Friday, March 30, 2012

DEP Siphoning Park Funds to Cover Café Losses; Millions not collected or lost from permit violators

Been to a state park lately? Anybody at the gate when you checked in? (Did you put your fee in the Honor Box anyway?) Have you noticed the grass needs cutting and there are fewer folks around to maintain and run the park?
If you’re like me, you just sigh and hope this freaking recession will get over with and the state will again soon be able to afford simple public services like maintaining public facilities and grounds. But in light of the times, you’ve probably rationalized the need for cutting back and have just accepted the economic situation we’re all in, right?
Well, you’ll not be pleased to learn that, with all state park budgets being cut to the bone, a contributing factor could be that the DEP brass in Tallahassee have been siphoning off revenue for years meant for park maintenance to run their office cafeteria, to the tune of $327,496. According to an agency audit (read the entire audit HERE), the DEP lunchroom has been running in the red since 2001 and funds intended for park maintenance have been diverted to cover the losses.
And that’s not all.
What’s worse is, “The auditors also found that there was a lack of written procedures for monitoring timber sales to ensure payments were received and that only the agreed-up timber was removed,” according to an article published this morning by e-news outlet, The Florida Current.
Timber companies that bid on the logging of state forests apparently estimate what they’ll be cutting and, according to the auditors, no one has been checking what they actually harvested or that they even paid for what they took.
These are the same DEP blokes who have sanctimoniously determined they are going to make sure water management districts “get the water right” and have vowed to return them to their “core missions.” Many believe these are just rightwing, red herring public relations ploys to justify inordinate budget reductions and blaming the staffs of the five districts for just doing what they've been charged by law to do.
Florida CEO-governor Rick Scott and Herschel Vinyard, his appointed secretary of the state's environmental protection arm, developed the ploy.  After Scott’s election they decided the districts had strayed from the authorities and responsibilities the legislature had given them over the years and blamed them for much of the state's economic difficulties.  Like it was their fault the state had authorized construction of too many houses and caused the economic bust that followed even though the thought makes no sense to anyone. Gives you a lot of confidence that the fate of the state’s water resources is in good hands doesn’t it?
But wait. There’s more.
The auditors also said there was a lack of documentation to show that demand notices had been sent to permit violators to collect overdue fines. The report says there was $29 million in fines owed to DEP and another $21 million considered uncollectible as of June 30, 2010. That’s $50 million somebody let slip through what was apparently a very large crack!
Maybe the CEO Governor ought to look into this, you think? Bet it would be an interesting read to know who got away with that $50 million.
And maybe CEO-secretary Vinyard needs the same consideration he and the gov gave to Dave Moore, Carol Wehle, Kirby Green, David Still, Doug Barr and hundreds of other professionals who were summarily fired from the state’s five water districts.  These folks kept their fiscal houses in order and the water a whole lot more right than it is right now.
Apart from saying it agreed with the audit findings, DEP had no further comment ... sigh.


  1. I read your articles and appreciate all of the time you put into updating so many people on these issues, but the audit covers periods before the current administration took over. As you pointed out they run things now and have the obligation to address the audit, but they are not the ones who ran the cafeteria in the red (unless that was true over the last 12 months). The article did cover the dates of the audit, which you helpfully attached, but the primary responsibility for this would be the predecessors to the current governor and secretary.

    Thanks for all of your work on these issues. Stop by when you are in Tallahassee, I am good for lunch anytime.

    1. You’re right, of course. But in light of how the current regime has handled the WMD’s (both institutions and staffs), they don’t deserve the slack, in my opinion.

      The fact is they are now responsible for the “fix.” They need to experience what it’s like to “govern.” Running government like a business is myth and they’re finding it out. We’ll see how it goes.

      Good to hear from you. Hope all’s well. Might try to take you up on your lunch offer next time I’m in town

  2. People in prominent high and powerful positions have no basic or conceptual understand about what it means to be fiscally responsible and accountable. I’m laying the ground work now to put my talons into an agency for blatant ignorant mismanagement. If my request for public records information yields what I think it will, I’ll either go to the newspaper with it, or go down and have a private face-to-face with them, and tell them if they don’t clean up their act, I will take it to the media.