BRAWLEY – Self-dubbed as “The Best, and Only, Show in the Imperial Valley!”, Small Town News with Gil Rebollar boasts over 150 recorded interviews and weekly news episodes featuring a mix of information and edgy humor. With guests including county supervisors, city mayors, and even a California state assemblymember, Gil Rebollar’s podcast has given public officials and local influencers a space to speak in a very ‘home town’ medium.
Initially started as a side project to help with school, Rebollar’s podcast was meant to get him up to speed on local issues. After seeing many of his classmates had far more experience in the public sector, Rebollar wanted to hear for himself men and women with many years of public administration service.
At first, Rebollar didn’t have any specific passion for the public sector. Having just received his bachelor’s degree, he felt that if he didn’t immediately pursue a master’s, he wouldn’t have an opportunity to do so again. But getting accepted was an obstacle.
“Northridge program for public administration that I happened to apply for accepted me, so I said, ‘Ok, public administration it is.’”
The podcast was a way to hear directly from public servants on both the issues and their own experience. On top of working two jobs, Rebollar’s podcast keeps his schedule pretty tight, which he prefers.
“I used to get into a lot of trouble,” admitted Rebollar. “If I’m not doing something good, I’ll be doing something bad. So why not be involved in informing the community?”
Getting public servants onto his podcast likely would have been more difficult were it not for Rebollar’s high profile first guest, Imperial County Supervisor Ryan Kelley, who agreed to do the show the very next day.
Yet some listeners have been critical of Rebollar for not more aggressively pressing his guests. Rebollar, however, doesn’t view himself as a journalist but as a host who wants to give people a platform to express their views in a far more casual setting.
“They are guests in my house,” he said. “Even if I don’t agree, I still want to hear where they’re coming from.”
Rebollar does have a wish list of people he would still like to come on the show, including Brawley City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore and IID Director Juanita Salas.
“I know I’ve criticized some of the people on my list. They can come on and say, ‘You were wrong.’ I’ll give them the opportunity to come and chew me out, but so far they haven’t.”
The Weekend Update, however, involves more commentary. Rebollar, who also has some experience in stand-up comedy, often injects his humor into his show.
“For the Weekend Update, I’m very opinionated, but I’ve never been called a liar,” he said. “If I’m going to report anything, I do want to present my backup on what I say.”
Rebollar showed a bit of frustration that some viewers discredit his comments because of the causal setting and less-than-subtle humor. But, he insists, all his points have been vetted and researched beforehand.
“I get a lot of info from people. I could probably tell you every public official or employee who’s having an affair, and with who,” he remarked. “But I’m not going to say any of that on the show unless I have backup.”
Rebollar has brought attention to cleaning up downtown Brawley, improving the care and support of elderly in the Valley, and water rights, among other issues. He has also interviewed many candidates for elected positions. His mind is already made up for at least one of the candidates for Brawley City Council.
“Luke Hamby has been really proactive. Not only has he been out there, but he’s sharing his plans,” said Rebollar. “I’m definitely voting for Luke. The second one is still up in the air.”
Rebollar himself has brought attention to the decrepit state of some businesses along Brawley’s Main Street as well as how the city has handled incoming businesses. His recommendation?
“I would like our council to look really closely at the administration, and from there, judge to see if it’s effective or not. That’s it. You’ve seen other cities make a change, and it’s not always pretty,” said Rebollar. “If Brawley wants to make that change, we need to look closely at the administration.”
Rebollar also hopes his combination of comedy and information will appeal to his own age group to become informed on local issues, in hopes that his viewers would focus more on local happenings rather than national.
“I know a lot of people need to be entertained to be informed. It kinda sucks, but I hope to bridge that gap.”
While his jokes have helped to grab the attention of those who normally steer clear of local politics, some viewers have had trouble taking his show seriously because of his style of humor.
“He looks so professional with his suit and the nice background, but then he starts off with a crude joke,” said one Imperial Valley resident, referencing a recent weekend episode involving male genitals. She was also surprised and amused that Rebollar would portray a city official as the fictional Disney villain, Ursula.
“I can be a jerk,” Rebollar admitted. “But I’ve been open about getting arrested, going to rehab.”
Rebollar sees his honesty and immaturity as way to inject some humanity back into political issues.
“Politicians, it seems, have to come off better than they actually are. I can just be myself and I think people look at that and say, ‘At least he cares about the issues.”