This post has been updated. See below for details.
A review of the scandal-plagued California parks department found that managers were circumventing payroll policies and boosting employee salaries, according to the state controller's office on Tuesday.
"The deliberate disregard for internal controls along with little oversight and poorly trained staff resulted in improper payouts to parks' employees," said Controller John Chiang in a statement. "When security protocols and authorization requirements so easily can be overridden, it invites the abuse of public funds."
One of the apparent abuses involved "out of class" payments, which is extra money paid to employees for handling duties outside their regular responsibilities. The controller's office said managers were circumventing proper procedures to award payments totaling $520,000 to 203 employees from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2012.
Although a lack of paperwork made it impossible for officials to determine exactly how much of that money was wrongfully paid, some policies were violated, resulting in excessive payments, according to the controller's office.
A spokesman for the parks department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
[Updated, 11:58 a.m. Dec. 18: "We acknowledge and it is widely known that some very unfortunate events occurred at the Department of Parks and Recreation, in particular with the mismanagement of payroll systems and data," said Roy Stearns, a parks spokesman, in a statement. He said the department is using the controller's findings to "continue to improve and safeguard our payroll systems."]
The controller's review was launched after officials revealed the parks department had hidden away $54 million in two accounts over a period of several years. The department's director, Ruth Coleman, was ousted, and Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a retired Marine general, Anthony Jackson, to replace her last month. Jackson is awaiting Senate approval.
“We see these audits and investigations as a catalyst for change and with a new executive management team in place, we will work diligently to earn back the trust of our fellow state agencies’ and the people of the State of California," Jackson said in a statement.
Brown’s Department of Finance is conducting its own audit of the parks department. A spokesman, H.D. Palmer, said the findings could be released before the end of the year.
This post has been corrected to show that managers were circumventing payroll policies on behalf of other employees.
-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
Photo: A visitor at China Camp State Park walks past one of the old shrimping boats on display. Credit: Brant Ward / San Francisco Chronicle