SACRAMENTO (AP) — More than 200 state employees were overpaid more than $500,000 by managers who deliberately broke state rules at the troubled California Department of Parks and Recreation, according to a report Tuesday by the state controller.
The report is the latest blow to a department where employees were found last summer to have kept $54 million hidden in two special funds for more than a decade, even as dozens of parks faced closure. Results from additional investigations by the Department of Finance and state attorney general are expected in coming weeks.
The controller's office found that managers broke rules and regulations to pay 203 employees about $520,000 in extra pay over three years. Several dozen other employees were also overpaid more than $63,000 because they worked more hours or in higher-paying positions than allowed.
"The deliberate disregard for internal controls along with little oversight and poorly trained staff resulted in improper payouts to Parks' employees," Controller John Chiang said in a statement. He called for tighter security and authorization requirements to correct a lax standard that "invites the abuse of public funds."
Department spokesman Roy Stearns said the department agrees with much of the criticism and is taking steps to comply.
There aren't enough records to say how many of the overpayments were legal, according to the controller. But auditors found that employees were paid extra money for extra duties for more days than were allowed by state rules or collective bargaining agreements. One employee was shuffled between assignments three times to keep getting the additional pay.
The additional pay is supposed to be awarded only under limited circumstances, for a limited number of days and only with proper documentation. But managers "circumvented rules and regulations" to allow the extra pay, according to the controller. The auditors examined three years ending June 30, about the time the scandal broke.
Other problems involved temporary employees who worked more hours than allowed, as well as employees who did not take a required 5 percent pay cut while they were out of work on leave.
The department said in its official response that the employees who received extra pay were eligible to do so, but that proper procedures weren't followed. It disagreed with several of the controller's findings.
Former parks director Ruth Coleman resigned last summer, a senior official was fired and another quit before he could be disciplined. Three others have been disciplined and more could face penalties as the investigations continue, Stearns said, though he noted that some employees thought they were acting properly as directed by their supervisors.
"For the majority of weaknesses noted, we have already implemented improvements," he said.
Problems at the department first surfaced in July with the disclosure that dozens of parks employees were improperly allowed to sell unused vacation time back to the state.
The controller found that about 90 percent of the buybacks were allowed by two managers who altered payroll records without proper authority.