Lawmaker Questions AG’s Role in State Parks Probe

Byline: Associated Press/Judy Lin

SACRAMENTO (AP) — A lawmaker on Aug. 15 questioned whether the state attorney general’s office is fit to investigate the California State Parks Department, which is embroiled in numerous controversies.

During a Senate budget committee hearing, Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, said lawmakers should consider an outside investigator. His concern arose after it was revealed that lawyers for the attorney general’s office and parks department were made aware of hidden money months before top officials said they learned of it (see the related story: “State Lawyers Were Reportedly Told of Secret Parks Funds in January”).

The attorney general’s office has not said what it did with that information. Spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill declined to give details because the investigation is continuing.

The governor’s finance director, Ana Matosantos, said administration officials acted quickly upon learning about the surplus in July.

“As soon as the agency and the governor learned of the circumstance, within 48 hours, that information was publicly reported,” Matosantos told lawmakers. “The broader issue about what exactly occurred at parks, who knew what at parks, when. This is all subject to investigation.”

Emmerson said it would be difficult for lawmakers to craft legislation to address the problem without knowing what happened.

“I’m concerned about the organizations that are supposed to be doing oversight having done so with the type of strong effort that they should have,” he said. “I’m concerned about the ability for us to get the kind of information we need.”

Emmerson and Republican lawmakers asked Democratic leaders to call key officials involved in the parks funding scandal to testify under oath. The officials did not appear Aug. 15.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said, “there is an open criminal investigation at the Department of Justice, and we would not want this hearing to jeopardize any testimony in that open investigation.”

According to a sworn declaration filed in court Aug. 14, former parks employee Cheryl Taylor said she told state attorneys that her department was hiding about $20 million in a special fund several months before officials announced discovering the money.

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