Sanitary district attorney resigns

Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 8, 1998

MENLO PARK: Sanitary district attorney resigns

Lawyer says that 'boorish behavior' prompted his resignation

The attorney for the embattled West Bay Sanitary District, William Esselstein, offered his resignation on April 1 after 20 years as the district's legal advisor--a decision that was accepted at a special board meeting held on Saturday, April 4.

The board appointed Mark Zaffarano, a San Carlos lawyer, as the interim legal advisor to the district until a search can be carried out for Esselstein's successor, according to District Manager Carl Schrader.

Esselstein has faced a barrage of accusations from new board member John Carcione about his role in an alleged embezzlement scandal that rocked the district last year. Former District Manager Charles Thomas was accused of embezzling over $200,000 of the district's funds last March.

Carcione launched his election campaign in November with allegations that the new district manager, a former board member, was appointed illegally.

In his letter of resignation, Esselstein refers to "callous, insulting, antagonistic, even vicious attitudes exhibited by certain persons" as being one of the reasons that prompted his resignation.

"Frankly, I dread coming to the Board's meetings because I know that almost certainly I will be subjected to another episode of boorish behavior which, in my opinion, serves no valid purpose, but further mires the District in division, mistrust and contention," he writes.

Esselstein also writes that, since December 1997, he has found that many issues that he has worked on for the district have been framed in such a way that his "honesty, integrity and legal competence are inescapably tied to the issues under consideration." As a result, the district has had to increasingly rely on outside counsel for their advice, so as to avoid perceived conflicts of interest, he writes.

District Manager Schrader said that Esselstein, who has been on a basic monthly retainer of $1,300, will continue to offer legal advice on an hourly basis as necessary.

"He has 20 years of experience with the district," said Schrader, who also said that he had the utmost respect for Esselstein. "That knowledge still needs to be tapped."

In a prepared statement, Carcione said that he was "happy, though not joyful" about Esselstein's resignation.

"I definitely feel that his resignation is a step in the right direction," said Carcione. "I note, however, that Mr. Esselstein said that he quit because he felt unwelcome, rather than for deficiencies in the District's operations."

As the newest and youngest board member at the district, Carcione maintains that his goal is to make sure that the public agency, which provides waste water services to 55,000 customers in Menlo Park and the surrounding area, is honest and not corrupt.

--Vicky Anning 

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