SELMA – In a 3-2 vote, the Selma City Council approved a resolution that will change its voting method to having four districts and a mayor-at-large, instead of five districts to elect its City Council members, as was previously considered.

The decision was made at the Oct. 7 regular peppered with Council members interrupting each other, implying there have been unethical campaign practices and rebuffing some citizen’s comments.

City attorney Neal Costanzo said the resolution approved that night would start a new 90-day grace period preventing the City from being sued as it’s adopting this law to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

“This resolution changes the nature of how you’re districting the city and you’re retaining an elected mayor and having four district council member elections,” he said.

Costanzo explained the timeline for public input, future public hearings and said the second and final reading of the four-district map would be Dec. 2.

Before making the decision, though, there was community input both in favor of, and against, having four districts with a mayor-at-large. The idea of letting voters decide how many districts should be used in future city elections was even proposed.

Councilman John Trujillo said since many spoke in favor of having the four districts and mayor-at-large, he agreed putting the issue before voters on the March 2020 ballot would be a good way to settle the matter.

“Why don’t we put it out to the public and vote? Let the people vote for it.”

Mayor Pro Tem Louis Franco argued that the cost to run for mayor would likely be excessive and it would prevent some who may be qualified from seeking the position.

“We’re basically saying, unless you have the financial resources to run for mayor, you can never be mayor. But if we go five districts and we do a rotation, running for a district is so much more affordable. We have quality people out there who would make this community even better than we could ever imagine. They’d have the opportunity to have a realistic shot to be on this council.”

In the end, he too said letting voters decide on the entire process might be the only way to settle it.

“Perhaps the best thing to do at this point since so many feel one way, and so many feel the other way,” Franco said,  “we put it up to the voters with the option of four and one [mayor], or five districts and move forward with that.”

Kingsburg resident Charlie Soto has been following the districting issue since he has run for Council in that city previously. He thinks citizens want to vote for the mayor’s position because they may misunderstand how much authority a mayor in a strong-city manager form of government does, or does not, have.

“The idea of a mayor, what people see in TV or in movies, is that a mayor is a strong figurehead and has total control of the city. [That] is just an illusion. That’s all it is. Technically, the real power within the City Council falls with the city manager. She’s the one that runs the operations on the day-to-day basis, while everyone else is in City Council is busy. The mayor, technically, only represents as a figurehead. The public needs to be educated that the mayor is not in a position that they can do anything at will.”

Mayor Scott Robertson decried that description and said the Council’s role is to represent the citizens.

“We are your representatives. The city manager is not elected,” Robertson said. “We are the boss, as the Council. Words to the opposite effect are an illusion. We are here to represent you the people and do your will after you elect us. We work with the city manager and, yes it is a strong city manager form of government, but we represent you. You’re the people and the mayor is the representative of the Council.”

Selma resident Rosemary Alaniz said she previously ran for Council and agrees that it is costly to get your name out to the public and campaign for office.

“I didn’t have money so I didn’t buy any signs. I didn’t buy a drone to go through the whole city and post it on Facebook. I couldn’t afford thousands of signs to put on people’s yards. I went door to door. I couldn’t afford to buy people Tejano tickets to get a vote. So I totally understand what you’re saying. It’s expensive to run for city council. If you don’t have the money, you’re not going to win. People need to understand that.”

The resolution was approved 3-2 with Councilman John Trujillo and Franco dissenting.

National Demographics’ Shalice Tilton reviewed options that were used to previously to section the city into five districts that could be used again to create four.

Franco again asked for four, straightforward districts be drawn on one map, disregarding where current Councilmembers lived. Mayor Robertson asked that areas such as the Downtown and barrio be considered in another map.

Selma’s Jennifer Earle said after spending much time helping run the food pantry at theSalazar Center, she realizes residents there are hesitant to attend a Council meeting.

“But they would like to have their area be one district. They feel they have qualified people that could run and they would like to be represented. So I’d like to see one map that takes that area and keeps it whole.”

