Keeping It Open
We have noble heroes, but my favorites are obnoxious.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Looking at the Weekly’s list of Local Heroes for 2011 is a humbling experience. A woman who teaches children to become micro-entrepreneurs, and in doing so, mentors them through a summer that might otherwise be filled with long hours of finding trouble. A retired scientist who spent his life’s work counting rock-clinging sea creatures, then taught high school students to take up that mantle. Another guy who flies by the seat of his pants in helping the homeless and disenfranchised bridge the digital divide at a little center in Salinas’ Chinatown.
Noble people doing noble work.
But what this year’s list lacks are my favorite kind of heroes: the pain-in-the-ass type. The ones who show up to public meetings and demand openness. The ones who leverage the state’s Public Records Act and file request after request, exposing documents (and misdeeds) that might otherwise remain hidden from the public. The ones who fight to get elected to boards traditionally comprised of good old boys and demand openness, and get their names dragged through the mud because of it. The ones who get contracted to do one job and find the people signing their checks are dead wrong – and then shout it from the rooftops as some barely-out-of-college public relations cookie tries and fails to trash their reputations in the national press.
I’m thinking specifically of Mark Dierolf, Ed Mitchell, Jan Shriner and John Froines, and, in order, Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, the Regional Water Project, the Marina Coast Water District and the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.
First, Dierolf. The guy’s a pain in the ass. As a founder of the group City Watch (described as anti-tax or pro-taxpayer, depending on who you talk to), Dierolf regularly stood up at meetings to rail against taxes the city of Salinas tried to levy. And while the Los Angeles Times received the glory for its recent story exposing the fat compensation package the hospital board handed to outgoing CEO Sam Downing, Dierolf tried to expose that more than three years ago, mailing postcards to Salinas residents when the hospital district tried to increase property taxes via a bond. The subject of those postcards: Downing’s benefit package, which as of 2006 was $1.6 million. (Now it exceeds $5 million.)
Ed Mitchell. Also a pain. He ran for county supervisor against Lou Calcagno and lost, but recently filed his notice of intent to run again. A retired military procurement specialist, Mitchell has blanketed the county with Public Records Act requests, wanting to know, among other things, exactly how much the county paid to investigate conflict-of-interest allegations against Steve Collins. Collins, a former County Water Resources Agency director, was billing the county for time spent advocating for a Walnut Creek-based engineering firm that landed a $28 million contract on the Regional Water Project – and that engineering firm was paying him too. Thanks in part to Mitchell, who sent a request to the state Fair Political Practices Commission in early May, the FPPC is now investigating the Collins matter as well.
Jan Shriner. Can anyone that soft-spoken be considered a pain in the ass? According to some colleagues on the Marina Coast Water District board, she can be. Shriner sent so many email requests for information to water MCWD General Manager Jim Heitzman that Heitzman complained those requests rose to the level of harassment. And the board hired a very expensive attorney to investigate his claims. That attorney found Shriner broke no laws, but said Shriner’s requests were designed to cause Heitzman distress. Nobody’s seen the attorney’s final report yet; but a word to Heitzman: You make $240,000 a year and are one of the highest paid government employees in Monterey County. Man up.
And my favorite pain in the ass, John Froines. Froines earned a chemistry doctorate from Yale and is a UCLA professor who was hired by the state Department of Pesticide Regulation to head a peer review panel of the fumigant methyl iodide. The fumigant, manufactured under the name MIDAS by Arysta LifeSciences, was approved by the DPR in December. Instead of validation, Froines’ panel found science was “subverted” and there is “no safe level” for methyl iodide’s use.
Arysta flak Charissa Acree told a freelance journalist that Froines was a member of the Chicago Seven, the group charged with inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention. (She neglected to mention that Froines was acquitted on all charges.) Dragging up 43-year-old history, and getting that history wrong on purpose, shows just how desperate Arysta has become – and how bad their PR agency is.
So here’s to the pains in the ass. The unsung heroes of 2011.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com