Erratic Behavior by Local Elected Officials a Mental Health Issue?

The Sunnyvale City Council recently censured Patrick Meyering for his paranoid and shrill public attacks on city staff, the Sunnyvale public and fellow councilmembers.

Cupertino Councilman Barry Chang threatened a county employee, exhibits uncontrolled anger and has made embarrassing and false accusations of people lying. Chang was admonished in a letter from the County Executive Jeff Smith.

George Shirakawa Jr. recently resigned after acknowledging he stole public funds and campaign contributions due to a gambling addiction.

These men aren’t alone. Other local elected officials also show signs of unstable and unacceptable behavior in public life. Former East Side Union High School District Trustee Patricia Martinez-Roach has long had anger issues, according to colleagues. West Valley-Mission College Trustee Chris Stampolis was caught on tape badgering a Los Angeles area storage clerk. And Debbie Giordino, a councilmember in Milpitas, was caught on tape ripping off her ex-husband’s mailbox.

All of these extreme actions indicate people dealing with mental-health related issues. That does not mean they are all mentally ill. Then again, the absence of a diagnosis is not the same as being “not sick.” Certainly, everyone has issues they must deal with in life. But in the case of Meyering, Chang and, admittedly, Shirakawa the repetitive instances of unacceptable, over-the-top behavior needs to be addressed by professionals.

For people in power with mental health issues, there needs to be a process that can identify the problem and provide real treatment.

While government bodies can censure a colleague, as in the case with Meyering, such actions are limited in scope and effect. Moreover, such resolutions embolden other less than mentally healthy people in the community—derogatorily referred to as the “tin hat” crowd—whose chaotic messages only exacerbate the problem.  At least one in Sunnyvale announced his intention to run for political office.

Another major effect of allowing these types of behavior to persist is the effect it has on the other elected officials and potential future leaders. In Cupertino, not a single qualified person will run for City Council, because no one wants to sit through a meeting with Chang. The result is second-rate elected officials, of which Cupertino has quite a few—apologies to Orin Mahoney. This is especially relevant, because the best company in the world, Apple, is headquartered in Cupertino. And Apple must go through the city to build its state-of-the-art headquarters.

Thus, the late Steve Jobs was subjected to an inane question of what he thought of a cement plant in the Cupertino hills; the obsessive, compulsive cause of the clearly hostile Chang. It was embarrassing for all involved.

This is not about disagreement or simple political rivalry. This is about the inability to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, the inability to control one’s mood swings and the uncontrollable, unreasonable, intimidating, vicious remarks one makes from a position of power.

During the Meyering debacle, Sunnyvale Councilman Christopher Moylan gave among the most articulate and reasoned statements in support of the censure motion against his colleague, Meyering. Moylan cited chapter and verse the incidents that brought the council to act. He described in detail the difference between reasoned debate and inappropriate behavior.

He noted strong disagreements occur—that is part of our political system. However, intimidation of opponents, challenging one’s integrity without facts, lying, making false charges, and producing a hostile atmosphere for the staff and Sunnyvale public is unacceptable.

Officials who engage in that behavior must be reprimanded under the rules of the council. But the one thing he left out was: Meyering seems to need professional help.

Meyering, like Chang, would benefit from a thorough examination to put the matter to rest. If they were to be declared mentally sound, at least a good therapist could help them recognize their actions undermine their own credibility and reduce the stature of their respective cities.

Nearly everyone knows somebody who has behavior issues and it should not be a barrier to employment or even public office. But if it exists, it must be diagnosed and treated, because these public outbursts of hostility are very damaging.

Of course, if they choose to deny their condition they should move to South Carolina and run for Congress. It worked for Mark Sanford.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

12 Comments

  1. Not mental, at all. These people get elected into political positions and they start feeling entitlement and feeling that they are holier-than-thou. They think their crap doesn’t stink and that they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

  2. Whether you like Barry Chang or not, you have to admit that he has made progress in cleaning up that cement plant.

    I think your comment on the second-rate members that Cupertino has on its council is wrong.  I’ve watched a few Cupertino Council meetings and I think Sinks, Santoro and yes, Mahoney are some of the brightest, effective people around.  Gilbert Wong is the only runt in that litter.

  3. Just here to take a snipe and be on my way,

    Rich if you’re so concerned about crazies in office, why do you take their money?  Why is your client list a who’s who’s of nutjobs in office?

    Do you equate cash with sanity?  Inquiring minds want to know.

  4. Sweet baby Jesus can you stop looking for ways for Shirakawa to be the victim in all this?

    It is insulting to people who suffer from Mental illness to be likened to corrupt and greedy people who CHOOSE to abuse power once they get it.  These people weren’t always “mental” were they?  Nope, they might have self esteem issues or be bullies but those are choices they can overcome.  Shirakawa is simply a weak pathetic THIEF.  Stop making excuses or looking for angles to ease your conscience for your part in inflicting him on the voters of Santa Clara County.

    • Yeah, George Shirakawa drinks (and eats) too much, and he likes to gamble more than he can afford to lose.  That doesn’t make him insane.  He’s a crook, not a headcase.

  5. I the author of this article highly offensive and abusing their power to make these comments.  I believe that mental illness is one of the unacknowledged forms of discrimination.  Calling someone mentally ill, whether they are or are not, is inappropriate. 

    An appropriate comment to question one’s actions is to suggest the lack of judgement in decision making, but no need to disrespect the millions and billions of people with mental illness that do not have poor behavior.  These kind of articles actually prevent people with mental illness from seeking treatment because they are painted as “Bad People”. 

    Be responsible with your power to write and influence the public.

  6. One of the U.S. Senators from Illinois, Dick Durbin, is a total nutjob.  He frequently breaks down in public, begins crying for no apparent reason, and otherwise acts quite erratically.  The national & Illinois media studiously refrain from reporting this, but a friend of mine has witnessed it.