IMACA officials fail to respond to concerned citizens

Jane McDonald, the former Community Services Director of Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action, won the admiration and respect of many local citizens through her work to make sure people here have enough to eat.  She spearheaded the “Planting for Hope” program that taught hundreds of low income families how to grow their own food. She was instrumental in creation of community gardens up and down the Inyo-Mono area. McDonald so inspired others that when she was suddenly fired, they stood up to defend her and her work. Residents now say that the new IMACA director has failed to return phone calls and letters about the future of garden programs.  Director Lynn Bethel also refused to talk to us and only emailed back vague answers to our pointed questions.

IMACA’s website says the agency operates about a dozen programs with a $3.5 million annual budget.  Recently, Director Daniel Steinhagen retired and Lynn Bethel took over as the new director.  Before he left, Steinhagen fired Jane McDonald.  For about a year, according to reports, Steinhagen had been living in Oregon and traveling to Bishop for board meetings for an undisclosed salary.

We spoke with some who worked with Jane McDonald and had voiced their strong dismay about her termination and the uncertain future of garden programs.  At a late September IMACA board meeting, the public comment period was filled with concerned citizens.  They said the board and new director gave no response to their concerns then and still haven’t.

Hannah Murray, Master Gardener coordinator for Inyo and Mono Counties, said the University of California had a partnership with IMACA through the “close collaboration with Jane to empower people to grow their own food.”  Murray said she sent a letter to IMACA after McDonald was terminated.  She asked what role the gardening program would now take.  As of news time, Murray had never received a response.  She said others have written to IMACA with the same concerns.  Said Murray, “There were a lot of letters and no response.”  Murray said Jane McDonald collaborated with her on workshops, bilingual training and some 14 community gardens.  Said Murray, “Jane integrated the gardens with the IMACA food bank.”

Julie Fought (Foat) and her partner donated land at their Delacour Ranch above Lone Pine.  Fought said she was a board member of IMACA.  She said that McDonald’s termination would “undermine the progress of the garden programs.”  She too spoke of the September meeting and “the many community members who stood up to express concern about Jane and the future of the programs.  “IMACA had no answers,” said Fought.  She resigned and said that the firing of McDonald was “like saying we don’t care about you to all of the citizens involved.”

Maggie Phelps worked with McDonald on garden projects for two years and said she was “impressed with her support, enthusiasm and ability to build collaborations up and down the Valley.  She got me involved,” said Phelps.  She said when she heard McDonald was fired, she was “upset.  There didn’t seem to be a valid reason.”  Phelps talked to former Director Daniel Steinhagen who terminated McDonald.  Phelps said he told her “I don’t make mistakes.”  Phelps pointed to Steinhagen’s move to Oregon.  She said, “How can someone supervise IMACA from Oregon?”

Methodist Minster in Independence, Reverend Erin McPhee was among the ten or so people who spoke at the September IMACA meeting.  She said, “What Jane did was connect community gardeners with grant money, seeds, tools, plants,  and volunteers.”  McPhee has also tried to contact IMACA with no response.  She called the garden program in Independence essential. McPhee said, “It’s providing food for people and has been a method of connecting community members.  Produce swaps grew out of the program and so did hope for the town.”

Pastor McPhee had said at the September meeting that “I have always been impressed by Jane’s work ethic and her passion for helping and empowering others.”  McPhee said she was “hard-pressed to find anyone who more passionately lives out IMACA’s mission statement in their daily life and work, both paid and unpaid.”

McPhee called McDonald’s firing insufficiently investigated and “unethical”.   The Pastor said that the IMACA Board has to take responsibility for what has happened. To the Board, Reverend McPhee had said, “I hope and pray that you will be willing to do what is right so that we can continue the powerful work that Jane began.”

In light of the community upset over the uncertainties of the garden program, we asked Director Lynn Bethel some questions.  She refused to speak on the phone and would only answer emailed questions.  To the firing of Jane McDonald, Bethel wrote that “Personnel issues are confidential.”  To the repeated concerns that she would not answer letters and calls, Bethel said, “IMACA welcomes public comment at each Board of Directors meeting.”

