The Coastal Post - November 1999

County Whistleblower's Public Hearing
Nov. 16 Before Board of Supervisors

By Jim Scanlon

After 28 years with the County, Ed Stewart is out of work: the former head of Marin County Environmental Services who complained about the introduction of large volume septic systems as, "dangerous to public health" and about Supervisor Steve Kinsey's interference in his department will have an opportunity to present his case to the Board of Supervisors in a public hearing on Tuesday November 16 at 2 PM. (The Coastal Post wishes him lots of luck: he will need it.)

Stewart made his grievances under a county resolution (88-24) which involves, waste of public funds, abuse of power, and danger to public health. This hearing is separate and distinct from whatever is happening in secret regarding his being fired along with David Masagno a 16-year veteran with Environmental Health as a sewage specialist. Masagno has not spoken out publicly, but was known to strictly enforced county septic/sewage codes relating to public health (perhaps too strictly to some).

Both men were escorted from their offices on September 17, by county security on five minutes notice, and have been on paid administrative leave pending termination (which seems certain) on charges that have never been made public. It is believed, but could not be confirmed, that the written complaint, on which the terminations are based, was not made available to the men by county officials.

The Coastal Post spoke to John Sweden, the Assistant County Administrator who said that Stewart had had his "Whistleblower" hearing before a County Administrative Officer who did not support his contentions He therefore appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

Sweden claimed that this hearing was separate, different, and completely unrelated to the [dismissal, termination, firing] administrative hearing which he said he knew nothing about, and would not to comment if he did. He said this was a private matter and the public had no right to know.

Stewart did not return telephone calls, which is understandable since he last said he had been advised by his attorney not to make any public statements on the matter. His attorney Chris Burdick told the Post he could make no statement now, but definitely would in due time.

The Coastal Post believes, on the basis of informed observers and hearsay information that both men will soon receive formal notification of their dismissal. Masagno, who was on family leave due to the birth of a son when he was notified of his termination, is actively seeking employment elsewhere, and Stewart will take a month or two to assess his situation and decide what to do next.

It seems certain that the Board of Supervisors will not support Stewart in his grievances against two of its own members, as well as the top county officials, including the Administrator Mark Riesenfeld and the County Council Patrick Faulkner. They are all backers of, or implicated in the introduction of large volume septic systems, championed by Kinsey, beginning with their approval of, and sponsoring the precedent setting French Ranch joint large volume system with the Lagunitas School.

Nor does it seem that the Board of Supervisors or the Personnel Commission (appointed by the Supervisors) will be sympathetic to Stewart and Masagno on the secret charges held against them in their dismissal hearings (which the Post believes were held under unusual conditions). Stewart also has a grievance against one member of the Personnel Board.

The only complaint ever made in the history of Marin under the "Whistleblower Resolution" has received virtually no coverage in the press, as it has progressed over the weeks in secret. The unprecedented threatened termination of a department head and one of his most prized, experienced supervisors, both with unblemished records, also has received no coverage other than one vague article in the Gannett Independent Journal. The public is almost totally uninformed-but may wake up someday after the damage has been done as with the privatization of Marin General Hospital.

Stewart's highly unusual charges of Steven Kinsey's meddling in his department, regarding septic permits, was mentioned in one article in the Pulitzer Prize Winning Point Reyes Light three weeks ago, but with no follow up in the last two issues.

Alex Hinds, who was appointed head of Marin's Community Development Department six months ago, transferred Masagno without informing Masagno's supervisor, Stewart, then ordered their termination. He wrote a column in the Point Reyes Light calling for a review of development and septic systems. A former Supervisor from San Luis Obispo County wrote a follow up column defending Hind's record in that county. The Light has become a willing vehicle for Kinsey's large volume septic system "spinmeisters."

It appear that the strategy of the top leaders of the County is to eliminate Stewart and Masagno, the only two who are not going along with Kinsey's plan to enable large volume septic systems. It will take several weeks, perhaps months, for Stewart and Masagno to exhaust administrative appeals before they can even think about the expense of pursuing court action for wrongful termination, which would then take, perhaps two or three years.

Three years would allow for development to proceed using the "new technology" to be used in lieu of traditional septic systems. And if Stewart and Masagno can hold out financially and, even perhaps, prevail in court-the taxpayers of Marin would foot the bill. The developers will have pocketed their cash, county taxpayers will be stuck with the expense of inspecting and regulating cluster development sewage systems prone to failure and their environmental consequences.

The only specific charge against the two men, the Coastal Post has heard was "gender discrimination", that is, that qualified female staff were not promoted. Such a charge or charges would not be unusual in any county department None have ever been handled with such secrecy especially with spectacular charges of abuse of power and endangering public health being made against Supervisors Kinsey and Kress in the background.

The Marin County Grand Jury has been actively interviewing witnesses in this case including the Coastal Post and it is highly uncertain what it will do, if anything. It could issue a report before its term is up and could refer the matter for further investigation. Since all it's proceedings are secret, we will have to wait and see what it does.

However, under the circumstances it is very difficult not to believe County Officials are attempting to silence, crush and eliminate the two dissenting men in order to create a more developer friendly County Department of Environmental Health, in an arrogant abuse of power exercised in star chamber proceedings.

The dissension that erupted in the San Geronimo Valley over the French Ranch-Laugnitas School partnership sponsored by Kinsey has duplicated itself in Point Reyes Station over downtown development involving large volume septic systems. Additionally, Kinsey's efforts to encourage the Farm Board not to oppose Representative Lynn Woolsey's revised Farmland Protection Act, has split the Farm bureau. Simply put, the majority of voting members of the Bureau and many other active ranchers do not wish to be part of the park and have to deal with Federal Authorities.

The Bureau "disinvited" Kinsey from attending a discussion on the issue last spring, and Kinsey allegedly wrote back (apparently speaking for the entire Board of Supervisors) stating he and his Board had decided there was no point in deepening ties with the Bureau and therefore had decided not to attend the Bureau's Barbecue. The Point Reyes Light, which reported this information headlined that the rancher group was "torn by dissension." The transfer of development rights by the ranchers would presumably result in small clustered developments up the east side of Tomales Bay.

Coastal Post Home Page