SELMA – While the latest Selma City Council meeting started off with the swearing in of additional staff at its police department, the effort seemed like too little too late as a number of citizens clamored for immediate action to deal with what they say is a nightly barrage of gunfire in the city.
The council went on to deal with routine matters of approving a Community Development Block Grant application and the updating of speed limits throughout town only to later hear one councilmember criticize another over their conduct at an August Selma Health Care District meeting.
Citizens speaking during the public comment session of the meeting made a number of demands but keyed in on the need to hire more police officers immediately.
“Make cuts where they’re needed, whether it be department staffing, department head salaries [or] closing city offices for a week,” resident Brandon Shoemaker said. “Move those monies to support police and fire hiring and retention through increases in salary. This board and previous boards have done the same thing.”
Joe Gonzalez said he’s lived in the barrio of Selma his entire life and doesn’t want to see gangs take it over.
“What should we expect? Should we start arming ourselves? What is going to happen and what results will be put in front of us to make us feel safer? The shootings have gotten out of hand. If we can’t handle the problem, bring in some outside help,” Gonzalez said.
Janalee Jones said she repeatedly reports to the police suspicious activity in her neighborhood and is often told police will investigate but don’t show up.
“The police should know my number because I’m not afraid to call the police. I let them know what I see, who I see and what’s going on in my neighborhood. Some of the issues I’ve had is [hearing] we’ll get someone out there and then I never see them.”
Jones said she’s so worried about crime she sends her children out of town to attend school.
Laura Perez said she’s constantly diving for the floor out of fear when she hears loud popping sounds in her neighborhood.
“A few weeks ago, there were shots fired on Yerba. I thought it was across the street so I dropped to the floor,” Perez said. “I’m 65 and I’ve got a bad back. I can’t be dropping to the floor all the time. I’m always nervous and dropping to the ground.”
Yolanda Torrez said rather than merely listen to the citizens’ concerns, she wanted to hear what actions council members were going to take to combat the ongoing crime.
“We really want to hear what you guys have to say because we are losing the battle,” Torrez said. “Since last year and that shooting at the high school, we’ve had so many incidents and we’ve lost officers. All of you know what’s going on in this city so I don’t understand why you’re not putting safety as the priority for our community, our kids and our merchants. It’s out of control. Every other day, there are shootings. It’s taken a little girl to lose her life.”
City Manager Dave Elias said he’d talked with citizens about goals regarding staffing and budgeting and that two community forums are planned for October to discuss those with residents.
“We’ll be having those discussions as a body as they set their goals and objectives so we can take that in to next year’s budget.”
Councilman Scott Robertson said an upcoming City Council meeting will also include public safety on its agenda. “You are getting through; we are listening so thank you.”
Audience members seemed adamant that action, not more words, were needed to start dealing with the issues.
“Waiting until next month’s meeting and until the budget’s figured out next year, that’s too long,” Evan Jones said.
“We’ve got issues on Mill and Locust. There’s an apartment complex where druggies are living in the carports. Why aren’t the enforcement officials making them move? All that does is attract more crime.”
Colleen Nelson said she can see the fear trickling down to the school-age children she works with.
“I’ve spent 40 years working with the kids of this town. Not only do I not feel safe anymore, I know the kids that I work with don’t feel safe. I know their parents don’t feel safe. We have to increase the police presence in our town.”
The council went on to approve a development block grant application and an update of speed limit changes throughout town before moving on to council reports.
Councilman Louis Franco discussed long-term ideas about fixes to help the city’s budget grow through infrastructure development. Having infrastructure in place would lead to the building of housing projects that would bring needed taxes to fund such needs as increasing the police force.
“Our infrastructure is dragging us down so we have to look ahead to prioritize our needs.”
During his report, Robertson criticized fellow councilmember Yvette Montijo for comments she made during a recent Selma Health Care District’s board meeting. He chided Montijo for not following meeting procedures during their Aug. 31 meeting.
“Councilmember Montijo knows after three years on this board that a board member does not answer the public during a vote and after oral communications are over. While Health Care District member [Lorraine] Avalos was explaining her vote, Councilmember Montijo repeatedly interrupted her attempting to make Avalos lose her train of thought. When that did not work, she switched tactics attempting to divide and conquer by telling Avalos she should be board president rather than board member Rose Robertson,” he said.
During that meeting, Rose Robertson had proposed that Stan Louie be removed as president of that board. Montijo had suggested that Avalos be nominated as she had garnered the most votes in the 2016 election.
“Montijo’s words are inconsistent with her actions,” Robertson said in his comments. “Even though I was the top vote-getter in the 2016 City Council election, Councilmember Montijo couldn’t wait to get rid of me as mayor.”
Since there were a number of funding proposals at the Health Care District meeting, the audience was filled with many high school students waiting to hear if the school’s track and band requests would be granted.
“It was a shame for them to see a City Council member behaving so disrespectfully toward a member of another board,” Robertson said. He went on to criticize her comments about Second Chance Animal Shelter and the Boys and Girls Club of Selma. “She made an illogical and weak argument. Only if Second Chance had applied for funds from the health care district that had already been received from the city for that same project could that accusation work. Further, the Boys and Girls Club received no city money. So the claim that they double dipped is false and mean spirited.”
Robertson also said Montijo should get her facts straight.
“Montijo claimed the Boys and Girls Club received $92,000 in 2016 when they actually received $80,000, and that it has 42 members when it actually 263. I used to believe in better, now I know better, ” Robertson said, in reference to Montijo's slogan during her campaign.