The Coastal Post - October 1999

Crushing Opponents While Environmentalists Doze

When a courageous man, the head of our Department of Environmental Health Services, takes a stand and gives clear, anguished signals of distress that our public health is being endangered by pro-development political interference, all of us should wake up and pay attention.

Ed Stewart, a well liked, faithful county employee with, 28 years of service and an unblemished record has publicly complained of improper interference in the operation of his department by Supervisor Steve Kinsey. He has expressed grave concern for the construction of large volume septic systems which allow dense housing developments in areas where growth would be otherwise limited by the inability to operate traditional septic systems.

No one seems to be paying attention. Where is Marin's environmental community? Marin's daily newspaper is in the hands of a giant conglomerate and reports little controversial news. The Pacific Sun specializes in postmortem sound bites. West Marin's Pulitzer Prize weekly seems to have become a vehicle for Supervisor Kinsey and his supporters. Doesn't anyone care except for a handful of protesters in the San Geronimo Valley?

Now Stewart has been literally thrown out of his office along with another long term trusted inspector David Masagno pending termination proceedings. This ruthless action was done by a new department head, Alex Hinds, recruited and brought here just six months ago, to all appearances, a hatchet man brought in to change the rules and prepare the way for the significant development of rural Marin.

It is unbelievable that, so far, no formal charges have been made public. Nothing like this has ever happened before in this county.

Supervisor Steve Kinsey, the County Administrator and the Director of the Community Development Agency are all hiding behind the dodge: "This is a personnel matter," and "the rights of the accused to privacy must be protected." This is not a personal matter. This is a matter of public health and safety and abuse of power. Interfering in the day to day operations of a regulatory inspector is plainly a corruption of county government by Kinsey and perhaps others on the Board of Supervisors. It will be interesting to see what dirt is dredged up to smear Stewart and Masagno and thus evade Stewart's charges and grievances.

One can only imagine the demoralizing effect this is having on other faithful county employees trying to do their duties. Must they all look over their shoulders.

It is reassuring that the Marin County Grand Jury is looking into the matter, but, since it's proceedings are secret, we will have to wait months for their report, and by then it may be too late.

If there is evidence supporting the claims that there has been favoritism and interference in the enforcement of county regulations it would not be difficult to imagine there might also be interference to harm certain individuals: considered "unfriendly." Everyone knows these days about "plausible deniability" and how underlings know they must protect the boss, and how bosses can clearly communicate with a shrug or a knowing look and a seemingly innocuous, godfather like remark.

Considering that Kinsey's quickly removed and replaced Jean Behrensmeier from her position on Parks and Recreation Commission right after his election and considering the cynical manipulation and purge of insufficiently pro-Kinsey supporters from the San Geronimo Planning Group's Steering Committee by his supporters, one can easily come to the conclusion that opposition is not respected, or tolerated. If you are not with us, you are against us.

Susan and Jerry Knight are currently suing the county alleging that officials conspired to harass and threatened them over access to a private road they share with their neighbors. After years of threats, their home was finally raided, trashed and they were charged with serious felonies, later dropped. Kinsey never denied that he ordered Open Space Rangers to "open up the road."

In a recent letter to the Point Reyes Light, Burr Heneman, a respected ornithologist vulgarly referred vulgarly as "scumbags" to the anonymous posters of signs stating, "West Marin for Sale. Contact Steve Kinsey". Burr might pause to reflect that people in West Marin (and certainly county employees) might have legitimate reasons for fearing to be known as opponents to a powerful Supervisor, the faux architect, with a history of conflicts of interest and an intense passion for unconventional sewage systems that permit growth-and profits!

Politicians were always known to attempt to "reward their friends, and punish their enemies." Rarely has this been so well illustrated as with the French Ranch Development and Marin County's Environmental Health Service.

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