Former Maj. Gen. Anthony L. Jackson will oversee a parks department with…
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday tapped a decorated retired Marine Corps officer to run the state Parks and Recreation Department, which was rocked by a financial scandal last summer.
Former Maj. Gen. Anthony L. Jackson will replace Ruth Coleman, who resigned in July following revelations that parks officials had stashed more than $54 million away without informing the governor's office, even as dozens of parks were slated for closure because of budget cuts.
The governor alluded to the scandal in a statement announcing Jackson's appointment Tuesday.
"Under Maj. Gen. Jackson's leadership, I am confident that the stewardship of California's beaches, forests, estuaries, dunes and wetlands is in good hands," Brown said, "and that the confidence and trust of Californians in our parks department will be restored."
Jackson will oversee a department with a $584-million budget that has been plagued in recent years by infighting, mismanagement and low morale, culminating in the scandal that led to the departure of Coleman and other agency officials.
"His first job will be to reestablish the esprit de corps of the department," said Rusty Areias, who was parks director under Gov. Gray Davis and applauded Jackson's selection.
Through a spokesman, Jackson declined to comment.
A 35-year military veteran with a commanding presence and a death-grip handshake, Jackson was one of the highest-ranking African Americans in the Marine Corps. He oversaw operations at six Marine bases in California and one in Yuma, Ariz.
He has been a proponent of the military's need to continue to invest in alternative energy sources to power its bases and its vehicle fleets, for environmental and national security reasons.
San Diego lawyer Michael Neil, a retired Marine brigadier general and decorated Vietnam veteran, said that Jackson's leadership experience running far-flung Marine installations — with varied terrain and environmental concerns, as well as budgetary constraints and personnel issues — makes him an excellent choice to straighten out the state parks system.
"He knows how to run things," Neil said. "He knows how to command people, he knows how to get the best out of people. He will do an excellent job."
Jackson will be charged with overseeing the operation of more than 280 parks covering about 1.4 million acres, 15,000 campsites and 3,000 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation. He is to be paid $150,112 a year.
Times staff writer Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.