NATURIST ACTION COMMITTEE
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DATE : July 22, 2012
SUBJECT: Scandal and fallout at California DPR
TO : All naturists and other interested parties
This is an Advisory from the Naturist Action Committee (NAC) concerning recent developments involving the California State Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). The fallout from those developments is significant for naturists.
SCANDAL, RESIGNATION, FIRING
In a time of severe budget austerity and plans for the closure of as many as seventy state parks because of a shortage of operating funds, the California Department of Parks and Recreation was found this past week to be sitting on a hidden fund that amounted to nearly $54 million in two accounts. To establish perspective, we note that the amount needed to keep all state parks open had been estimated to be $22 million, less than half the hidden stash.
The news comes at a time in which state lawmakers are considering increasing taxes on citizens for a DPR bailout and local groups are having bake sales to keep their nearby parks from having to close.
In the immediate wake of the scandal, DPR Director Ruth Coleman resigned her position. Acting chief deputy director Michael Harris, Coleman’s second in command, was fired.
In her letter of resignation Friday to California Governor Jerry Brown, Coleman claims that she was unaware of the unreported surplus, which she characterized as “an excessive balance.”
During her 12 year tenure as the Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, Ruth Coleman did not make herself easily available to naturist and nudist groups or leaders. However, in a focused effort to negotiate in good faith with the Department in the context of the San Onofre State Beach situation and other matters, NAC has met in recent years with Director Coleman formally in her Sacramento office and informally on other occasions. Coleman has participated in a number of one-on-one phone conversations with NAC Executive Director Bob Morton, and she has initiated several of those calls, herself. NAC has enjoyed an access to the Director that was not accomplished by others.
From this perspective, conclusions regarding former Director Coleman’s management style have become apparent. Coleman was not a “hands-on” director. She relied on others to establish policy for her. For example, Ruth Coleman did not originate the directive she signed in 2008 that abrogated the long-standing Cahill Policy at San Onofre State Beach. That memo was written by local park superintendent Rich Haydon, who had been in his position for all of two weeks. Haydon was unfamiliar with the policy or its history. Indeed, in referring to former DPR Director Russell Cahill, the author of the eponymous policy, Haydon’s memo identified him as “William Cahill.”
Ruth Coleman too frequently accepted what her underlings told her, even when it was obviously wrong. A Department lawyer advised Coleman, for example, that park employees at a state-operated clothing-optional beach could sue her department for sexual harassment because of the nude beachgoers. That legal opinion was baseless, but it was a view Coleman came to hold strongly.
Throughout DPR’s relentless crusade against clothing-optional areas in state parks since 2008, Anthony I. “Tony” Perez, Deputy Director of Park Operations, has been a powerful and vigorous adversary of nude recreation. Documents uncovered by NAC through California’s Public Records processes have shown that Perez has regularly and surreptitiously intercepted naturist and nudist communication intended for Director Coleman. Representatives from the American Association for Nude Recreation have dealt with Perez, but they have never been allowed to meet with Ruth Coleman.
NAC’s observation of Coleman’s unquestioning reliance on the poor advice and faulty reporting of those who worked for her tends to offer awkward support for her contention that she was unaware of the funds that had gone unreported through her entire tenure. Regardless, her defective management style does not excuse the blunder.
A RETIREMENT UNREPORTED IN THE MEDIA, BUT OF IMPORTANCE TO NATURISTS
The existence of irregularities began coming to light when auditors found evidence of unauthorized vacation buyouts among DPR headquarters personnel as far back as 2004. The conversion of unused vacation hours into a cash payment is not typically permitted for state employees during times of budget shortfalls. Probing the vacation scheme through its own Public Records Act requests, the Sacramento Bee forced the issue in recent weeks and uncovered the hidden funds.
Deputy Director Manuel Lopez received more than $20,000 in unauthorized and improperly reported vacation buyout cash. The total involved in the dollars-for-vacation-hours scheme has been estimated to be more than $270,000. Lopez was demoted in October, 2011, and he resigned in May of this year.
As the scandal continued to unfold, DPR Deputy Director Tony Perez quietly retired late last month. No presently existing allegation connects Perez to any of the departmental improprieties. Regardless, the departure of Perez may be seen as more directly significant for naturists than the resignation of Coleman.
THIS DOES NOT SIGNAL A RETURN TO THE CAHILL POLICY
Governor Brown has appointed Natural Resources Agency Undersecretary Janelle Beland to be the acting director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Beyond the obvious tasks of caretaking and cooperating with the inevitable investigations, it is unlikely that Beland will propose any new initiatives in the near future.
A great deal of dust will have to settle before the affected state agencies are able to move forward effectively. Naturists, who are understandably eager to read instant change into recent events, are encouraged to temper enthusiasm with wisdom.
Ultimately, resurrection of the familiar Cahill Policy as a management tool for clothing-optional beaches is unlikely. An appellate court has ruled that Cahill was never properly installed, even though it worked reasonably well for close to 30 years. Other long term solutions are more attractive and viable.
WHAT WILL NATURISTS DO?
Two years ago, the Naturist Action Committee developed a formal petition requesting the setting aside of portions of State Park units for clothing-optional recreation. The petition was submitted not only to the State Department of Parks and Recreation, but also to the California Park and Recreation Commission and to the State Natural Resources Agency. Many naturist and nudist clubs, resorts and organizations with California interests joined NAC in signing the document. Others were offered the chance to sign, but elected not to do so.
When the time is right, NAC will be submitting the petition again with the sincere hope that this time, AANR and AANR-West will choose to sign it, too.
What else will be different this time? Well, we won’t have the DPR Director telling the Park and Rec Commission that there’s just no money to allow the Department to be responsive to the 62% of California adults who believe “the California Department of Parks and Recreation should exercise the legal authority it has to designate clothing-optional areas in state parks.” [Source: 2009 NEF California Poll.]
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Watch for NAC Action Alerts, Advisories and Updates on this and other important issues affecting naturists.
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