Editorials

We fear Tom Berryhill too sick to serve as supervisor

Gov. Jerry Brown is surrounded by Republican legislators who helped pass key climate change legislation known as Cap & Trade in 2017. From left are Assemblywonan Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon, Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte and Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia.
Gov. Jerry Brown is surrounded by Republican legislators who helped pass key climate change legislation known as Cap & Trade in 2017. From left are Assemblywonan Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon, Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte and Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia. hamezcua@sacbee.com

If he’s too sick even to be sworn in on time, we fear Tom Berryhill is too sick to serve.

The newly elected Stanislaus County supervisor – and former state senator – missed both his official swearing-in ceremony on Monday and his first official board meeting Tuesday. For someone whose health has long been a concern, it was an especially troubling false-start to a four-year term.

Berryhill originally told county officials he would attend his swearing-in. But Monday, county CEO Jody Hayes received a call before the ceremony to inform him that Berryhill would not be able to attend. Instead of going to Tenth Street Place, sources say Berryhill sought medical treatment. Berryhill was sworn in Wednesday afternoon in supervisors’ chambers.

In some ways, the termed-out senator is a miracle man. After having a heart transplant in 2001, he served 12 years in the Legislature (Assembly and Senate). Then, in July, he broke his hip, which became apparent only when he failed to attend any Senate sessions – or cast a single vote – from June through August.

Berryhill made no announcement of the injury and his office would not discuss it or admit the injury had occurred. He even missed his own Senate retirement ceremony. The Bee confirmed his absence only by filing a Freedom of Information Act request that showed he had not been in attendance for nearly four months.

Last August, Berryhill disclosed he also suffers from Parkinson’s disease, which can cause tremors and some mental impairment. Once diagnosed, California suspends the driver’s license of anyone with the disease, though the suspension can be appealed and the license returned.

Due to his broken hip, Berryhill, 64, was unable to actively campaign against Frank Damrell Jr. in the supervisor’s race. Regardless, the well-known politician was easily elected to represent District 4, which includes much of Modesto.

In late November, Berryhill attended a Southern California event associated with his new duties, appearing in a wheelchair. At a going-away party for retiring Supervisor Dick Monteith last month, Berryhill, Monteith’s successor, used a walker.

Then last week, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Berryhill to the State Compensation Insurance Fund board. The board’s 11 members are paid $58,633 a year and receive some benefits and are scheduled to attend quarterly meetings. Such appointments are often considered a “thank-you” for having cast difficult votes – such as Berryhill’s support for extending the Cap & Trade tax, one of Brown’s priorities.

Stanislaus County supervisors meet every week. Sitting at a dais is not physically strenuous. But real work is required to make good decisions on behalf of county residents. Supervisors attend frequent workshops and subcommittee meetings; they regularly engage staff and public in conversations; attend meetings of other boards and councils. Most supervisors put in at least 30 hours a week and several work more than 40 – which is why the job is worth roughly $80,000 a year to taxpayers.

When we endorsed Damrell in November, we said Berryhill should concentrate on restoring his health. This week’s evidence emphasizes that necessity.

Berryhill should inform Gov. Gavin Newsom that his various conditions will not allow him to serve on both a state board and the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. Berryhill should commit to the less strenuous role provided by appointment to the state board and request the governor appoint someone to the board of supervisors who is physically able to do the job.

Tom Berryhill deserves an opportunity to heal. Stanislaus County deserves a full-time supervisor.

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