The status of the California state parks "hidden funds" scandal is a classic case of pass the buck.
Attorney General Kamala Harris' office stresses that it was asked by Gov. Jerry Brown to conduct only an "administrative" review -- not a criminal investigation -- of who stashed $20 million in a secret rainy day fund. It passed along its findings to Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully to look at potential criminal charges.
Scully has tossed the hot potato back, announcing Thursday that she wouldn't pursue criminal charges because the attorney general's report didn't identify suspects or any crime. She questioned why her office got the case to begin with, and why the attorney general wasn't prosecuting it.
Was there a crime committed? Maybe, maybe not.
But we won't know for sure unless there's a criminal investigation.
Nearly a dozen parks employees have been disciplined and there has been housecleaning in the top leadership, but the public does not have a full accounting of what went wrong.
There are also broader issues at stake.
One is public trust in government. The hiding of the money happened at the same time the state Department of Parks and Recreation, blaming budget cuts, was threatening to close as many as 70 parks. Thousands of park supporters donated money and time to keep them open. Without full accountability, will volunteers and nonprofits be so enthusiastic about helping state or local governments again?
Another issue is the independence of the attorney general's office. Californians elected Harris as the state's top law enforcement officer. She shouldn't take her marching orders from the governor's office. If her office believes it can successfully prosecute a case, it should move ahead, especially when the case involves the administration.
It seems awfully premature to conclude that there was no crime.
The attorney general's probe, however limited, found that several high-ranking state parks officials committed "conscious and deliberate" acts to hide the money for as long as 13 years. The state's Penal Code says it is a felony for government officials to knowingly keep a false account of public money. The punishment is as long as four years in prison.
It doesn't appear that any individual profited, or that the money was spent. Scully's office, however, emphasizes that it does not have all the relevant information.
Based on what is known, the district attorney and attorney general say a criminal investigation isn't necessary -- but if one is, the other should do it.
In her letter, Scully says the attorney general's civil investigation wasn't conducted in a way "consistent with or conducive to its use for criminal evaluation purposes" by her office.
Harris' office quickly fired off a response, saying that "a speedy resolution was as critical as a comprehensive one" and that it would have been difficult to get "in-depth disclosure" with the legal requirements of a criminal probe.
Now, the attorney general says, it would be complicated -- and possibly open up a line of defense -- if it did the criminal investigation after doing the civil one. But Scully asserts that the attorney general's office has historically investigated suspected misconduct by high-ranking officials. Enough excuses already.
Unless someone steps up, it appears this case is over. That is not acceptable to the public. It shouldn't be acceptable to Harris and Scully.