Supervisor David Rabbitt said it best when he observed that Tuesday's return of Efren Carrillo to the dais was both uncomfortable and inevitable.
It was certainly awkward as word of Carrillo's return didn't surface until the night before, leaving the members of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors little opportunity to prepare for his first appearance since his arrest on July 13.
But it was clear that Carrillo was prepared. He wasted no time in offering a lengthy statement that showed contrition for his conduct, which he blamed on a problem with binge drinking. "There's nobody to blame but me," he said. "I take full responsibility for my situation."
For the first time, he also publicly discussed an incident a year ago when he was arrested in a bar fight. "After my arrest in San Diego, where I was not charged and believe, as did the authorities, that my actions were a justified defense of my friends, I still cannot help but ask myself if I would have handled the situation differently were I sober," he said.
Carrillo deserves his day in court and maintains a presumption of innocence until the courts reveal otherwise. At the same time, he needs to demonstrate that he can do his job and conduct the people's business while addressing his legal issues as well as an addiction that he, by his own admission, is just beginning to confront.
It's fair to say that many workers in the private and public sectors, including rank-and-file employees for the county, would not have the option of returning to their jobs. Faced with similar circumstances, they most likely would be placed on paid leave while they awaited the outcome of their legal cases.
For Carrillo, whether his bosses, the voters, are willing to have him remain in office rests largely on what happens during his next court appearance on Aug. 30. At that time, Carrillo is expected to find out what, if any, formal charges he will face. He was arrested on suspicion of burglary, a felony, and prowling, a misdemeanor, after a woman called 911 twice to complain about someone trying to enter her apartment. Carrillo was arrested moments later wearing only his socks and underwear.
If Carrillo is convicted of a felony, he would be forced to step down. But it's questionable as to how effective he would be in office with a trial hanging over his head. All of this is already serving as a major distraction for the board which is heading into a busy time of year.
For the time being, Carrillo has said he will not address any questions about his legal case. That's understandable. But our concern remains about what comes later. If no charges are filed or a trial is avoided because of a plea bargain, it's possible the public would be left without a clear understanding of what really transpired in the early hours of July 13.
Carrillo noted on Tuesday that little of the criticism he has received "relates to the performance of my official duties." That may be true. But as time passes, and if this becomes more of a distraction, the public may not be so willing to see a separation between the two.