The state toxic department’s chief deputy director relinquishes role weeks after NBC Bay Area investigation
A key leader at the Department of Toxic Substances Control has stepped down from her post just weeks after the Investigative Unit uncovered a stock portfolio full of investments into companies her department oversees.
Odette Madriago was second in command at the DTSC—the department charged with protecting Californians from toxins in the air, water and soil—but in an internal memo sent to staffers on Friday, DTSC director Debbie Raphael wrote that Madriago has relinquished her role as chief deputy director and will retire at the end of the year.
“It is with great sadness I write this,” Raphael wrote in the memo. “For the past two years I have worked closely with Odette Madriago, depending on her to carry the very heavy weight of many critical issues.”
NBC Bay Area first uncovered in April that Madriago—a 28-year-veteran of the department—held stock in numerous companies regulated by her department, including up to $100,000 in Chevron for at least seven years, and up to $1 million in General Electric for three years.
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) launched a formal investigation into Madriago for possible ethics violations following NBC Bay Area’s report. That investigation is ongoing despite news of Madriago’s retirement, according to FPPC’s Enforcement Division Chief Gary Winuk.
One longtime DTSC employee told the Investigative Unit that Madriago’s resignation is a “glimmer of hope” for the department. The source, who wants to remain anonymous because of fears of retaliation, first spoke out to NBC Bay Area to expose DTSC leadership for putting polluters ahead of Californians and the environment.
“DTSC was really failing in terms of its priorities,” the source said.
Liza Tucker, an advocate from Los Angeles-based Consumer Watchdog also believes DTSC leaders were too close with companies they are supposed to regulate. The state Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes is also investigating claims that the DTSC is putting polluters before the public.
“That fact that Odette decided to retire and step down is excellent news for the people in the state of California,” Tucker said. “She was a symbol of dysfunction and bias toward industry. She was a symbol of an agency in bed with polluters and now it’s a very good thing she is gone.”
Tucker authored a critical report about the DTSC called Golden Wasteland, and also gathered thousands of signatures petitioning Governor Brown to fire Madriago from the position she has held since 2008. She credits NBC Bay Area’s investigation for shining light on Madriago’s apparent conflicts-of-interest by holding stock in companies the DTSC oversees.
“I think that sunlight is always the best disinfectant,” Tucker said. “I think there is no question that both Golden Wasteland and your reporting tipped this over the edge.”
The DTSC source said news of Madriago’s departure is the first sign of real change at the DTSC in a long time.
“Having something like this come out on a major network really got their attention,” the source said.
Madriago declined requests for comment and the department says the state investigations did not play a role in her decision to step down. Director Raphael left for a weeklong business trip after issuing the announcement and is not available for comment on her search for a new chief deputy director.
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