SACRAMENTO (CBS) — It was the middle of a work week, but that didn’t stop the State Department of Parks and Recreation from having a little fun.
On state time, driving state vehicles and transporting state workers flown in from Southern California for training, the employees dined, bowled and laughed, a CBS Sacramento investigation has learned.
As the department is trying to regain the public’s trust after a secret slush fund scandal and new leadership, its employees were throwing gutter balls. And CBS cameras were at West Sacramento’s Capitol Bowl to see it.
“Do you have anything to say sir?” a CBS producer asked an employee as he returned to his vehicle.
“No I don’t,” the employee said.
Our investigation found taxpayers paid for three of these state workers to fly from Los Angeles to Sacramento at a cost of about $500 person, including hotel rooms. When employees got off the plane they put on their bowling shoes.
It’s the latest embarrassing episode in a state agency plagued with problems. In June, it was revealed the Parks Department for years had been keeping a secret slush fund worth a whopping $54 million. As they were hiding that money, they threatened to close state parks.
When employees finished bowling around 2 p.m. on Dec. 6th, a CBS producer followed them back to their office in Old Sacramento, where they denied what our cameras caught them doing.
“You weren’t at the bowling alley?” a producer asked an employee.
“No,” he said, shaking his head.
“Our cameras saw you at the bowling alley,” the producer said. “Do you have anything to say sir?”
“No, I don’t,” he said.
A few minutes later, another employee spotted throwing gutter balls walked out to his truck.
“Can you tell me anything about that party you had at the Capitol Bowl just now?” the CBS producer asked.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the employee said, closing his door and driving away.
CBS anchor-reporter Sam Shane asked the department about the events.
“Not that bowling is the worst thing in the world as opposed to having a $54 million slush fund,” he said, “but in terms of an image, this does nothing to help you guys.”
“The public perception is something we are working on,” Parks Department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said.
After the slush fund scandal, Gov. Jerry Brown brought in Major General Anthony Jackson to fix the agency and restore its battered reputation.
But CBS was not allowed to speak with Jackson about his bowling employees. Instead they provided Waters to answer questions.
Waters said 15 employees were in Sacramento for two days of planned meetings — “team building” Thursday and a half-day of meetings Friday before employees flew back to Southern California.
Supervisor Jennifer Harris, chief of the accessibility section of the Parks Department, approved the bowling as a “team building” exercise, which Waters now said was a mistake.
“Well,” she told Shane, “this was an unfortunate and very isolated incident.”
Taxpayer advocate Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association doesn’t think there’s anything unfortunate about it.
“They need a little bit of a reality check,” he said.
Coupal said the bowling party in the middle of a workday shows the attitude in the State Parks Department has not changed from the days when it was hiding tens of millions of dollars in a secret slush fund.
“I would think, of any agency, the State Parks Department would be a little more careful with their policies and how they use their money,” he said.
Waters vowed there will be no more bowling parties for workers in this agency while they’re on the clock.
“I think we’re all admitting that was inappropriate behavior,” she said.
CBS asked Gov. Brown’s office for an interview regarding our findings — they referred us back to the Parks Department.
CBS Sacramento is still waiting on the interview with the new Parks Department director promised in January.
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