The Joint Fact-Finding Group is continuing to unravel, with Sarah Styan and Gerardo Rojas resigning from the panel amid allegations that the process was biased and poorly managed.
They join Roy Yamakawa, the retired UH-CTHAR extension agent and administrator who left the group in January. He is declining comment until a "final" report is released.
Though both Styan and Rojas are employed by seed companies, they said they worked hard to maintain impartiality and respected the terms of confidentiality.
In his resignation letter to fact-finding consultant Peter Adler, president of ACCORD-3, Rojas wrote:
Having members of the group participate on assumptions of their personal opinion and allow their views to be accepted against countless studies provided by the public is simply wrong. Members stating publicly a lack of trust in a Federal organization, what documents or information could be submitted, who can and cannot submit data because of their 2491 affiliation, should have been handled better by you or your team. The fact that it wasn’t, is unacceptable.
It is my conclusion that this JFF group under your direction has failed in its mission to remain “fact based”.
In her letter, Styan wrote:
The mission of the group and the way in which the process was conducted were so far removed from what I believe the State and County taxpayers expected, that I believe there is no way that the community will receive a fact‐based, unbiased, useful report. For that reason, I cannot continue to support this process.
I truly tried to be a neutral and engaged part of the fact‐finding process. I worked hard over the course of the year, educating myself about health issues associated with pesticides, about health issues on Kauai and elsewhere, and about how pesticides are used and regulated. However, the bias, the imbalance, the lack of integrity, and the disrespect shown to me and other members who attempted to ensure that facts were contained in the report, prevent me from continuing as a member.
For Rojas, the last straw apparently came when Adler questioned his integrity, reportedly claiming — falsely — that Rojas had read a prepared statement from his employer at the April 4 public meeting. In his letter to Adler, Rojas wrote:
I might not have your skills, but I do value my integrity. I purposely kept a distance in any dealing with my company or affiliate companies in asking for guidance. I studied facts and accepted and reviewed reports provided from all the members. I am also a farmer, and I believe in how I care for the land. And most of all, I believe that when you shake a hand of a person and agree to commit to a goal, I do my utmost to follow every rule and expectation to achieve a positive outcome.
For Styan, the snapping point came at last Saturday's session of the JFFG, when she felt that Adler and his staff were prepared to gloss over public comments that had been submitted up until the night before. In another document outlining her concerns, she wrote:
Throughout the course of that meeting, it became clear that I was the only one who believed that we needed to carefully review all of the comments and go through the entire report to correct incorrect statements.
In response to an email seeking comment, Adler wrote:
I will have more to say on the resignations later but we are not glossing over the comments. We are reviewing them carefully for factual additions and corrections.
In a comment to Civil Beat, Adler expressed surprised at their resignations, prompting one observer to call bullshit:
Peter is full of it; he knew damn well this would happen, if not sooner, then certainly by Monday night at the public meeting, when they both made it clear that if the group didn't revise the draft to make it fact-based, they were walking. He knows Sarah's been frustrated all along.
The six JFFG panelists who remain, and are charged with developing the final recommendations, were all supporters of the GMO/pesticide regulatory Bill 2491/Ordinance 960.
Indeed, 18 activist groups — including some whose members contributed “research” and information to the JFFG, two whose members helped draft Bill 2491 and one led by Councilman Gary Hooser, who introduced Bill 2491 — have lauded the group's work.
In her letter, Styan also noted that the group never met or had conversations with Kauai Coffee, even though it's one of the agricultural firms targeted by 2491, the EPA, representatives of the state or county Farm Bureau or other farmers and pesticide users. “We did not meet with any other physicians, an epidemiologist, or local medical personnel with expertise in pesticides.”
Styan also expressed dismay at the health chapter, which she was assigned to write with Drs. Lee Evslin and Doug Wilmore, both of whom testified in support of 2491. She wrote: “I was also incredulous that data was being interpreted and manipulated to make a story where one did not exist.”
Ultimately, she wrote, Adler and consultant Keith Mattson drafted the health chapter. But shortly before the document was to be released, one of the physicians wrote an entirely new chapter, which Adler put to a vote of the group. “The facts, what little there were in the previous draft, were going to be taken out of the report.” Then there was another vote to withdraw the health chapter, resulting in a delay of the release. At the time, Adler said the state and county had requested more information.
I spent many hours of my time without compensation to make a contribution to help our community heal. I feel that the community has come together on many levels and is not divided when education and science prevail.
With all due respect, the directives were clear to your role. Facts and Science – be open to ALL public opinion – keeping confidential discussions between members of the group only – and treating each other with respect for their value to the outcome.
In conclusion, it’s sad for me, that the only decision I faced was to walk away for the first time in my career on a project that I believed if it stayed on track with a foundation of “science and facts” only truth would prevail.
So now what? The taxpayers have spent $175,000 on this project, $75,000 more than was initially planned. They've got a report with serious factual flaws, and a six-member group of true believers that is supposed to review public comments, revise the draft accordingly and come up with reasonable recommendations.
Somehow, it doesn't seem like money, or time, well-spent. And the much-touted healing that the process was supposed to effect is ever more elusive.