Gina Roletto prepares to serve on Hillsboro City Council
As a public school administrator, Gina Roletto says she understands the importance of listening to people who have felt let down by "the system."
Roletto, an assistant principal at Bridger K-8 in southeast Portland, was recently sworn in as the newest member of the Hillsboro City Council. She was elected in November after receiving more than 35% of the vote in a race with five other candidates.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hillsboro video recorded a limited-attendance swearing-in ceremony for Roletto, incumbent Councilors Rick Van Beveren and Anthony Martin, and Mayor Steve Callaway. The city plans to play the video at a remote City Council meeting on Jan. 5.
As she prepares for her first City Council meeting, Roletto said she's focused on learning and listening, particularly to Hillsboroans who feel like their voices aren't being heard — a skill her work in public education has helped her gain, she says.
She recalled working with a student's parent who was unhappy with a decision at the school. Roletto says the parent came into the experience already distrusting public school officials, because where she was from in Somalia, such officials were part of a disfunctional government.
"I remember she called us and said, 'You guys are the government — why should I trust you?'" Roletto said. "That was very striking.
"And I work with parents who may have themselves had a negative experience with school," Roletto continued. "It's my job to heal that relationship so we can move forward for the better of the kid."
Ahead of the election, Roletto said her top priority was to help ensure that Hillsboro followed through on implementing a decision-making framework based on its equity statement.
While the equity statement was adopted in December 2019, the pandemic and widespread calls for increased social and racial justice following May's police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have only made implementing an equity-based decision-making framework more imperative, Roletto said.
"It's not just a checklist of making sure we have people of color or (Black, Indigenous and people of color) on committees, it's what does the work look like all the time," she said. "This isn't a 'one and done,' this is ongoing."
Roletto becomes the second Latina member of the council, along with Olivia Alcaire, in an increasingly diverse and growing city.
Roletto said, "I wouldn't say that me being on the council is like, 'What can I teach?' It's more bringing that additional set of eyes."
Roletto has also called for a citizen's review committee to be created in Hillsboro to examine policing practices.
City councilors recently advised city staff to create a police-community advisory group, comprised of community members who can provide the chief of police with input in policing programs and policies, and establish an internal review board to review police uses of force.
Although Roletto didn't say whether she would have preferred a new use-of-force review board to be made up community members, she said, "Any step in the near future is going to be a good one," adding that the city will need to clearly communicate the work of new advisory groups and review boards to the public.
Roletto said onboarding meetings with city department officials have shown her that city staff are taking the renewed emphasis on equity seriously.
Even though Roletto was endorsed by every current City Council member, she says people shouldn't take that to mean she will simply maintain a status quo.
"They acknowledge already that they don't always agree on everything," Roletto said. "What has allowed them to continue to move forward in the work is their professional relationships and their ability to dialogue about things."
Asked if she feels like she will be able to freely disagree with other council members, Roletto said, "Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I do."
According to the Hillsboro City Council's agenda for Tuesday, Roletto is set to be appointed to the city's community development block grant policy advisory board and the finance committee.
Roletto said she looks forward to serving in those policy advisory roles, adding that she is excited to see how the finance committee will influence the city's efforts to help people recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.