Sexism in Committee Approvals in West St. Paul?

Last month controversy erupted in West St. Paul over allegations of sexism at city council. The story has received national attention and prompted a major charity effort that’s raised more than $2,000 for a local shelter.

The fireworks focused on the appointment of Samantha Green to the Planning Commission by Mayor Jenny Halverson, an appointment that was denied by the all male city council. I detailed the back and forth on that issue, and women are expected to rally to Halverson and Green at tonight’s council meeting.

I mentioned other committee appointments that didn’t happen that night, noting the four applications and four vacancies on the Environmental Committee, where only one person was appointed, and the 10 applications and three vacancies on the Parks & Recreation Committee, where only two people were appointed.

With tonight’s meeting agenda, we get the minutes from the Open Council Work Session (page 6 & 7) when those appointments were voted on. The council voted by secret ballot, so we don’t know who voted for whom, but it appears not everybody voted and there was a definite slant in who received votes.

There were twice as many male applicants as female applicants, yet men received nine times the votes as the women did.

Only three people—all men—received enough votes (four) to be appointed.

Priority to Reappointments?

Some of the men on the city council have been arguing that priority should go to reappointments, and that’s why they voted against Samantha Green for Planning Commission.

Yet in these committees, one Parks & Rec applicant (male) was an incumbent and was still rejected. Another applicant (female) had previously served on the Parks & Rec Committee (see page 10 of the applications) and still received zero votes.

So when council members say they’re giving priority to reappointments, they only mean it in certain cases.

Only Qualification is Citizenship?

Something is wrong with the way applicants are being approved for committees in West St. Paul. At the April 23 meeting, Councilperson Dave Napier raised the point that the only qualification to serve on a committee is being a citizen of West St. Paul. Councilperson Ed Iago, who voted against Green’s appointment, agreed with Napier.

Yet the council still seems unable to fill committee vacancies, even when there are plenty of applicants. We hear multiple, contradictory rationales and a focus on “qualifications”—apparently above and beyond mere citizenship—yet those qualifications are never discussed.

As someone who has encouraged people to get involved in the city, volunteer on committees, and run for office, I’m embarrassed and discouraged that qualified people have applied and yet the city council refuses to confirm them.

Despite all this mess, I hope residents will still get involved and volunteer to serve or run for office. Seems like that’s the only way things will change.

Where I Show My Work

(For the sake of transparency, here’s where I lay out the numbers that helped me arrive at my conclusion. Math is not my strong suit, but however you spin the numbers, it’s clear men got a lot more votes than women did.)

Four women and eight men applied for these seven open positions (the numbers get a little complicated because one man and one woman, a husband and wife, applied for both committees, and there was some discussion about not appointing a husband and wife to the same committee).

The women, combined, received a total of just three votes.

The men, combined, received a total of 27 votes.


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