This week’s installment:
It was a week of public statements in the San Gabriel Valley last week.
Two elected officials in two different cities — El Monte Mayor Ernie Gutierrez and
Baldwin Park school board member Sergio Corona — finally talked about controversies that have surrounded them since May.
Gutierrez and Corona had been relatively tight-lipped on their respective issues despite plenty of buzz circulating in their cities.
Accusations that Gutierrez was drunk, groped his girlfriend and shouted vulgarities at a May 3 city-sponsored event quickly made their way to a council meeting, when resident Henry August called Gutierrez’s alleged behavior an embarrassment to the city.
The claims prompted an investigation by the city, heavy criticism from angry residents, and even concern from some Gutierrez’s colleagues on the dais.
But Gutierrez didn’t say a thing — until Tuesday — when he denied acting inappropriately.
Ironically, Corona, arrested May 22, made his first public appearance Tuesday at a school board meeting. During his encounter with police officers, Corona was stunned twice with a Taser after he allegedly vandalized a Baldwin Park home.
A police report included alleged statements from Corona indicating he had taken drugs the night he was arrested, provoking a debate in Baldwin Park on whether the longtime board member should resign.
Even the City Council pulled support from under the 34-year-old, agreeing he should step down.
Aside from a brief statement to to a community newspaper denying allegations of drug or alcohol use that night, Corona was absent from two board meetings following the arrest. He didn’t return more than a dozen calls from this paper seeking comment.
On Wednesday, when Corona told the paper he took “full responsibility” for his arrest, Corona also said he hoped the paper understood why he wasn’t talking
He said he was going through “personal issues,” and was trying to get better.
While it is understandable why people sometimes don’t comment on controversial issues, it makes you wonder how the public perceives an official that doesn’t come to his or her own defense until months later, if at all.
Communications experts have said that when public officials decline to comment on controversial matters, they often give the perception that they are hiding something, are unaware or don’t care.
“It can sound like you’re afraid to answer the question for fear it will incriminate you,” according to Ian Taylor and George Olds, who authored the book “Never Say ‘No Comment.'”
“The public perception is that you’ve done something wrong, otherwise why would you be hiding or withholding information.
“Saying ‘No comment’ is like saying ‘We’re guilty.'”
We’ve seen many San Gabriel Valley politicians keep mum on contentious issues. La Verne Councilman Steven Johnson has declined comment several times on a pending conflict of interest charge.
If officials would just be open from the start, the public might be more understanding of their explanations and less inclined to write them off.
In fact, residents in El Monte and Baldwin Park had hoped that Gutierrez and Corona would speak up sooner, and respond to their concerns.
In the end, saying something is better than saying nothing at all.