City Commissions Still Mostly Men, as Pasadena Ramps Up for 100th Anniversary of Women's Right to Vote

Where are the women appointees in Pasadena City government?

Published : Monday, March 4, 2019 | 6:56 AM

Pasadena is celebrating the 100th anniversary of American Women’s Right to Vote in an effort that kicks off on Monday. Spearheading the initiative is Margaret McAustin, the only woman on the Pasadena City Council.

McAustin heads a committee comprised of City representatives, in collaboration with the Commission on the Status of Women, which will engage in a yearlong-plus celebration of all aspects of women in government, said Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek.

“One of the reasons that we’re making a big deal about the hundredth anniversary of the 19th amendment is that we want to raise the profile of women in government in all of its aspects,” Tornek said. “And so we’re going to be making a concerted effort to achieve a better balance in every area.”

McAustin said she wants to see half of all Pasadena City Commissioners be women.

An informal Pasadena Now survey showed of 228 commissioners sitting on 28 City commissions and boards, 91, or 41.6 percent of the total, are women.

Women outnumber men on only seven commissions.

McAustin said the disproportionate number of women to men is particularly evident when it comes to certain commissions and boards, such as the Rose Bowl Operating Company. But that may soon change.

“Years ago the Rose Bowl was all about sports, but not anymore,” she said. “A big part of the Rose Bowl’s activities are concerts, we have music festivals, we have a lot of other activities going on. It’s not that the activities are male-dominated events anymore.”

“I would love to have every commission populated by at least 50 percent women,” McAustin said. “But we as a city have not been able to achieve that and it’s not entirely within the city’s ability to do that.”

Phlunte Riddle, Pasadena’s first African-American female police lieutenant who made an unsuccessful bid for state senate in 2016, said there’s a men’s club mentality that has existed in U.S. corporations and has carried on through the years, but that thinking has to stop.

“Women are not in some of those boy club groups where they have access,” she said. “So when decisions on who would be a good corporate board member come up, they get left out of those decisions. They’re not even in consideration. “

Tornek said the reason Pasadena hasn’t been able to make the 50 percent parity happen is because of the system.

“For one thing, people apply to be on commissions and so some of the universe is defined by people who are willing to apply,” Tornek said.

“And beyond that, the commissioners are appointed not by some central authority, but by the individual council people. So each decision is made independently and a councilmember doesn’t necessarily select on the basis of ‘I wonder if there’s a good balance on the commission.’”

The likelihood, Tornek said, of perfect gender parity on all the City’s commissions is “slim to nil.”

“I do think that there are some commissions that have been noteworthy in terms of (women’s) absence. There’s an imbalance by gender. I’ve made an effort, my last appointee to the Rose Bowl Operating Company was a woman,” he said.

McAustin said indeed there has to be the encouragement to get people to sign up to be on the commissions.

“It’s a time commitment and the city council position, it’s not a full-time paid position,” McAustin said.

“Whether it’s a man or a woman, often I find the challenge is the time commitment. People are busy, people have full-time jobs, they have families. Everybody is pressed for time,” she said.

Pasadena Planning Commissioner Felicia Williams has had a lot of experience on a variety of different commissions. She said she actively recruits people — women in particular — to get more involved in public service.

“The number one issue that I face in recruiting women for commissions is the time commitment and the timeframe,” Williams said. “A lot of women are taking care of kids and meeting once month or sometimes twice a month for planning commission — we sometimes meet three times a month to 8 or 9 p.m. on a Wednesday — is incredibly difficult.”

Williams personally is upping her commitment to local government. She announced last week she will be running for City Council in 2020.

There is also an educational component in getting people to run for any kind of governmental position.

Riddle said: “A lot of people don’t even know these opportunities exist, so why not educate them?” she asked. “What’s the fear of educating people so they can have a voice? “

And to brush up on how to achieve a governmental post, there are educational programs out there, McAustin said. In addition to the local Women’s Political Caucus, there are national groups like Run For Something and Run Women Run.

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