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SELMA – With the Nov. 6 General Election less than a month away, organizers with the Selma Aware organization hosted a forum Oct. 2 so candidates seeking office could let voters know about their experience and where they stand on local issues.

Selma Aware’s Roseann Galvan said only local candidates seeking seats on the City Council, Selma Unified School District and Health Care District took part this year as it’s been difficult for those running for state and federal offices to confirm their appearance at the forums.

“The whole purpose of this tonight was to get the viewpoints of the candidates,” Galvan said. “The committee is pleased. I think our moderator Pastor Maria Tafoya did a fabulous job and what we wanted to accomplish was accomplished. We wanted to hear the viewpoint of the candidates.”

Candidates first introduced themselves, told of their qualifications, community involvement and why they chose to run.

Health Care District

  • Linda Esquivel already sits on the board and has served since January 2008. She was already volunteering already as the district’s secretary and in 2010 she became a paid employee of the district to do that job. She became a board member when a seat became vacant. Esquivel is the Selma Chamber of Commerce’s vice president and is involved with Valley Life Church’s women’s ministry. She’s worked as a physical therapy office manager for the past 30 years.
  • Leticia Gallardo is another incumbent seeking to keep her seat. She’s worked for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Corcoran for almost 20 years. She’s involved with a local girls softball league, Selma Shock and she’s volunteered with other charitable efforts such as Santa in the Barrio toy giveaways.
  • Anthony Herrera has worked in manufacturing for 20 years working his way up through supervisor, production control and purchasing. After a layoff, he returned to college to become a nurse and has worked for the past 13 years at St. Agnes and Clovis Community. He worked as a supervisor for the past two years and now is a cardiac nurse taking care of high-risk patients. He’s volunteered with Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. He also volunteers with Selma Beautification clean-up efforts.
  • Andy Montijo owns Glacier Refrigeration and graduated from Westland College’s commercial refrigeration program, Fresno City’s air-conditioning program and Selma Leadership. He served in the United States Army, in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, on the board of the Selma Chamber of Commerce, Selma Planning Commission, on the Health Care Board and now sits on the Selma School Board.
  • Colleen Nelson is a retired long-time Selma teacher and previously served on the Health Care District. She is now a member of the Measure P Oversight Committee and serves on the Beautification Committee.

The candidates were asked whether they thought taxpayer funds the Health Board oversees are being spent correctly. Questions have been raised over whether some of the previously awarded grants should have been given to the school district, animal shelter or Boys and Girls Club.

Esquivel said she didn’t agree with every proposal presented to the board but still thinks the grants have been contributed correctly.

“The money has been distributed fairly. There have been a lot of projects I didn’t vote for, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have compassion for the proposal before us.”

Herrera said he had “a hard time seeing the health care benefits for some of the money given out for some of the projects.”

Since the bylaws of the health care district say the taxpayer funds distributed to this board are to be spent to “improve quality of the health care in the communities and promote education and wellness,” Herrera said he feels the focus needs to be “a little more health care-minded with the money that’s granted.”

Montijo said while he agreed with the board’s decision to honor a previous commitment to help pay for a new all-weather track at Selma High, he didn’t think funding the salaries of Boys and Girls Club employees was a prudent decision.

“This will keep adults and kids active as they walk the new all-weather track, plus it will be used for track and field events as well.” Later in the forum, he added, “You don’t spend $100,000 to impact only 42 kids,” he said of enrollment at the youth club. “You spend that to impact hundreds or thousands of kids. I feel the board has a lot of work ahead to fulfill our core obligation.”

Nelson said the board’s guidelines need to be better clarified as she too thinks some of the previous grants that paid for a drainage system, washer, dryer and dishwasher for the local dog shelter have not been appropriate.

“I love dogs and I support the dog shelter, however, Cal Water should have addressed the problem as they are the property owners, not us. I also believe buying a washer, dryer and dishwasher for the shelter was outside the scope of the district’s guidelines as I understand them. I believe those items, which are important, could have been gotten in other ways.”

She, too, said the Boys and Girls Club salaries should not have been granted through this district.

“It’s a wonderful organization and they do wonderful things for our kids. But the health care district’s funds were never intended for paying salaries. They were intended for starting programs that have to do with health and welfare of our citizens. Then, funding would be taken over in other ways they’d be able to find.”

Selma City Council

Candidates for Selma City Council are:

  • Rosemary Alanis, who is known for organizing Neighborhood Watches and a roundtable to get input on citizens’ concerns.
  • Joel Fedor, who describes himself as a Walmart-shirt wearing, motorcycle-riding plumber who cares about Selma. He says he has no agenda other than the town and its people.
  • Sarah Guerra is an insurance business owner, board member of United Health Centers and volunteer for charitable causes.
  • Mike ‘Cheezer’ Munoz who said he’s not a politician but is running because he believes Selma needs a change. He’s vice president of Selma High’s Ag Boosters, is joining the Lions Club and has been involved with Selma Cancer Supports walk for the past four years.
  • Teresa Guzman Salas, the charter president of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Selma and current treasurer and retired City of Selma employee who worked in their human resources department for 20 years.
  • John Trujillo, a local business entrepreneur and concrete salesman who said his passion is with Selma.

Tafoya asked the candidates to imagine the city had been awarded $1 million and asked how they would spend the funds. While some said they’d focus on improving underserved areas of town, others said they’d update equipment used by employees across the city and others added training to improve city employees’ skills.

“So many underserved neighborhoods need a lot of work: lights, curbs, sidewalks. I’d like to give grants to low-income families get solar and paint and repair their house. If we do that for them, they’ll put more money into the community. We need more family and community involvement and make sure we’re bringing vital businesses into our community,” Alanis said.

