The young state health official who uncovered Virginia's Kepone contamination scandal resigned his post yesterday, saying his efforts to modernize the state's environmental health programs had been frustrated by the Dalton administration.
Dr. Robert S. Jackson, 36, blamed Gov. John N. Dalton and state Secretary of Administration and Finance Charles B. Walker for "a series of very arbitrary decisions that will make it impossible for the health department to do anything but stand still over the next several years."
Jackson who is leaving Dec. 15 to take a better paying job as South Carolina health commissioner, said Dalton's austerity programs are driving telented state officials out of Richmond and leaving mediocre ones to run the state bureaucracy.
"It's fine for politicians to tout getting rid of the fat, the result is that the good people who have other opportunities eventually get fed up and go elsewhere," said Jackson in a telephone interview from Columbia, S.C.
Dalton press secretary Paul G. Edwards last night called Jackson's charges "just absurd. If you look at our recent appointments of division heads and department heads in education, the investigative unit of the state police and in purchasing, you'll see we have no trouble attracting and holding qualified people."
Edwards also cited recent reorganizations of purchasing and the State Police as proof departments can revamp themselves effectively, even under fiscal restraints.
An intense, ambitious and aggressive, man with a reputation for making enemies, Jackson rose to almost overnight fame in 1975 when he almost single-handedly closed a small pesticide plant 20 miles south of Richmond that had been poisoning its workers and the environment with the highly toxic Kepone.
As the state's chief epidemiologist -- in essence its medical detective -- Jackson ordered the plant closed and alerted the public to the problem.
In the aftermath of the scandal, which revealed the state and federal agencies has been aware of the problem but had not acted, Jackson was named assistant health commissioner and given a mandate to revamp Virginia's environmental health apparatus, long criticized as lethargic.
Jackson was credited with helping drive through a series of State laws monitoring and controlling production of toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes and with reorganizing his agency into a set of aggressive bureaus. At the same time, he won few friends in state government and was reportedly considered but passed over in 1976 for the health commissioner post that was given to Dr. James Kenley.
"It's my job to make waves," said Jackson in an interview a few months ago. "I tend to come on strong and create an air of antagonism that tends to intimidate people a little more than an effective bureaucrat should.
"Jim Kenley looks for a doorway while I tend to walk through a wall."
Jackson told colleagues he was increasingly frustrated in recent months over his and Kenley's inability to convince Dalton to commit more funds for environmental health. He said he was also aware that Kenley, 51, was unlikely to retire any time soon.
Jackson had been known to be considering several federal posts as well as the South Carolina job, which will pay nearly $9,000 a year more than his current salary of $47,500. He had said that, unlike in Virginia, he had a commitment from South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley to give him a free hand in running the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Kenley, who said he was a close friend of Jackson's said, "Bob's a very brilliant man and we'll miss him." Kenley said he had not decided on a successor.
Kenley acknowledged that Jackson was leaving in part because of frustration but offered no opinion of his own on the Dalton administration except to say "the climate in Virginia truly is to cut down on government."
Some of Jackson's co-workers said yesterday they were concerned his departure could signal the end of the aggressive attitude he promoted within the health department.
"It's like the quarterback leaving the game at half-time and taking all the footballs with him," said one colleague. "We need an effective advocate at the commissioner's level and that's what Bob's been."