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Groups considering recall of Supervisor Efren Carrillo


Regardless of how his court case turns out, embattled Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo may face judgment by voters in a recall effort mounted by a powerful labor organization, a liberal political group or a combined effort by both entities.

Legal proceedings against the 32-year-old west county supervisor are on hold for six weeks, following a judge's approval Friday of the prosecution's second request for a delay in filing charges, this time until Oct. 11.

Carrillo, who was arrested by Santa Rosa police on suspicion of prowling and burglary in mid-July, returned to official duties two weeks ago. He has kept a low profile, declining interviews and curtailing his once-vigorous level of public appearances.

He did not return calls to his district office Friday, and his cellphone voice message mailbox was full Saturday.

Legal experts have suggested that the case against Carrillo may be weak and that prosecutors especially may struggle to sustain a felony conviction that would automatically remove him from office.

But a recall campaign — the only other way to displace a California elected official — rests on the ability of Carrillo's critics to mount such an effort, which could cost up to $250,000. The ultimate decision would be made by voters.

Within the next three weeks, the North Bay Labor Council's executive board will meet, most likely on a conference call, to consider a recall, said Jack Buckhorn, president of the council, which includes 65affiliated unions and labor groups.

Buckhorn said that meeting would occur prior to the board's next scheduled meeting on Sept. 25.

Council officials are working on a budget for a possible recall "in terms of time and money," Buckhorn said Friday.

If the executive board opts to back a recall, the matter would be put to a vote by the council's affiliates, he said.

A month ago, the labor council and the Sonoma, Lake & Mendocino Building and Construction Trades Council jointly called on Carrillo to resign, and Buckhorn said at the time they would await the supervisor's Friday court date to decide on a recall.

The call for a resignation was not based on the outcome of a criminal prosecution, Buckhorn said Friday.

"We believe his resignation is in order based on his bad behavior and poor judgment," he said.

Carrillo was arrested in the early morning of July 13 after a woman called 911 to report someone outside her home near Stony Point Road and West Third Street.

She reported someone tried to get into her bedroom window. The woman called 911 again 10minutes later to say the person had knocked on her front door, identified himself as a neighbor and ran away.

Officers arrived and found a torn window screen. Carrillo was in the area, clad in just socks and underwear, carrying a cellphone. He was arrested when he could not provide a clear explanation for his behavior, police said.

At the time, police said they believed he planned to commit some type of sexual assault, but they haven't said what led to that conclusion.

Officers have said that Carrillo appeared intoxicated during their early morning questioning but not drunk on a level that would make it unlawful. They did not test his drunkenness in the field or measure his blood-alcohol content.

Carrillo's advisers have said that alcohol played a role in the July arrest as well as one a year ago, when Carrillo was arrested after a fight outside a San Diego nightclub. Local authorities didn't press charges in that case.

After his more recent arrest, Carrillo posted bail within a few hours and reportedly checked into an alcohol treatment facility, where he remained in seclusion for five weeks.

Buckhorn, the labor leader, disputed whether that makes any difference. "On a personal level, I hope he gets the help he needs," Buckhorn said. "On a political level, I believe his days are numbered."

Alice Chan, a Democratic Party activist from Sebastopol, reiterated Friday the intention of a liberal group to pursue a recall.

If Carrillo does not resign by Sept. 15, Chan said, the Coalition for Grassroots Progress, which she helps lead, will launch a recall effort the following day.

Chan, who announced that plan a month ago, said Friday that Carrillo has had "sufficient time to consider his actions and his future in politics."

Carrillo, once considered a rising star in local and state Democratic politics, got endorsements and financial support from labor in his re-election last year, when he captured 59 percent of the primary election vote and avoided a runoff. Before his arrest, he had been widely expected to announce a run for state Assembly.

He is up for re-election to his current post in 2016.

But liberal Democrats have not favored Carrillo, and Chan's coalition is an outgrowth of progressive favorite Norman Solomon's 2012 campaign for Congress.

The coalition maintains an email list of 14,000 supporters, who live in the North Bay or along the North Coast, Chan said.

Official proponents of a recall and people who sign a recall petition must be registered voters in Carrillo's district.

Organized labor has the resources to mount a recall, which the progressives might join and form a "blue-green alliance," said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.

A successful recall costs $200,000 to $250,000, with the major expense involved in promoting the effort after it qualifies for the ballot, he said.

Recalls of local officials are common around the nation, and California's best-known recall was the unseating of former Gov. Gray Davis in 2003.

"Efren's problem is much more political than legal," McCuan said.

Carrillo's prospects of running for a state legislative office are dim, he said, but barring a successful recall he may have a future as a supervisor, a job that pays $150,000 a year and has no term limits.

"Three years (remaining in Carrillo's current term) is a long time to go about your political rehabilitation," McCuan said.

Critics are questioning whether Carrillo's low profile amounts to adequate performance in office.

Susan Upchurch, his district director, said Carrillo will continue to attend board meetings and work full days in his office, including meetings with constituents.

Carrillo, who has said he is enrolled in an outpatient treatment program for alcoholism, leaves work every day for appointments at Kaiser Permanente and is not making public appearances, Upchurch said.

"He's back to work and focusing on his recovery," she said.

Supervisor Susan Gorin, who questioned whether Carrillo was fit to continue holding office a month ago, said Friday she thinks Carrillo "can function effectively" under his curtailed routine.

Supervisors "have a fair amount of autonomy" in defining their jobs, and other board members "don't have a lot of leverage," she said.

Board Chairman David Rabbitt said he thinks Carrillo has been performing his duties.

Rabbitt said he has received numerous e-mails asking the supervisors to remove Carrillo and has answered them by saying they lack that authority.

With no direct evidence of Carrillo's alleged illegal behavior, Rabbitt said the board cannot pursue a censure, which requires a judicial-type procedure.

Meanwhile, Carrillo's friends said he is handling his job appropriately.

"I think he needs to take care of himself right now," said Martin Webb, a former Analy High School principal and volunteer on Carrillo's campaigns. "I think the voters of west county are very forgiving and recognize that he needs time to get treatment."

Noting that some critics are blaming Carrillo for the delays in his court case, Webb said he thinks Carrillo would prefer a prompt disposition.

"I think that Efren wanted to get this thing going as soon as possible so we'd come to some conclusion on it," Webb said.

Herman Hernandez, a Guerneville real estate broker, said the Carrillo has brought "dedication and passion and energy" to his job for the past five years.

"There are always bumps and distractions in life," he said. "We dust ourselves off and move forward."

(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.)