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On Civility Rights

Columnist: Mike Martini
August, 2014 Issue

Mike Martini
All articles by columnist

Rather than censure, there should be respect. Rather than a circus, there should be civility.

My mother instilled many lessons into her young son. One of her favorites was that people who lived in glass houses should never throw stones. I’m reminded of that lesson watching recent behavior on the part of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Santa Rosa City Council.
We’ve been witness to very extraordinary, even bizarre, behavior on the part of Supervisor Efren Carrillo. Behavior that even he admits was stupid at best and bad judgment at worst. Although, I must admit, my sick sense of humor admires his now-famous statement: “In hindsight, I should have put my pants on.”
But there’s a process to follow whenever elected officials find themselves accused of any wrongdoing. If found guilty (or plead guilty) to a felony, they have no choice: They lose the seat.
In Supervisor Carrillo’s case, the process was followed. It took time, but it was followed. There was no plea bargaining, there was no special treatment. If anything, the media spent a lot of ink on the case and became a podium for many of his political detractors.
He went to trial to face charges based on the evidence and a jury found him not guilty.
That hasn’t lessened the calls from many for him to resign, including the local paper. I’m a little mystified by the logic shown by the PD editorial staff. On the face of it, they withheld their opinion until Carrillo had his day in court. But after having that day and being found not guilty, The Press Democrat called for his resignation.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But it’s just that—an opinion. Supervisor Carrillo doesn’t have to do anything except the job that was given to him by the voters in his district. If those voters wish for him to step down, they have the ability to run a recall campaign. In the absence of that recall, Carrillo has two years to convince the voters of his district that he can perform his job. Then they’ll decide.
This is a long-winded introduction to my concerns for how our elected officials conduct themselves.
On the heels of the court’s decision, Supervisor Carrillo was subjected to a public flogging at the hands of his fellow supervisors. The job of a supervisor (or councilmember) isn’t easy. They have significant issues before them. They’re asked to manage a huge budget with limited resources and a multitude of competing services. They face resolution of very complex public policy issues. They have to work together, find compromise and maintain a common front to the community.
They can (and should) disagree, argue the issues and be true to themselves and their constituents. They can’t be petty or carry a grudge that impacts their abilities to work as a team on subsequent issues. They need to be civil to one another, to respect their coworkers and set an example of collaborative behavior that will help—not harm—our community’s ability to prosper.
A public censure of another’s behavior is a distraction from the task at hand. It’s meaningless and counterproductive to the job. The county’s supervisors aren’t alone in this folly. The Santa Rosa City Council recently had its own circus, an example of schoolyard behavior that serves only to distract and to lessen the respect our community holds for its elected officials.
Worse yet, money was spent that could have gone to city services rather than outside consultants to investigate charges that were little more than “he was mean to me.”
That one councilmember doesn’t like another’s style or temperament is absolutely irrelevant. That person earned his seat by convincing voters that his style, temperament and ideas made sense. Rather than censure, there should be respect. Rather than a circus, there should be civility.
Why there should be civility brings me back to my mom and her glass house. None of us is perfect. I cringe at the thought of how I might be treated if I were serving on the council today. If we use the public forum to attack one another, we open ourselves up to attack. We lose each other’s respect, we lose the ability to work collaboratively and we lose as a community.
Let the courts determine guilt or innocence. Let the electorate choose its representatives.
I hope the next time a member of an elected board, council or commission thinks it’s appropriate to wag an accusatory finger at a colleague, he or she will let it go and return to the job at hand.



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