Unsurprisingly, names have started to surface as possible applicants for Penny Rich's open Town Council seat once she leaves her post to join the County Commission in January. Today I heard via Twitter that George Gianciolo and Jon DeHart likely plan to apply for the position.
While I'm sure either of these men would provide a thoughtful voice for Council, the unpleasant reality is that if either were appointed, the gender breakdown of CHTC would be just two women and seven men (including Mayor Kleinschmidt). Council would be comprised of just 22% women, exactly the same representation as the NC legislature.
It's embarrassing that a municipal government we proudly consider to be a model for progressivism in our state could possibly have the same gender breakdown as our backward-thinking General Assembly.
I'd like to point out that 22% women isn't an atypical statistic for Chapel Hill Town Council. Men have made up the majority of the council for 48 of the past 58 years, even though women comprise 53.4% of the population of Chapel Hill. The only years in which the council has been comprised of more women than men throughout its entire history were 1998 and 1999.
As progressives, we work deliberately to improve the diversity of our businesses, schools and legislative bodies because we know diverse groups make more informed, creative and nuanced decisions. Being exposed to diversity has only positive effects on our children. And quite simply, we know that making an effort to have balanced and truly representative elected bodies is the right thing to do.
It's a very scary time to be a woman in North Carolina. Aside from the anti-women's health legislation that's come down the pipeline in the General Assembly and nationwide, the right wing has also tried to silence women's voices at all levels of government by gerrymandering and pouring money into statewide and local elections, targeting progressive women officeholders because they know women are the most willing to fight for their families' jobs, health care and education.
Chapel Hill must make it a priority to improve women's empowerment within our community, especially as it is constantly threatened statewide. I've seen little girls in the audience at public meetings before, brought by their parents. They shouldn't have the experience of looking at a sea of white male faces to define how they envision public leadership - at least, not in our community. We can do better.
Please join me in encouraging council members to appoint a woman member to its open seat by continuing the conversation in this and other public spaces and by contacting them directly.