Merced County is in the digital age, with leaders often boasting the only research university built since the year 2000, and some candidates are running for local offices — despite not having an email address.
The Merced Sun-Star asked City Council candidates to fill out a survey of personal information and campaign philosophy and return by email. The task was not a problem for most candidates, but a few couldn’t participate because they don’t have an email address.
Merced City Council District 2 candidate Fernando Echevarria returned answers to the survey written by hand on a yellow legal pad. The 56-year-old cited his age as a reason he has an uneasy relationship with technology.
“I was born in 1962,” he said. “It’s not like I was raised on video games and smartphones.”
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A former community college police officer and classified employee for elementary schools, Echevarria said he uses an Android phone but it doesn’t receive email. He said he recently acquired a laptop that he is preparing to use for council business.
District 2 write-in candidate Ronnie De Anda, who is 77, managed to respond to the survey by email. He said he’s new to it, but gets friends or family to help him out when necessary.
Mayoral candidate Monica Kay Villa, a 63-year-old homeless resident, uses email as well. It appears on her business card.
The city of Merced tried to downplay how large of a role email plays in doing the job of an elected official, noting the staffers provide each council member with a city email, according to spokesperson Mike Conway.
Echevarria is not an outlier in Merced County. Atwater District 2 City Council candidate Dan Hernandez said email is more trouble than it’s worth.
“It’s nothing but trouble for me because people will always say ‘I emailed you and you never responded,’ ” he said. “It’s easier to talk to people.”
The 74-year-old conceded city staffers may advise him to use email once elected, but he’d rather not. He pointed to a 2009 controversy in Atwater when a councilman forwarded hundreds of emails, many of which contained sexist, racist or just plain off-color jokes. They also made jokes about killing minorities and President Barack Obama.
Hernandez said anyone who wants to reach him has access to his cellphone. “It’s not that I’m not tech savvy,” he said. “For my own purposes I use (the internet). For the business of the city it’s different.”
The other candidate for Atwater’s District 2, Danny Ambriz, said he uses email daily in his job at Merced City School District. The 36-year-old said not using emails could lead to feelings of a lack of transparency. Emails leave a paper trail even if deleted, and have been a hot topic in the election in Atwater, he noted.
“It sounds like it would be a communication issue,” he said.