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Selma Stories: Selma's political family connections

It’s the political season.

Elections are upcoming in November, and local, regional, statewide and national candidates are vying for our attention and votes.

That’s why a few of us gathered at a home in Selma last week, at a meet-and-greet event for TJ Cox who is running for Congress in District 21.

It was a crowd of a few dozen, including some local elected officials, some retired school teachers and other folks interested in hearing from and about Cox, a Fresno businessman trying to unseat incumbent David Valadao.

Cox was introduced by former Selma High student-athlete Magdalena Gomez, herself a candidate for the State Center Community College board.

Locally, this election is quite interesting.

To start, Selma will be electing two new City Council members.

Mike Derr, who has served on the Selma City Council for 28 years, is not running for re-election. Neither is councilwoman Yvette Montijo; instead, she is running for the Selma Unified school board to replace her husband, Andy.

Andy Montijo is a candidate for the Selma Health Care District board, which he was a member of before he ran for school board.

Seeking to join the City Council is Sarah Guerra, sister-in-law and business partner of Councilman Scott Robertson. Another sister, Leticia Gallardo, is seeking re-election to the Health Care board.

Seeing all those names on the ballot reminded me of a question that was posed several weeks ago: Did it bother me that the sister-in-law of a Selma City Council member was running for a seat on that same council?

My answer: No.

But that answer needs more explanation. So let me address that question and in doing so address the larger question of who should run for office in our city.

The issue at hand is the appropriateness of family members owning two of five seats on the city of Selma’s most powerful elected body.

Let’s put this in perspective. A few Selma families have multiple members on elected boards.

Start with the Montijos. Add the Selma Health Care District board, an elected panel that includes Rose Robertson and Lorane Avalos, wives of two City Councilmen. Rose Robertson’s sister Leticia Gallardo also sits on that board.

All of these folks possess one thing in common: The desire to affect the way this city does its business through government, education and health care.

We are not Fresno, a city of a half-million people. Selma’s population is about 25,000, and the number of people interested and qualified to serve on governing boards is a much smaller pool.

If the wife, husband or sister-in-law of an elected official cares enough about our city to run for office, they should be allowed to. Our city needs to be run by people who care.

It is possible, of course, that any one of us who seeks office in this city might have a relative or friend who also is on a governing board. As I mentioned, the candidate pool is small.

To me, the crux of this discussion is this: To argue that multiple family members should not be allowed to run for office on an elected board is to assume that they would collude on their voting, thus skewing decisions that are crucial to this city.

But is that true? Do you always agree with your spouse, your siblings, your in-laws, your good friends? If you served on a board with one of them, would you always vote the same way?

How you look at those questions might be determined by your opinion on a bigger issue: Would having a man and his sister-in-law sit on the same governing board give too much power to one family? Does having a married couple hold seats on both the city council and school board give them too much authority? Same question for city council members with spouses on the health care board, or sisters on that board.

Those are questions the voters will have to decide in November. Many of the above mentioned have been put into office already by the electorate, and others are on the ballot.

Selma is fortunate to have some smart, independent, committed people running our affairs. They don’t always agree, and that is a good thing. No one wants a City Council or school board that votes 5-0 on every measure. Discussions and disagreements are a healthy way to make policy.

There are voters in Selma who will disagree with each other on these issues. They may be family or friends. Even spouses. It’s okay to agree to vote differently, as long as you vote what you believe to be in the best interest of this city. Just as it is OK for board and council members to disagree.

As long as you remember this admonition: Don’t make it personal.

See you at the polls on Nov. 6.

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Longtime Selma resident Ken Robison is a retired newspaper reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. He is also a member of Selma’s parks/recreation commission. Selma Stories run on most Wednesdays in The Enterprise.

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