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.