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Rialto City Councilwoman Walks the Talk

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Deborah Robertson continues tradition of service

By Chris Levister

Trying to describe Deborah Robertson without using the phrase “public servant” is like trying to describe playing an accordion without using your hands. The long time Rialto City Councilwoman known for her unconfined vision, indefatigable work on behalf of others, comes from a family of public servants.

Born and raised in San Diego, Robertson has always been enmeshed in activism. “My mother was one of ten children raised by impoverished parents in Louisiana. Her motto was, drive hard and relentlessly,” said Robertson. “She never shed or shied away from her belief that service to others is at the core of a meaningful life.” “She was pregnant with me while picketing a San Diego hospital. Ironically that same day she went into labor and was forced to deliver me there. I guess I can safely say public service is in my DNA.”

Robertson admits ideas for serving others may hit her when she’s waking up, walking or going to the grocery store.

“My family says I’m probably the only person they know that wakes up talking.” The mother of one daughter and grandmother of five, Robertson received her B.A. from the University of California at San Diego and her M.A. from the City University of New York. She is also a graduate of the National Urban Fellows program.

She was elected to the Rialto City Council in 2000. She serves as a representative to the League of California Cities' Transportation, Communications and Public Works Committee and SCAG's Community, Economic and Human Development Committee. She also serves on the governing board of the San Bernardino Associated Governments in addition serving as a member of the Budget Oversight, Redevelopment and Citizens Advisory Committee for the City of Rialto. Armed with 30 years of experience in public administration and urban planning, she touts her ability to conceptualize and champion business strategies while staying focused on operational results.

Until her recent retirement, she served as the Division Chief of External Affairs for Caltrans District 7, which covers Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The division provides services in the areas of Media Relations/Public Affairs, Legislative and Government Affairs, Equal Opportunity, Graphic Services, and Executive Office Support.

“I tend to be analytical and well organized. I ask a lot of tough questions,” she said. “I’m a good listener, I trust to hard work, perseverance and determination.” “She challenges those around her to “dare to compete” and “dare to care”,” said Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter who on March 8 presented Robertson with a Legislature Resolution honoring her years of public service to the state of California.

As an executive in the male dominated transportation and construction industry, Robertson says she relished the challenges of an obstructed road, a trait she says she takes from her father. “My father came from a large family of highly organized farmers. Despite the hostilities and inequities they faced, they got up every morning focused on the task at hand,” recalls Robertson. “They knew that in organization there is always strength.” “She is known for those qualities that distinguish her, hard work and tenacity,” said Caltrans District 7 Director Michael Miles.

“She has consistent vision and back bone,” said Rialto City Administrator, Mike Story. “Deborah has a personal touch that inspires loyalty in the high pressure, cutthroat world of transportation and construction,” said Carole Sanders, P.E. Area Manager Caltrop Corporation.

“She has challenged every barrier designed to contain her and others like her,” said Deborah Berg, CEO of Ponoma based Berg and Associates Construction Management. Six years ago Robertson launched the city’s highly successful State of Women’s event marking the start of Women’s History Month.

“I wanted to highlight modern women’s accomplishments and inspire women that they too can lead lives of great ambition and purpose.” She is also speaking out and educating her constituents on the benefits of national healthcare reform.

“There exists a profound urgency to educate and empower the masses by separating the facts from the myths and fear surrounding the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in March 2010. We can no longer afford the status quo.” Despite her exuberance and enthusiasm in conversation Robertson takes a Zen-like approach to life and career.

“The purpose of life is to believe, to hope and strive.” Retirement she says won’t mean sitting back on her laurels, just “wake up talking less”,” she said with her trademark rippling laugh. “She is a talented infectiously joyous servant, who has great empathy for the travails of ordinary people,” said Ernest Levister, M.D., Emeritus Past President of the J.W. Vines Medical Society.

Robertson has called Rialto her home for nearly 20 years. She’s active in the East Rialto Kiwanis, the National Council of Negro Women, HIV/AIDS awareness and education organization Brothers and Sisters in Action and other local organizations. “People get calluses on their souls,” she says about the hazards of public service. “For me giving back never feels like a responsibility or an obligation. Never do I feel better about how I have spent my time than at the end of a day of service.”

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