SELMA – A local Selma health board that oversees an estimated $150,000 in property taxes is taking steps to comply with the California Voting Rights Act.
At its Jan. 15 meeting, the Selma Healthcare District Board started the process to change from voting in its new board members from at-large elections to elections by district.
The Selma Healthcare District includes all the city of Selma, parts of the northern edge of Kingsburg and the western edge of Parlier.
Currently, board members are elected through an at-large election system. In the most recent election cycle that took place November 2018, Treasurer Leticia Gallardo kept her seat on the board and new members Anthony Herrera and Colleen Nelson were voted in to office.
The board’s legal counsel Kenneth Price said that one of the main goals of the California Voting Rights Act is ensure all portions of a city or district are represented on a board.
During this meeting, the board set dates for some initial meetings where a professional demographer will be brought in and public input will be taken on where the boundaries of the different districts will be.
“The demographer will evaluate the population base to make sure nobody’s being excluded,” Price said. Other boards and cities, such as Kingsburg, have recently made the switch to this election process. The goal is to make sure each board truly represents the city or district they have jurisdiction over, he said.
“What [at-large elections] would in effect do is freeze out some minority or economic populations. You might find city councils or boards of districts that didn’t really represent the demographics of the group. This is designed to ensure this is not happening.”
A demographer will propose districts that keep what are called ‘communities of interest’ together. These are based on school attendance areas, water and sewer districts, geographic boundaries and the configuration of the district itself, Price said.
“In short, these factors are intended to ensure the districts aren’t gerrymandered for any particular purpose, but have a logical quality to them.”
To meet Voting Rights Act requirements, the health care board will host two meetings even before district maps are proposed. Maps will be presented and then additional meetings for public input will be held.
“Once those proposed maps are created by the demographer and affirmed by the board, then there’ll be community outreach sessions with the residents,” Price said. Residents will be notified through the newspaper and notices will be posted at the Selma Senior Center where this board’s meetings already take place.
Once the map with the new districts are adopted, the Fresno County Elections Office will be informed so they can prepare voting for the next election cycle that takes place in 2020. Then, it will be President Rose Robertson and board member Lorane Avalos’ seats that are up for election.
Residents who are interested in running for a seat must reside in the district which they wish to represent. Also, only voters in that district will vote for a candidate to represent their area.
“This is the resolution to initiate the process. It’s the first steps of many,” Price said.
A first districting hearing will be 5:30 p.m. March 5 and a second hearing will be 5:30 p.m. April 4. The Selma Healthcare District’s meetings are held at the Selma Senior Center.
Since this is a specialized service, Price said the board doesn’t to go through a traditional bidding process to hire a demographer. He will look into whichever demographer will be hired by the City of Selma as they’ll be voting on the same requirement soon.
Mayor Scott Robertson was in the audience and said the hiring of a demographer was still under consideration, but the City would likely be willing to share data regarding whichever company they hire. This would save time and funds as that firm would be researching the same area already.
The resolution was unanimously approved that night to get the districting process started.
There was no public comment.
Treasurer Leticia Gallardo reported that the balance in the district’s account is $155,182.18.
The board is also looking into fulfilling other requirements to undergo legal training on sexual harassment and ethics courses board members are required to take.
Afterwards, Board President Rose Robertson said the move will bring Selmans one step closer to having more of a voice on the various boards that represent them as the school district already uses district elections and the City is moving to that method soon.
“The goal is so you can have a [health care] board member, one [City] Council member and one School Board member that represents the area where they’re living. I see the unfairness if there’s a few council members or school board members that are all living in the same area. That doesn’t represent [the residents]. I’m all about fairness and having things done correctly.”
Robertson said she’s also hoping to continue clarifying their board’s role as residents often mistake them as the agency running Selma’s hospital.
“There’s no affiliation to the hospital. It’s Adventist and they’re their own organization.”
According to their website, https://selmahealthcaredistrict.org/, the board’s goal is to “provide community-based health care services to residents. They respond to the needs in their District by providing a range of services, which may include a hospital, clinic, skilled nursing facility or emergency medical services; as well as education and wellness programs.”