Seeking to renew accreditation, MALT calls for comments

01/27/2021

The Marin Agricultural Land Trust is asking the public to send comments to the national organization that accredits it as part of the nonprofit’s renewal application. Comments should relate to MALT’s ethical and technical operations, and they will be considered alongside the trust’s records and policies. MALT has been accredited by the Land Trust Alliance Commission since 2010 and was reaccredited in 2015. Since then, the trust has continued to update its bylaws to meet the commission’s standards. “It sounds cliché to say continuous improvement, but that’s what we do,” acting executive director Ray Fort said. The commission will look at strengthened conflict-of-interest rules and a new acquisition policy, which allows MALT to purchase conservation easements from agriculturalists before they buy a property, to help facilitate the transaction. Previously, only existing landowners were eligible for easements, which are purchased by MALT from landowners for roughly one-third of the property value in exchange for an agreement that the property stays in agriculture in perpetuity. MALT has yet to purchase a conservation easement during a transition of ownership, but it is now a possibility. Addressing conflicts of interest, MALT updated its policy in 2019 to ban transactions from the immediate family of board members. The change followed a misstep two years earlier, when MALT obtained two appraisals to purchase the Dolcini-Beltrametti Ranch, in which board member Sam Dolcini owns a stake. MALT considered the initial appraisal below comparable values, so it requested a second appraisal and did not tell Marin County Parks about the first when it applied for a $833,250 grant. The county awarded MALT the money, but once the first appraisal was revealed, parks director Max Korten requested the funds be returned and said the county would create a policy that all recent appraisals be disclosed in grant applications. The news came to light as MALT reviewed its practices for this reaccreditation; subsequently, executive director Jamison Watts and director of conservation Jeff Stump resigned. Mr. Watts said that although MALT did not break the letter of the law, he should have told Marin about the first appraisal. Mr. Fort said he doesn’t expect the flap to have any particular impact on reaccreditation, but that the Land Trust Alliance Commission will look through all of the transactions and the appraisal process to make sure. Already, Marin County counsel and the Fair Political Practices Commission have looked into MALT’s dealings at the request of Kenneth Slayen, a Ross resident who is preparing to sue MALT after the nonprofit declined to partner with him on a property purchase. Both bodies decided not to investigate Mr. Slayen’s claims that the land trust inflated several appraisals to enrich its board members. MALT has denied any rule breaking. MALT’s reaccreditation application costs $18,130 and the approval lasts for five years. MALT is required to notify key stakeholders that the commission accepts public comments on pending applications. “The commission’s approach of relying on multiple sources of information helps ensure credible decisions that maintain the integrity of the accreditation program,” said Bruce Runnels, the commission’s chair. Comments can be emailed to info@landtrustaccreditation.org.