SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California’s state parks director abruptly announced his retirement Wednesday, just 19 months after he took control of a department that had been rocked by years of fiscal mismanagement.
Anthony Jackson, a retired Marine Corps major general, said in a statement that his tenure “has been a challenging, but ultimately fulfilling” one.
The major initiative launched under his tenure, a commission formed to make recommendations about the operation of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, still has another year of meetings remaining.
Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Jackson to the position in November 2012 after the previous director resigned following disclosures that the department kept $54 million hidden in two special funds for more than a decade, even as budget cuts threatened to close 70 of nearly 280 state parks.
Jackson had spent most of his career in the military. On the day he was sworn in as parks director, he said he was “kind of stunned I’m in this position, but I’m also exhilarated.”
Jackson’s retirement from the $150,000-a-year position will take effect June 30.
Parks department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said Jackson’s decision was prompted not by health concerns or other reasons but was “just a decision to retire after 40 years of public service.”
“He spent the last year and a half setting us on the right path,” she said.
She added that Jackson helped the department regain the public’s trust. A request by The Associated Press to speak directly to Jackson was not immediately fulfilled.
Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, said she was not surprised by Jackson’s announcement because he had said when he took the post that he was likely to serve through the governor’s current term, which ends in January.
“We’re sorry to see the general go,” she said. “He’s certainly been at the helm through some choppy waters.”
The foundation is a private nonprofit that advocates and raises money for the state park system, the largest in the nation.
California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said in a statement that Jackson “came to the department during its darkest hour, bringing stability and consistency.”
An audit released a month after he took office cited poor management and insufficient training at the department. Auditors with the state Department of Finance found that for 19 years, parks staff intentionally underreported funds used by the governor’s office to craft the state budget.
The audit also said parks employees made improper charges on state-issued credit cards, among other findings. It was released days after the state controller disclosed that managers overpaid parks employees more than $500,000 over a three-year period.
At the time, Jackson said he agreed with most of the findings and would implement stronger internal controls.
The independent, privately funded Parks Forward Commission was created in June with the task of studying the size of the park system, money-generating opportunities and leadership at the department, among other topics. The panel includes private-sector business leaders.
Its first report to the Legislature and Brown is due this fall.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.