Lisa Ann L. Mangat was named acting director Wednesday by Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird to replace Anthony L. Jackson, who abruptly announced his departure after just 18 months on the job. Mangat had been his special assistant since October 2013.
She began her career with the state in 1998 as an analyst for the Department of Social Services before spending three years with the Department of Finance as a budget analyst. Mangat was senior fiscal and policy analyst for the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office from 2002-2005. Various staff guides listed her specialties as gambling, adult corrections and state budget process.
Mangat left the executive branch for a brief flirtation with the Legislature, where she served as principal consultant to the Assembly Appropriations and Budget Committees, before returning the Finance department in 2008. At the department, she was program budget manager for the Health and Human Services Unit that oversaw budgets dealing with health, developmental, mental, rehabilitative, social and other critical services.
Mangat was program budget manager for the department’s Corrections/General Government Unit when she was tapped to become Parks Director Jackson’s special assistant.
She takes over a department, wracked by scandal and plagued by a lack of funding, whose $654 million budget is under intense scrutiny. Jackson, a retired Marine Corps major general, was hired in November 2012 with a mandate to reform the department.
His predecessor, Ruth Coleman, resigned four months earlier after $54 million was found stashed in department accounts while 70 state parks faced closure because of budget cuts.
In the run-up to Coleman’s forced resignation, the state was preparing to close a quarter of its state parks to save $22 million. But parks officials and supporters lobbied the Legislature, chased nonprofit money, begged already-suffering municipalities, added user fee revenues and cut deals with private interests.
The department has been squeezed in recent years by a diminishing state commitment to fund its activities. Instead, parks officials have been pushed to strike public-private partnerships, amp up user fees, curtail available resources and focus on running the parks more like a business.
The brief memo from Secretary Laird announcing Mangat’s appointment singled out the importance of her future work with the Parks Forward Commission. The blue-ribbon commission, appointed by Laird, released a report (pdf) that recommended a new non-profit organization be created to lead a reform movement while the department works on getting its own house in order.
The commission suggested finding new leadership from outside the normal parks and recreation pool of talent, creating a more nimble way of working with business and other stakeholders, and transforming the culture to one that respects innovation and leadership.
The Brown administration is said to be continuing its search for a permanent director.