Politics & Government

Berryhill is no-show for county swearing-in ceremony. What are the possible reasons why?

Stanislaus County officials take oath of office

Stanislaus County officials elected in November took the oath of office on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Modesto, California.
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Stanislaus County officials elected in November took the oath of office on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Modesto, California.

A new crop of Stanislaus County elected officials took the oath of office Monday afternoon, including a new sheriff who was pinned with the badge by his predecessor.

One conspicuous no-show was former state senator and county Supervisor-elect Tom Berryhill, who continues to face questions about his health.

County Chief Executive Officer Jody Hayes said he was informed before the 4 p.m. ceremony that Berryhill was unable to attend. Hayes told the overflow audience in the board chambers that Berryhill will be sworn-in separately at a future time.

Hayes said later he was only informed Berryhill would not participate in the ceremony and did not have an explanation for his absence. The CEO had no further comment. County leaders said all they knew was that a call was made to the CEO’s office about an hour before the ceremony.

Berryhill could not be reached Monday. Last week, soon-to-retire California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Berryhill to serve on the State Compensation Insurance Fund board of directors, a position paying $58,600 a year. There was no information that Berryhill’s absence Monday had anything to do with the state appointment.

“We hope the best for him,” said county Supervisor Terry Withrow, who was sworn in to a third term. “Hopefully, he will be here tomorrow (at Tuesday’s board meeting.) We can do it tomorrow.”

To some extent, the November election has put a new face on county government. Five of the eight public officials who took the oath of office from Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves are newcomers to their posts.

They include Sheriff Jeff Dirkse, Superintendent of Schools Scott Kuykendall, Treasurer-Tax Collector Donna Riley, Clerk-Recorder Donna Linder and Auditor-Controller Kashmir Gill. Beginning new terms are Withrow, District Attorney Birgit Fladager and Assessor Don Gaekle.

Berryhill, who served 12 years in the state Legislature before terming out in December, has nursed a broken hip suffered July 1 and has disclosed an August diagnosis of early stage Parkinson’s disease.

The termed-out senator is poised to replace former state Sen. Dick Monteith on the Board of Supervisors. Despite his inability to engage in campaign activities, Berryhill was able to defeat Frank Damrell III, a staff member for Democratic state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani. That outcome along with Withrow’s narrow re-election victory over Modesto Councilman Tony Madrigal, a Democrat, ensures the GOP continues to hold the five seats on the board.

Jim DeMartini, who was Board of Supervisors chairman in 2018, said he is starting to have questions about Berryhill’s health. “I hope he is able to do the job,” DeMartini said. “I am starting to wonder. I have known him for a long time. He is a capable man, but I’m not sure his health is so good.”

DeMartini said last week he believes Berryhill will recover from the broken hip, but the effects of a progressive illness like Parkinson’s are more of an unknown. DeMartini noted that county supervisors need to be able to drive a car to meetings in the community.

A person’s drivers license may be suspended or reexamined if a medical diagnosis affecting driving skills is reported to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. According to DMV, Parkinson’s disease is among the disorders recognized by the agency to cause cognitive impairments that affect a person’s ability to drive safely.

Physicians are expected to report a diagnosis of seizures, sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, or Parkinson’s disease to the DMV. When the department receives that information, the person is scheduled for a driver safety reexamination, including a written test and then possibly a vision test and driving test, DMV spokesman Marty Greenstein said in an email Monday.

As a result of the re-examination, the DMV may suspend, revoke or restrict driving privileges. A Parkinson’s patient who is cleared to continue driving may have to submit annual medical records to DMV on their condition.

“Doctors don’t always report it if they believe the condition or disorder is being controlled by medication,” said Rob Collier, owner of California Drivers Advocates, a business that assists adults in regaining driving privileges.

Oftentimes, with Parkinson’s disease, the DMV suspends the drivers license because Parkinson’s is known as a progressive disorder, affecting vision, perception and reaction times; the agency then challenges the driver to demonstrate they are fit to drive, Collier said.

Due to an anticipated large turnout from family and supporters, DeMartini said, the county broke with a tradition of administering the oath of office to newly elected officials at the first Board of Supervisors meeting of the new year after a general election. He said there was no requirement to have a judge administer the oath if Berryhill attends Tuesday’s board meeting.

The eight officials sworn in Monday said they were looking forward to starting their terms in office. “I am excited about what the future holds,” said Kuykendall, who succeeds Tom Changnon, the county superintendent of schools for 12 years.