Hidden funds reveal public's vulnerabilities

Monday, January 7, 2013

They say when things get tough, the tough get going. We've noticed, however, that tough times often shed light on things some people would rather keep in the shade.

The latest example is the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which kept funds hidden in a couple of secret accounts.

Some $54 million in funds, for 10 years, it turns out.

This was going on at the same time budget problems were going to force 70 state parks to be closed.

According to a report from the state attorney general, no one stole any money or spent it inappropriately, and "only" $20 million was intentionally hidden.

No, greed wasn't the motive, but embarrassment, and fear that the department's budget would be cut once the stash was discovered.

The director of the parks department resigned and a senior parks official was fired last summer after the money was found hidden in the two special funds.

It wasn't like the whole department was in on the conspiracy.'"Throughout this period of intentional non-disclosure, some parks employees consistently requested, without success, that their superiors address the issue," a deputy attorney general wrote in the report.

The former director has denied knowing about the hidden money, but was the only current or former employee who would not agree to be interviewed by the attorney general's office, according to the report.

Government officials at all levels, from President Obama, who promised one of the most open governments ever when he first ran for the nation's highest office, down to some local entities, seem reluctant to disclose budgetary details and too often stonewall until what would otherwise be a minor flap turns into a major scandal.

One prime example is the city of Bell, California, population 36,000, which paid city officials some of the highest salaries in the nation before the scandal came to light.

Media types noted that Bell city government was not regularly covered by news organizations, especially not a local newspaper.

Fortunately, the vast majority of public officials are honest and dedicated, especially in areas like Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas.

Like the late President Ronald Reagan's motto in dealing with the Soviet Union, however, the public's attitude should be "trust, but verify."

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