Allow me to describe the changing of the guard at City Hall using a sports metaphor.
Look at it as a college sports program. Henry Perea is the interim Athletic Director. Jim Avalos was just named team Captain.
And what a popular choice Avalos was. Since his first election to the council in 2004, he has never served as Mayor, never elected by his peers to the council’s top job.
But now, under the new city ordinance that rotates the Mayorship, there was Avalos on Dec. 4, running the Council meeting and being congratulated by the Ministerial Association, the Sikh community, union leaders, county and U.S. officials and other assorted well-wishers as Selma’s newest Major Domo.
(Earlier, in closed session, the council formally installed Perea as interim city manager. He will run City Hall until his consulting firm finds a permanent City Manager.)
The council chambers were packed, and the Avalos coronation was the only item on the agenda. It formally installed Avalos into a position he never coveted in more than a dozen years on the council. “I liked working behind the scenes,” he said. “You can get more done behind the scenes.”
Now he is front and center. The leader of the Gang of Five.
And other members of that gang believe it is about time, given Avalos’s popularity and friendly style.
“It was evident from the good turnout of his supporters [at the City Council meeting] Jim has the support of many citizens,” said council member and ex-Mayor Scott Robertson.
Council member Yvette Montijo described Avalos as “approachable and gregarious” with the public and a councilman who doesn’t take disagreements personally.
“He knows that in spite of our differences we each want what is best for the city and its citizens,” she said.
And now, after surviving a scary illness, Avalos believes he has been divinely chosen.
“It’s a miracle,” he said, reflecting on his recovery after a recent hospitalization for internal bleeding. (He said doctors told him that his body healed itself after they couldn’t find the source of his illness.)
“God saved me for a reason. I’m a man on a mission.”
That mission, he explained, is to make Selma a better city. And to “help people go the right way in life.”
And as part of that mission, he reached out to the Ministerial Association to attend his swearing-in last week.
“I want to get the churches involved,” he said. “Churches have a better outreach [than the government does].”
Personally, I like the idea of Avalos as our mayor. Like most Selma residents, I’ve known him for years going back to his time behind the meat counter at Save Mart. I believe his low-key, folksy, caring style of city governing is what we need right now as Selma deals with issues of public safety and growth.
As an example of his way of personally dealing with issues, Avalos told me that in the aftermath of the shootout across the street from Staley Stadium during a football game in 2016, he went to the house where shots were fired from and had a serious conversation with the residents there.
Obviously, not every city problem can be solved by knocking on someone’s door and coming inside for a chat. But Avalos has built relationships with folks in Selma and other cities by listening and paying attention. He is a known quantity in Fresno County, and that is good for Selma.
For Selma’s new Mayor, that human touch is what we need as we move forward on the tough issues. His makes it clear that governing a city is a matter for “we,” not “I.” That means involvement by citizens, not just the council.
Jim Avalos prides himself in keeping a “secret life” while serving on the Council (things you might not know: he is a martial artist, a furniture maker and was a running back at Caruthers High). But that will change as he spends more time in the community as Mayor.
“I’m no longer ‘behind the scenes’ Avalos,” he said. “I have to step into the role.
“I’m ready to lead.”
Step into the spotlight, Jim Avalos. Your city needs you.