Tilton said with this new configuration of four districts, there will likely be at least one district that will have two council members in it.

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Also, if residents want to submit their own districting ideas, each district should have 5,930 people each. The deadline to submit maps is Oct. 25 so they may be published online on the City’s website by Oct. 28.

An interactive map showing the city’s population is still online at http://bit.ly/2kv1lTG for those wishing to submit their own map ideas.

In other matters:

City Manager Teresa Gallavan gave her first detailed Council Priorities quarterly report on a number of goals the Council prioritized in May in regards to its budget and plans.

In regards to one of the city’s highest concerns - public safety, Gallavan said two new officers were this quarter and recruitment is underway for another firefighter. Also, an administrative assistant for the fire department has been hired.

“We are waiting for the new police chief to hire the police chief administrative assistant, so that’s one is on hold with the recruitment of the police chief,” she said. “We’ve promoted a sergeant, hired a reserve officer, and we’ve applied for a grant that wound fund an officer if we do receive the grant for a number of years. It’s not indefinite funding but it would be for a few years.”

With the increase in police staffing, patrols have been increased, she said.

“The police department has undergone some reorganization and they’ve created a tactical team and a problem-oriented policing officer position. We also now have an officer on the MAGEC team as a representative from Selma.”

She also highlighted economic development efforts to streamline business licenses, prevent sales tax from escaping the City, efforts to bring businesses to town and develop a business improvement district.

Council approved hiring Bob Murray & Associates, of Roseville, Calif., for a fee not to exceed $29,650 to conduct a search for a new police chief.

Gallavan touted the firm as having “extensive experience” and said they have completed more than 33 successful searches in the past three years. Joel Bryden would be assigned to Selma and could start the process to create a candidate profile. The City could conduct the online community survey themselves to save on that final cost, she said.

Council approved waiving $12,691.30 in fees related to the annual Rotary Band Festival. The costs come from a Special Events Permit, Sound Permit, Street Closure Permit, barricades and police and public works staff time. The Band Festival is Oct. 26. While the parade itself takes place in Downtown Selma, the field show will take place at Kingsburg High’s Stadium since the Selma High stadium is still under reconstruction.

The City’s fees related to the event are waived since the Band Festival allows band students from Selma and across the Central Valley to showcase their music skills while bringing numerous visitors and additional revenue to town. All the while, the event gives the City a chance to showcase its Downtown.

Council updated its sign policy to allow nonprofits in town to have an ad displayed on electronic billboard located at Whitson and Floral avenues. The City of Selma’s events still be the priority, however one non-profit per month will be allowed to promote an ad the public may attend, depending on space availability.

Council reviewed the timeline for finding a new permanent city attorney by Nov. 18; however the mayor said he preferred moving the process back and waiting until they returned from the holiday break in mid-January.

Attorney Neal Costanzo had been rehired in September after the previous attorney Bianca Sparks Rojas terminated her contract with the City effective Sept. 13. Rojas had been hired to replace Costanzo when he was released from employment in June 2018.

“He’s done this job many, many years for the City and he’s doing a good job now,” Mayor Robertson said.

Robertson said he’d rather the city manager focus on finding a new police chief, a code enforcement officer and community development director for now instead.

Franco disagreed stating their staff was capable of conducting the hiring processes and that the position was important for stability in the City.

“Having a permanent city attorney is important. It’s extremely important. I don’t think we need to push it aside. I think we’re capable of hiring all the positions we need to hire in a timely manner,” he said.

Robertson made a motion to not start the process of advertising for an attorney until the January meeting and that was approved 3-2 with Franco and Trujillo dissenting.

Council approved appointing Councilman Avalos as their voting delegate to attend the League of California Cities annual conference from Oct. 16-18 in Long Beach. Councilman Trujillo will be the alternate.

Avalos will vote on one resolution regarding having the California Public Utilities Commission increase funds for projects in high fire hazard severity zones. Another resolution calls on the federal and state governments to address international pollution flows affecting Southern California and the Pacific Ocean.

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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