Best of #StateReads: California Parks Director Resigns After Budget Revelations

By: - July 25, 2012 12:00 am

This week’s collection of #StateReads explores how the head of California’s parks stepped down after two scandals in a week over the agency’s budget, how small towns make big bucks on speeders in Ohio and how a new Kansas law on drunken drivers may have drastically cut alcohol-related traffic deaths.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to [email protected].

“California parks director resigns amid scandal” — The Sacramento Bee

Matt Weiser’s (@matt_weiser) first piece on the California Department of Parks and Recreation last week, which ran Sunday (July 15), started a chain reaction that led to the resignation of the agency’s director by Thursday. The initial piece exposed a secretive plan to let headquarters employees sell back their unused vacation time to the state, costing taxpayers $271,000 at a time when the agency was planning to close 70 parks to save money. Even more damaging information came out later in the week, when Weiser reported that the agency was sitting on a secret stash of $54 million, which, as KQED points out, was more than twice the shortfall that spurred the plan to close state parks in the first place. Ruth Coleman, the agency’s head, said after her resignation that she did not know of the surplus funds. Most of the parks were not shut down, because private donations helped keep them open.

“Ohio’s mayor’s courts, big business” — The Columbus Dispatch

Mayor’s courts in Ohio operate with little oversight but bring in big money for little towns through traffic tickets, report Justin Conley and Rebecca McKinsey of The Columbus Dispatch (@DispatchAlerts). They highlighted the town of Hanging Rock, which has 221 residents near a federal highway, to show how lucrative the courts are. Recently, the hamlet handled 2,400 speeding cases a year. The Hanging Rock courts, according to the paper, brought in 95 times as much revenue as property and other local taxes.

“Travis County district attorney’s office investigating DPS contract irregularities” — Austin American-Statesman

A Texas agency already under federal scrutiny for how it has handled homeland security grants is now getting a closer look from local prosecutors, reports Brenda Bell of the Austin American-Statesman (@AASInvestigates). The district attorney in Austin is pursuing two separate cases dealing with the Department of Public Safety. One centers on the spending of homeland security money and the other focuses on contracts for information technology providers. The employees at the center of both investigations have already left the agency.

“DUI fatalities drop sharply in wake of recent law” — Lawrence Journal-World

The number of Kansas residents killed in alcohol-related car crashes dropped in half in the year since the state started requiring first-time drunken drivers to get interlock ignitions for a year, reports Shaun Hittle (@shaunhittle). Kansas is one of 14 states to require first-time offenders to get the device, which functions like a breathalyzer that prevents a car’s engine from starting if the driver is impaired.

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