Bethel said IMACA administers the Planting Hope program but did not comment on partnering with all the local citizens and land owners.  Bethel also wrote that she looks forward to “strengthening the long-time collaborations that IMACA has.”

Jane McDonald filed a grievance in response to her termination.  She also has received no response.

The next IMACA board meeting is November 15th at 2pm in the Title Building in Bishop.

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Big AL
Big AL
10 years ago

Something interesting I thought of in reading this article. And this is just a thought. I have been hearing rumblings around the net about conspiracy theories in regard to home gardens, and some sort of movement against home gardening, that is tied to Monsanto. A control issues with their seed… Read more »

Local Citizen
Local Citizen
10 years ago

IMACA is a social service agency much like “Social Services” and all of these issues that you are bringing to the public’s attention are issues that are equally going on in other agencies in general, it does seem that this article is attacking IMACA, if you are bringing forward these… Read more »

Benett Kessler
Benett Kessler
10 years ago
Reply to  Local Citizen

Like I said, I stand 100% behind my story. If you have a comment on the story that I can include and that has substance, let’s have it. If you have specific concerns about other departments, call me and I will consider looking into it. 760-937-3295. The news is not… Read more »

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.
10 years ago
Reply to  Benett Kessler

A tossed salad?

Benett Kessler
Benett Kessler
10 years ago
Reply to  .

That’s apparently how some people view the technique of news coverage.
BK

.
.
10 years ago
Reply to  Benett Kessler

I think you have your metaphors mixed up. You might want to check on that one. You can’t be that naive….Either way, it’s hilarious.

Benett Kessler
Benett Kessler
10 years ago
Reply to  .

Nothing mixed up except the writer who insisted that news stories have to include all agencies of the same variety, i.e. a tossed salad (food mixtures either arranged on a plate or tossed and served with a moist dressing; usually consisting of or including greens) of bureaucracies. BK

upthecreek
upthecreek
10 years ago
Reply to  Local Citizen

“and all of these issues that you are bringing to the public’s attention are issues that are equally going on in other agencies in general,”

So that makes it ok…

like I have been saying for years
Govt Gone WILD

stop spending money the Taxpayers don’t HAVE

GGW

upthecreek
upthecreek
10 years ago

you know if tax payer funds are involved it is a waste of $/

GGW

Local Citizen
Local Citizen
10 years ago

I’m not quite sure what the point is of this article. Are you trying to demean the director for not responding to questions about the garden program, or are you trying to demean the executive director for making a lot of money? It sounds like the Sierra Wave is confused… Read more »

Benett Kessler
Benett Kessler
10 years ago
Reply to  Local Citizen

You might want to consider how news works. When citizens talk to us about concerns, we respond and investigate. No one is complaining to us about social services. They are complaining about IMACA. Investigation, calls and stories with quotes from citizens equals news, particularly when it involves $3.5 million of… Read more »

JeanGenie
JeanGenie
10 years ago

IMACA retained Steinhagen because it took a long time to hire a new Director. I believe the new Director has been there only about 2 months. To expect her to make comments about personnel issues (what does the County always say? Personnel issues are confidential, no comment.) Additionally, Bethel was… Read more »

Benett Kessler
Benett Kessler
10 years ago
Reply to  JeanGenie

Dear Jean, The concern that attracted our interest was the fact that Ms.Bethel declined to return any of my phone calls as well as those of citizens dedicated to the garden programs that have grown up in about a dozen places. They were very concerned about the future of those… Read more »

Local Citizen
Local Citizen
10 years ago
Reply to  JeanGenie

I totally agree JeanGenie, thank you for putting this.

Mark
Mark
10 years ago

Sounds like a waste of $3.5 million dollars. 75k a year, for what!

Look it up
Look it up
10 years ago

According to their 2011 IRS 990 (available at Guidestar.org), Daniel Steinhagen was paid $74,444 for 40hours/week. Don’t know where he was located while making that salary.

Jon
Jon
10 years ago
Reply to  Look it up

Doesn’t matter, of his board allowed him to live in oregon, then so be it. Sounds like McDonald has an axe to grind.

Benett Kessler
Benett Kessler
10 years ago
Reply to  Jon

Would be interested in why you think Ms. McDonald has an axe to grind.
Benett Kessler