The Fifth District County Supervisor is named Efren Carrillo. Efren turned 31 this year. His parents came here from Mexico before he was born; he grew up in Santa Rosa. The Fifth is my district and I have voted for Efren Carrillo three times; the first time, the second time in his runoff election, and last June for his second term. Clearly, I’m partisan.
Efren is telegenic and energetic. He’s also a busy guy. Efren is out in his district at some event six days a week. He attends countywide, regional and statewide meetings. At the Board meetings, he often acts as a peace-maker between bickering members. He listens to people who have unpleasant things to tell him. He plays sports with his dad and works out just about every night.
He isn’t universally loved in the district. The western urban neighborhood he grew up in, Roseland, sees him as a native son, but the folks in the Russian River area, who tend to be at the far left edge of the political continuum, don’t trust him. Efren tends to be a balanced policy-maker who wants to protect the environment and promote energy independence, but he also wants to spur the economy and create jobs. This makes him suspect to the isolated left-leaning Russian River folks who don’t embrace the concept of balance. (Example: “Waah! We’re isolated because we can’t get wireless. What, we need cell towers? Waah! No cell towers; they rot our brains!”)
I don’t always agree with Efren. He voted “yes” on an asphalt plant in south county. His argument was that he grew up near an asphalt plant; he didn’t really address the issue that the proposed plan is sited at a wetlands area that is part of the San Francisco estuary. He has silently thrown retired county employees under the bus when it comes to promised health care coverage; and does nothing to counter the gleeful manager-bashing that his fellow supervisors and the labor unions engage in. This doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s a good supervisor; it means I don’t always agree with his decisions.
None of this is the question, though. Over Labor Day weekend, Efren went to San Diego, not as Supervisor Carrillo but as a private guy, to hang out with friends. He got arrested in San Diego for assault, as part of a street brawl that started after closing at a popular San Diego nightclub. Bail was set at $10,000 and he was bailed out (or bailed himself out) almost immediately. Interestingly, Efren was scheduled to go to Russia with a contingent of native people, to celebrate Fort Ross, the following week, and they let him – so, plainly, San Diego did not see him as Public Enemy Number One.
The local daily paper put the arrest on the front page, as of course they should. They couldn’t get a mug shot, so they had to run some smiling picture of him at an event. Efren’s statement for the papers was something like, “This is a personal matter and I look forward to giving my side of the issue in the legal process.” Then he went to Russia.
The local paper ran the story on the front page for about three days, with very little new information; except that the charges got reduced from felony assault to misdemeanor. Efren is a martial arts practitioner and that probably led to the seriousness of the original charges. When the local paper couldn’t get a mug shot or a better sound bite from the Supervisor, they started whining. They even did an editorial whining that Efren wouldn’t give them a story. When he came back and took a business-as-usual approach at the board meeting, they did another article questioning whether he was being “politically astute” by not giving them a story.
My question is about the issue of Efren as a “public figure.” It’s not whether he is one. Of course he is. I guess my question is, “Who owns a public figure?”
I mean, I’m the public. The local paper is a business. Certainly, if Efren had been arrested for embezzling, or soliciting bribes, I’d want to know about it. I’d want to know if he was a guest speaker at a $50,000/plate Republican fund raiser (even though I don’t know, for sure, what party Efren belongs to).
So, I do think that Supervisor Carrillo is accountable to me as a member of his constituency. I do not think he is obligated to provide copy for the daily newspaper. The local daily was acting like “the public has a right to know!” but, really, their desperation was uncomfortably obvious. My problem is not with them covering the story. That used to be the job of media; to go out and report on stories. If they had sent a reporter to San Diego, interviewed witnesses, scrounged up a mug shot and done some journalistic work (including, I would hope, some stats and analysis about the arrest rates of young Hispanic males in that city,) I would have read it. That would have been embarrassing and uncomfortable for Efren, but he is, after all a public figure.
My annoyance springs from the fact that the newspaper did none of that. They tagged along behind Efren like a four-year-old whining, “I’m booored!” and demanded he give them a story, instead of getting the story.
For a brief period of time there, our county supervisor was accused of a felony. In what other situation does the local daily find out about a felony charge and focus their efforts only on getting the story of the accused? Does that even make sense?
How politically astute is the cone of silence? It doesn’t seem to be hurting him. My 89-year-old Republican mother-in-law who has trouble pronouncing his name says, “Good for him!” My retired-county-employee friend probably had the best line (and I’m not condoning Efren’s behavior when I say this, ): “Best third term campaign slogan ever. ‘My Supervisor can kick your ass!’”
Update: Efren provided a written statement to the newspaper. He won’t answer questions until the legal issue is resolved. (This tells me that the smart money is on all the charges getting dropped.)