SACRAMENTO — When former El Centro Mayor Sedalia Sanders began public service more than a quarter of a century ago, she never thought she would serve long enough to earn a Lifetime Achievement Award, she said.
Sanders was selected as the 2022 Past Presidents’ Lifetime Achievement Award recipient at the 2022 League of California Cities Annual Conference and Expo, held at the Long Beach Convention Center, September 7 to 9, in Long Beach, California.
Sanders’ Lifetime Achievement award win marks the first time someone from the Imperial Valley receives it, as well as the first time an African-American female receives it, Sanders said.
According to the Southern California Association of Governments website, the Cal Cities annual conference “attracts hundreds of leaders from all sections of city government, including mayors, council members, city managers, city clerks, city attorneys, fiscal officers, and other city staff,” such as police and fire chiefs, among others, Sanders said.
Sanders, a native of El Centro, currently serves on the Executive Committee of the California Commission on Aging Commission, a post she has been serving on since 2016.
Sanders served on the El Centro City Council from 1984 to 1999 and again from 2003 to 2015, serving as mayor of El Centro five times. She emerged as a state and national figure when she was elected to the League of Cities, also joining the National League of Cities Board of Directors in 1996, according to a press release.
She was also the first elected official from El Centro to hold these posts as well as the first woman from Imperial County to be elected president of Cal Cities, according to the release.
During her public service, Sanders served on the California Elected Women’s Association for Education and Research Board of Directors, and also serving as the chair of the Imperial Valley Association of Governments. She is a former member of Women in Municipal Government, National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, and U.S. Conference of Mayors, per the release.
“This award honors a person who was committed their time, talents, and energy to making our communities better places to live, work, play, and raise our families,” said Cheryl Viegas-Walker, Cal Cities Immediate Past President and El Centro City Councilmember.
In addition, in 1992 Governor Pete Wilson appointed Sanders to his Task Force on Rural Competitiveness. Wilson also had Sanders serve as Vice-Chair for his Rural Development Council in 1994, a group which made policy recommendations for rural Californians on issues such as economic development, job creation and retention, education, health care, affordable housing, public safety, and transportation.
“Throughout her career as a public servant, Sedalia has been a graciously tenacious advocate on issues that are important to cities,” Viegas-Walker said, “and it is most fitting that we recognize her today.”
Sanders said between 2,000 to 3,000 people were in attendance at the conference’s general session when she received the award on September 7.
“When I got on stage I just couldn’t believe that I was there … I gave my little acceptance speech,” she said. “I’ve been home twelve days but it’s still like it was yesterday to me because people have been calling me, sending me letters, sending me text messages … everybody is all excited for me and I’m excited for myself.”
“I have been blessed over the years to come from such humble beginnings, growing up working in the fields picking cotton, grapes, tomatoes and walnuts, traveling form Meza, Arizona all the way to the Fresno Valley,” Sanders said. “People find that hard to believe because I also went to college.”
Sanders said she had two options then, to “work in the fields or go to school, so I chose school.” Sanders worked in the fields while as a student to afford college tuition, over 60 years ago, she said.
After earning a degree in healthcare, Sanders was called by former El Centro Mayor Tony Beltran to join the El Centro Regional Medical Center board when a vacancy occurred, she said. She accepted.
Beltran called her again about two years ago, circa 1988, and encouraged her to run for El Centro City Council. “I talked to my family, thought about it, so I called him back and I said, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ Well I won, and the rest is history.”
Sanders served 27 years with El Centro City Council and 2 years with the El Centro Elementary School board, in addition to being part of the ECRMC board.
“Was it an easy task? Well nothing’s easy. My parents used to say, ‘If you think you want it you have to go out and earn it,’” Sanders said. “My dad used to tell me, ‘That’s not luck, baby girl, you worked hard and you did it the old fashioned way: You earned it.’”
“I never shied away from my ethnicity because I never thought there was a need to shy away from it,” she said. “I thought, ‘I am who I am and I should be proud of who I am.’”
“Yes there was some pushback back then on ethnicity and gender because very few women were in politics,” Sanders said, “so they didn’t think women could hold up against a man … but I won. All I did was get more votes than the next guy.”
Sanders said about 22 family members attended her Lifetime Achievement acceptance in person.
“Everybody seemed very pleased for me, they made nice compliments to me, I received wonderful accolades and standing ovations; it was just delightful,” she said.
“What does it mean to me? To me this is a history making event,” Sanders said, “and you don’t make history by yourself; you make it with other people who come along to support you. It’s a reflection of all of the support I had down through the years.”
“If anyone out there is inspired by anything I’ve done it was worth it,” she said. “If I can do it, you can do it.”
“I’ve truly been blessed by the hand of The Lord,” she said.