In my 30 years serving as a government watchdog, I have seen some 25 county supervisors come and go.
One of the absolute finest men to hold that seat was Mr. Joseph Centeno, Santa Barbara County supervisor and former mayor and police chief of Santa Maria.
He came from very humble beginnings.
How humble? He and his siblings were raised in a boxcar at Naples during the Great Depression (his father worked for the railroad). He said his humble beginnings made him a better person. He earned his way to the top, the old-fashioned way, via hard work and determination.
Joe recently passed away, and I would like to take this opportunity to say a few of the things about what made him so special.
First and foremost, Joe became a county supervisor for one reason, to continue a life of public service spanning some 50 years. Unlike many other electeds, he wasn’t in it for the ego, prestige or power, nor did he need the job or desire it as a stepping stone to higher office. Moreover, as is the case with so many, he did not take the job as a subterfuge for political activism of any kind.
Back when Joe was elected, he served on the board during the reign of Supervisors Naomi Schwartz, Susan Rose and Gail Marshall, aka “The Twisted Sisters” — notorious partisans who helped grow county government to the behemoth size it is today. Nevertheless, because Joe’s integrity, authority, competence and earnestness shone through in everything he said and did, he actually helped to dial down the intensity, acrimony and fervor of the sisters. It was an amazing thing to watch.
We need more of the world’s Joe Centenos to step up and run. And for the sake of community, voters must seek people of this caliber to serve as their elected representatives. These are people who have a lifetime record of achievement and service to the community, people who are thought of as town fathers and mothers, people respected for their common sense, community spirit and who take the position as a personal sacrifice, rather than to satisfy narcissistic ambitions or for the purpose of partisan political agendas.
Another important detail about Joe is worth mentioning in comparison to so many other electeds. There is a tendency among electeds to forget why they are where they are. That is, our electeds are there to represent the people in the halls of government.
Instead, what I have seen, over and over, is the people’s representatives instead end up representing the government to the people while becoming an apologist for the government.
Moreover, having been elected, they become members of a club that fails to share the truth about matters as if it were part of a code of conduct among the ruling class.
How does this phenomenon come about? It is quite natural really. If the electeds don’t deflect criticism away from the government, then they have to accept responsibility for its failures. Hence, the phenomenon of deflecting, excusing and even covering up wrongdoing, failures and shortfalls becomes a means of self-preservation.
Joe’s position, forever and a day, is that the people have a right to know everything their government is doing and failing to do. And he was there to hold government accountable.
Too many people accept the government’s rule in their life. But in America, government was never meant to rule. It was meant to serve via the consent of the governed. The Joe Centenos of this world supervised the government, as our representative, to ensure it didn’t rule over us or ruin us!
RIP, Joseph Centeno, my friend. When I recall this quote from George Washington, I will always think of you: “Where are our men of abilities? Why do they not come forth to save their country?”
Andy Caldwell is the COLAB executive director and host of “The Andy Caldwell Show,” airing 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays on KZSB AM 1290, the News-Press radio station.