One man wages a lonely war against the county’s mosquito control district
Back in 1998, things looked bright for Kenneth and Stacy Beardon. They were fresh out of Louisiana graduate schools with shiny new Ph.D.s and starting to look for the jobs that would finally launch their careers.
They’d been waiting a long time for this moment, and they were excited about their futures.
Although their chosen fields were vastly different—she’s an entomologist who’s specially trained in disease-carrying insects and he’s an English professor—they were lucky enough to find good jobs in the same area. She took a position as the resident entomologist for the Butte County Mosquito and Vector Control District, and he became an English professor at Butte College, just a few miles away.
They moved to Berry Creek, and things were moving right along. They had no idea, though, that their happiness would be short-lived.
For 29-year-old Stacy Beardon, working for the mosquito control district was like a dream come true. She’d been fascinated with insects and disease since she was a child and had considered medical school but thought it would take too long to get through it. She loved to trek around and look for evidence of insect infestation and to examine species under microscopes, and she says she seemed to get along pretty well with her colleagues.
But about four months after she started working for the district, in April 2000, she started noticing that “things didn’t look right.”
When she went out into the Oroville Wildlife Area, for instance, she started “seeing a lot of dead animals,” something that disturbed her.
“It was right around the time when the [mosquito spraying] season started,” Beardon said. “I’d go out there, and there were just a lot of things that were dead that shouldn’t have been.”
A cursory look at what the crews were spraying gave Beardon cause for concern. The department was using diesel fuel as a distribution agent for the pesticides aimed at killing disease-carrying mosquitoes. Trouble is, Beardon says, the mix of diesel fuel and pesticides was killing a lot more than mosquitoes.
“It gets into the water, into the ground,” Beardon said. “It’s very toxic to everything.”
But it was Beardon’s persistent criticism of the department’s use of the fuel—and her boss’s management—that led to her downfall there. That’s where this story really begins.
To make a long tale relatively short, here’s what happened to Stacy Beardon when she started complaining about the district’s use of diesel fuel mixed with pesticides: She got fired.
It happened only about a year after she was hired. She’d been trying to get the department to use BTIs, a more species-specific kind of pesticide that doesn’t need to be mixed with diesel fuel, for weeks. According to the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, while BTIs are more advanced than petroleum-mixes, they are considerably more expensive. But Beardon’s old boss, Jim Camy, explains that her failure to “become a permanent employee of the county” had little to do with her vociferous opposition to the district’s spraying practices and everything to do with her job performance.
He points out that the use of diesel fuel as a pesticide distribution agent is perfectly legal and is regulated by the state Department of Fish and Game’s Department of Pesticide Regulations. He also says that his department has yet to be criticized about its practices in any of its annual reviews by county and state agricultural commissioners.
Plus, he says, a special review and inspection of the department by the state Agricultural Commissioner’s Office—prompted by Beardon’s complaints—found no cause for concern just last month.
“I’ve been here 30 years, and I’ve never heard anything like this,” Camy said. “I wish there was something I could say to close this … but [the allegations] are just fabrications and don’t even justify a response.”
That official stance hasn’t slowed Kenneth Beardon’s earnest attempts to get someone—anyone—to listen to his complaints about the department and, in particular, Camy. Chief among those complaints is that Camy and the department’s assistant director, Dan Moench, are good ol’ boys who run their corner of the county like little dictators. Beardon charges that the department is rife with corruption. The reason why the county agricultural commissioner never dings the department in his inspections, Beardon insists, is because he never conducts surprise inspections and the district cleans up violations before the inspector has a chance to see them. He also charges that the 11-member appointed board that is supposed to make sure the department follows the rules is really just a rubber-stamp agency that has no teeth.
He’s fired off letters to the Board of Supervisors and the District Attorney’s Office, complaining that Camy uses his county Ford Explorer for personal use (in fact, Beardon has gone so far as to get copies of Camy’s time cards and vehicle mileage reporting cards), that he routinely hauls his horse trailer with it, and that the pesticides the department uses are overly toxic.
And he’s taken pictures of rusty pesticide drums turned upside down in a sandpit behind the district’s Oroville office, along with pictures of an empty tin of aircraft primer left in a rusty bin next to the barrels. There’s a dead bird in the bin next to the tin of primer.
In short, Beardon—who is still working as an English professor at Butte College—has taken on the entire Mosquito and Vector Control District.
But really, it’s kind of a one-sided argument. Camy, who bears the brunt of Beardon’s disdain, refuses to respond to the allegations, saying that they’re “obviously ridiculous.” Camy chalks Beardon’s claims up to sour grapes, because his wife was fired from the department.
“I just think this has everything to do with his wife not making full-time status,” Camy said.
Assistant Agricultural Commissioner Louis Mendoza said that he’s received “several” complaints from Beardon, all of which have been “appropriately” investigated. He shrugs his shoulders when asked why Beardon continues to complain.
"[The Beardons] seem to want us to have inspectors spying on the district for two hours a day, and we don’t have the resources for that,” Mendoza said. “If we find something wrong, we’ll do something about it, but we’re not going to go on a witch hunt.”
The pictures Beardon took of the oil drums and solvent in the back of the district offices, Camy says, weren’t left there to drain into the sand, but rinsed three times and stacked for a Southern California recycling company to take away. Since the company customarily waits until there are dozens of barrels before it makes the long trip north to pick them up, they’d built up considerably when Beardon surreptitiously took the pictures, Camy said.
Still, Beardon seems determined to see his concerns duly investigated, although he’s had little luck so far. He goes to all the district board meetings, where he airs his complaints to the board members in the five-minute slot dedicated to outside opinions at the start of the meeting.
He’s frustrated, though, that few seem to be really listening. But he’s also determined to keep making noise about the “injustices” in the department.
It’s been difficult. Stacy Beardon, not able to find a job as an entomologist in the Butte County area, accepted a job as an entomologist in San Joaquin County recently. She comes home to Berry Creek only on the weekends, an arrangement that neither she nor Kenneth likes.
And the rosy glow that used to surround their bright new begin- ning in California has dimmed considerably.