Valley Voices

Doug Hoagland: Selma’s first family connects with constituents

Rose Gallardo grew up in the barrio of Selma, sweating in the fields because all seven children in the family worked with their parents. Scott Robertson lived in Europe and some of America’s biggest cities as a boy. His father’s management job provided a comfortable life.

Today, Scott and Rose are married; he is the mayor of Selma and their dedication to that community includes helping buy a new scoreboard for Selma High School, providing college scholarships and picking up dog poop. Yes, dog poop.

The Robertsons are committed animal lovers who joined others in Selma to organize and operate a new animal shelter that is the envy of other small cities in the San Joaquin Valley.

I met the Robertsons when I worked in Selma a few years ago. She has a tell-it-like-it-is frankness, and he’s sincere and eager, with a hint of the South in his speech. His growing-up itinerary included stops in Alabama and Virginia, Boston and Chicago. That kind of moving around is part of the American narrative. But roots matter. And in Selma, the Robertsons found connections — and much more.

For Rose, 48, it began at her childhood home on Park Street.

“If my dad hadn’t instilled a strong work ethic in us, I’d probably be running a gang in the barrio today,” she says with a knowing chuckle.

Scott, 47, discovered a sense of belonging through love and marriage. “I now vicariously have a hometown through Rose,” he says.

The Robertsons met when both worked at a Fresno insurance office in the late 1980s. Scott, who had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, came to the office every day with a briefcase. Rose, who said she barely made it out of Selma High, thought the briefcase was funny.

They married in 1993 and moved to the Monterey-Salinas area, where they started an insurance business. For 10 years, Rose took classes at California State University, Monterey Bay and earned a college degree.

They often visited Selma and eventually joined Rose’s sister, Sarah Guerra, in opening an insurance business there.

Their contributions to the city started before Scott ran for the Selma City Council in 2012. For 11 years, they have given 20 college scholarships annually to Selma High seniors — the awards ranging from $125 to $200. They gave $18,000 for the football stadium scoreboard.

One year, Rose paid for six girls at Selma High to get prom dresses and accessories. “I knew what it felt like not to have the money,” she says.

Good deeds, though, do not make a city run smoothly. And Selma was struggling when Scott decided to run for office in 2012. City Hall depends heavily on sales taxes from the Selma Auto Mall, and those revenues plummeted during the recession.

Other problems included what some said were years of unwise spending by City Council members, who often bickered publicly.

During the 2012 campaign, Scott campaigned in the barrio, declaring a phrase in Spanish that Rose taught him. “Mi corazon esta con ustedes.” My heart is with you.

During the campaign, Rose translated for Scott when necessary, and she went door-to-door with him. He finished first in a field of five candidates.

“I represent the spirit of people who want to get something done in this community,” Scott says.

One of those “somethings” is animal control. Until recently, the Selma Police Department had that job, but short staffing made it difficult. The animal shelter also was too small and substandard.

The Robertsons joined with others (including former City Council Member Sandi Niswander, California Water Service Manager Scott Bailey and community volunteer Sarah Trujillo Chambless) to start the Second Chance Animal Shelter, a registered nonprofit that took over animal control, aided by financial help from the city.

In January 2014, Second Chance opened a new shelter in a pre-fab building the city already owned, and the organization later hired an animal control officer.

Such success doesn’t mean that everything is smooth sailing for Scott. As they say, politics can be a game of sharp elbows. However, as a former collegiate boxer, Scott knows how to hold his own.

Late last year, he won a 3-2 vote when the Selma City Council picked him to serve as mayor. And when the council debated this year how to spend money from a higher city hotel tax, Scott’s view prevailed on a contentious 3-2 vote.

Rose watches the City Council do its business as a regular at its meetings. However, she finds it more satisfying to be “doing” — as she does every Thursday as a volunteer at Selma’s Salazar Community Center. Located in Rose’s old neighborhood, the center is a place where kids play basketball and other sports. Rose shoots hoops with young people.

“They don’t want you to be their teacher,” she says. “They want to know you can relate them. They know I definitely can. That’s where I’m from. That’s mi tierra (my dirt),” Rose says. “I always talk about mi tierra.”

Scott looks on with a smile as his wife speaks. Now it’s his dirt, too.