Fedor said the funds need to be spent on improving infrastructure such as streets and sewers to the community could grow.

“We want the city to grow, but can we? Once we build, we’ll be creating revenue sources so that everything else can happen.”

Guerra said she’d conduct a needs analysis first, but would make increasing the number of police officers a priority.

“We have 15 patrol officers who can answer calls themselves, three per shift, which is unacceptable. We should add an officer to each shift effective immediately,” she said.

Munoz said he’d focus on equipment and training for the police and fire departments and making improvements at local parks.

“A lot people live in apartments and have big families and use the parks like their backyard. They use them to barbecue, bring in bounce houses and as a playground. I don’t know if you’ve been to the parks lately, but the equipment is looking pretty rough. We don’t want that to hurt our kids,” Munoz said.

Salas said while $1 million sounds like a lot of money, it really isn’t when it comes to running a city. And spending it to hire police wouldn’t be wise since money for their salaries wouldn’t exist the next year.

“Unless you have the money to sustain those salaries, it doesn’t do any good because when your money runs out, you have to let go of those police officers.”

Salas said she’d focus on computer upgrades, new vehicles and equipment for existing officers, firefighters and city staff since that would benefit more people. She’d make sure departments, such as planning, has more current programs to speed up the development process and grow the city.

“You’re not going to be able to get something built in the city if it’s going to take three to five months to get something done. We need the equipment to be able to take care of things immediately.”

Trujillo said he’d increase police training and upgrade their equipment such as weapons, vests and vehicles. He’d also like to see money spent to train staff and promote business in town.

“People need to get trained, be knowledgeable and represent ourselves well and sell our city. But the police department is the first that should be funded. We need a safe community so our kids can be safe in the playgrounds.”

Selma Unified School District

School board candidates spoke in the last round. There are three seats up for election, but one of those is Jennifer Winter’s and she is unopposed. She attended the forum to address school-related issues.

Yvette Montijo, Regina Pallares and Roger Orosco are running to represent Area 3. Diane Jensen and Annmarie Summers are running to represent Area 5.

Candidates were asked about their ideas regarding student safety. Since the topic covers a range of scenarios and needs, their answers were varied.

Yvette Montijo said most parents are likely concerned about active shooter situations and said she’s received training that in such situations students need to run, hide or fight. While some want fences erected at all of Selma’s schools, Montijo said this gives students no way to get away from such a dangerous situation.

“If the schools are fenced and gated up, where are they going to run to if that’s the first thing we want them to do? How will they scale those fences and those gates?”

Montijo said she thinks a major solution has to do with prevention and awareness through addressing mental health needs of students.

“Our schools have made inroads in hiring mental health clinicians to identify and help those students with those difficulties. I’d like to see us expand, augment and support those programs addressing those conditions.”

Pallares agreed mental health and interventions are needed. She's also concerned with what schools should do in an active-shooter situation.

“I’m all for fences but then we start developing a jail-like community. We need to look at all aspects of each school because they’re designed differently.”

Winters said school visitors are supposed to check in at the front office and there are safety and disaster plans in place. However, those who seek to harm students “will find a way. Sandy Hook showed us that since they had security set up, cameras, locked doors and they still had an active shooter situation. I don’t want our students to have to go through metal detectors on a daily basis. I’m not a big fan of fencing in every single campus so our children are able to escape. We need to train our staff to be diligent to look for anybody who’s not supposed to be there.”

Jensen said that as the current Band Booster president at Selma High, she’s been able to drive up the school’s band room and walk to the front office without being questioned.

“That concerns me. I don’t think that many people would confuse me with a student. I’ve walked past teachers and staff and I’m never questioned,” Jensen said. “The awareness is something we need to address. We need to give more training on that on how to approach a parent. I’m on my way to the office, but is the next person?”

Jensen said she also thinks student safety to and from school needs to be addressed with more thorough bussing arrangements, especially for younger students.

“A lot of our children walk long distances to school. Are we doing everything we can to make sure their path is safe?”

Summers said safety concerns are different for students to community members and each of these different perspectives need to be taken into account. She also said the board needs to be more accessible to making changes as the school year progresses and different safety needs become more obvious.

“If they realize they have a high population and need more security, they need a path to come to us and ask for that. They may need more crossing guards if the streets nearby are congested. We have to be open to as many things as possible to make our kids feel safe. That’s what I’d work for.”

In answering questions about the school district’s dress code, candidates said more consistent enforcement is needed and class time shouldn’t be missed over minor infractions.

“We have to have a three-pronged approach. We have to look at the parents and what their desires are, what the law states and what will be conducive to the learning environment and finding a balance to that,” Montijo said.

Pallares said her own daughters were called into the office over tank tops with straps that were shy of the required two inches.

“I’m for a dress code but the key is, is it preventing anyone from learning and is it violating their Constitutional rights? I’m for dress codes but I’m also one to grow with the times. Discipline should be consistent and may be case by case. It just really needs to be looked at as far as the discipline to avoid pulling students out of class.”

Jensen said since students will be judged on the appearance, she feels it’s important to help them prepare for their future careers.

“We’re not only teaching them the basics of math, history and English, we’re teaching them how to enter the workplace. If we don’t teach them how to dress appropriately at school, will they learn it when they enter the work place? I think a dress code is necessary to help our students enter the work force with soft skills they need to be successful.”

Summer also agreed enforcement is inconsistent across the district and that everyone should be held accountable from the superintendent on down.

“It’s kind of hard to put a plan in place if we’re not going to hold everyone accountable. If the adults are not respecting and following the rules, it’s hard to be mandating it to the students. We have to be the role models.”

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

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