The chief of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust resigned last week after just nine months in the position, becoming the latest of several high-ranking MALT staff members to depart in the last two turbulent years. Thane Kreiner joined MALT as C.E.O. in March, taking the helm as the trust was reeling from conflict-of-interest accusations. Now, as MALT works to defend itself from public funding cuts, Mr. Kreiner is leaving, citing a new career stage consisting of a “portfolio” of advisory positions. 

“I’m very confident the organization will continue to create lasting change,” Mr. Kreiner told the Light. “For myself, I am seeking to integrate my professional endeavors and personal life for meaningful impact, and am focusing on governance and advisory opportunities to catalyze systems-level change for people and planet.” He declined to discuss any other reasons for his departure.

Another high-ranking MALT staff member, director of conservation Kathryn Lyddan, resigned in late September. She could not be reached for comment. Stewardship program manager Eric Rubenstahl is filling in for her while two land acquisition specialist roles remain open.

MALT board chair Robert McGee said the trust will use an executive search firm and ask for community input to select a new C.E.O. 

“This news broke over the holidays, so it’s new news to us and we’re still getting organized just a bit,” he said. “We’ll move the process along appropriately quickly.”

In the meantime, Jennifer Carlin, the trust’s director of advancement, will step up to the role of interim C.E.O., becoming the third person to lead the organization since 2020. She said any transition in leadership will come with changes in the organization, but she said the trust’s mission remains constant. 

“I can’t speak to an organization that I’ve worked for that I’ve had more confidence in,” Ms. Carlin said. 

Mr. Kreiner, a biotech entrepreneur who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, was an outsider to the world of agriculture who promised to bring innovation to the trust’s work. He had been the head of Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, which invests in and mentors businesses and nonprofits working to end global poverty, and co-founded the university-affiliated Black Corporate Board Readiness program, which aims to diversify corporate governance. 

When Mr. Kreiner arrived, MALT was in the hot seat over its use of public funds to buy agricultural easements that benefited board members. After the nonprofit declined his own easement deal, Ross resident Kenneth Slayen alleged the trust was violating conflict-of-interest laws by overvaluing easements purchased from members of its own board of directors, including rancher Sam Dolcini. 

In May 2020, Marin County Parks asked the trust to return the county funds used in the Dolcini easement, citing a failure to disclose a lower appraisal, and soon after, then-executive director Jamison Watts resigned. 

An investigation published by the North Bay Bohemian/Pacific Sun a few months later alleged that more than half of MALT’s easement spending over four decades had benefited board members.

MALT denied wrongdoing and disputed the article’s findings, but under acting C.E.O. Ray Fort, the trust strengthened its bylaws, including prohibiting the purchase of easements from board members and their immediate families. Mr. Dolcini stepped down from the board. 

Mr. Kreiner resigned during a second wave of scrutiny for MALT. The trust receives funding for easements from the Measure A sales tax, which is intended to fund parks, open space and farmland preservation. Polling shows continued support for Measure A, which is up for renewal this year, but a county parks survey conducted last summer indicated agriculture was the lowest priority for voters. 

In response, parks proposed slashing that allocation in half, and MALT mounted an outreach campaign aimed at media and officials, advocating against the proposed reduction. Supervisors are now revising the expenditure plan.

During Mr. Kreiner’s tenure, MALT acquired just one easement: the Leali Ranch owned by Hog Island Oyster Company, which was not funded by Measure A. But MALT says the public funds remain a vital tool for easement acquisition, and the trust will seek matching county contributions for seven easements now in the pipeline. Those easements have a combined value of more than $21 million, Ms. Carlin said.

“Thane’s departure does not disrupt in any way, shape or form the work that we’re doing on Measure A,” she said.