen and then scooped up by the State’s General fund.

    Thumb up 30 Thumb down 2

  14. Sarkyfish says:

    Pete is irate without mentioning the obvious: what should the public expect from decades of one party (Democrat) government married to a one party (liberal-Democrat) media which he has been part of for so many years? Every morning, we put our brains in a washing machine when we pick up and read the Press Democrat. Ignorance and political dysfunction is fostered by singular points of view.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 4

Leave a Reply