WASH THOSE HANDS: Remember all those times your mom nagged you to wash your hands before a meal while growing up? Well, you're no longer alone. Now elected officials have jumped on the nagging bandwagon.

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors proclaimed last week Handwashing Awareness Week, noting that it is "the single most important action people can do to stop the spread of illness."

You know flu season must be around the corner when public officials take time away from setting policy and managing budgets to teach us about proper hygiene. If you can't trust your county supervisor to tell you how to stay healthy, who can you trust? Other than mom, of course.

But mom never went to this level of detail. For instance, did you know that the common cold accounts for 22 million missed school days every year in the United States, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? (Of course, that might not be the most effective argument if kids looking for an excuse to skip geometry class).

The county news release also pointed out that unclean hands can contribute to food-borne illnesses like norovirus, a stomach bug that afflicted some 130 diners at a local California Pizza Kitchen restaurant earlier this year. Though hand-washing violations at local restaurants have held steady since 2007, Contra Costa Environmental Health Director Dr. Marilyn Underwood said "something as simple as hand-washing shouldn't cause as many violations as it does."

Not only are county officials going to great lengths to urge us to protect our health, they're showing us how. Instructional materials for food facilities and schools, a podcast and video demonstrations are all available online at www.cchealth.org/hand-washing/.

"It takes 15 to 20 seconds to wash your hands effectively," said Communicable Disease Program Manager Erika Jenssen, adding that people should use warm water and soap. "When you're done, use a clean towel to dry your hands and to turn off the faucet."

Then go eat an apple. You never know, it might keep the doctor away.

SPEAKING OF CLEAN: The Eye noticed something strange outside Antioch City Hall last week; an old, wooden outdoor shoe cleaner just in front of the office doors.

Mr. Gangsta?: If you believe what a few people have been saying lately, there is a "gangsta" prowling Richmond's power corridors. He has white hair and a weakness for tan khakis. He's quick on the draw -- with his smartphone -- and he likes to post pictures and pithy comments on Facebook.

The "gangsta" is a 68-year-old grandfather who works as an architect by day and a City Councilman by night. His name is Tom Butt.

"Tom Butt is a gangsta," said Councilman and frequent antagonist Corky Booze, chuckling and jabbing his left index finger toward the opposite wing of the dais on Tuesday. Butt sat back with a wry smile.

The term, a blend of disparagement and admiration, has been used several times in recent months to describe the longtime councilman, mostly by Booze but also by some residents.

A YouTube video titled "Tom Butt the Gangsta" is nearing 1,000 views, and it shows the bespectacled senior issuing a verbal smackdown to a colleague during a council meeting.

But it's more than rough talk. To opponents, Butt is the master of Richmond's legislative branch, a man whose support is so solid and tactics so deft that his approval is all but a guarantee of legal and fiscal support in this town.

On Tuesday night, Booze, Councilman Nat Bates and others howled again that they had been bested by Butt, this time in a rancorous tilt over where to spend settlement money from the Cosco Busan oil spill. Booze wanted money for railing on the pier at Point Molate, but Butt and his coalition weren't having it.

In the end, Butt sewed it up his way.

Asked to comment on his reputation, Butt was customarily blunt.

"At this point in my life, that stuff doesn't bother me a bit," Butt said. "I don't take any of this bull at the council meetings seriously."

Staff writers Craig Lazzeretti, Paul Burgarino and Robert Rogers contributed to this report.