City Assembly may disband Women's Council

Posted: Wednesday, August 07, 2002

The Juneau Assembly might disband the Juneau Women's Council because of a lack of applications, but members say local women still have issues that need attention.

The nine-member women's council has four vacancies and lacks a quorum to meet, according to Deputy City Clerk Beth McEwen.

The council's purpose is to advise the Assembly on issues pertaining to the status of women, with particular emphasis on methods of improving opportunities for women.

August 1999 was the last time all nine seats were filled and the city hasn't received any applications from people interested in serving on the council since April. Membership is open to men and women.

Assembly member Don Etheridge, who heads a committee that oversees appointments to 30 city boards and commissions, said the Assembly isn't looking forward to disbanding the women's council, but doesn't have much choice without a quorum.

A public hearing on an ordinance to dissolve the council is scheduled for the next regular Assembly meeting, at 7 p.m. Aug. 19 in Assembly chambers.

"If we had enough people show some interest, we could vote down the ordinance and re-establish the committee," Etheridge said. "We've been working on it for three years, trying to get people to show some interest, and it's just not there."

The council was established in 1985 through an ordinance presented by former Mayor Fran Ulmer and then-Assembly members Kay Diebels and Rosalee Walker.

Women's Council member Mary Lou Spartz said the panel has no budget and members felt they had very little visibility with the Assembly. While there has been a lack of response to open seats, Spartz said she doesn't think there's a lack of interest or issues.

"I think leadership was a problem and recognition was a problem, and I also think that just like everything else, women's lives are changing," she said. "I think the problem is like so many organizations - we're volunteers and we no longer have the kind of pool of people to pull from that we once did. People's lives are busy and very demanding."

Equal pay, domestic violence and safety are among the issues that affect local women, Spartz said. She'd like to see the council continue, she said.

"It isn't a lack of problems we're facing or a lack of woman power, as it's been pointed out, but obviously we're not doing something right," she said.

In recent years, the council's main focus has been coordinating Women's History Month and planning the Women's Annual Volunteer Achievements Awards ceremony. Members also coordinated a lecture series that brought women in nontraditional careers to local schools to speak with students, former member Eleanor Vinson said.

"There was wonderful cooperation from the Alaska State Troopers, the Coast Guard and FBI agents," she said. "That was the neatest thing I was involved in, that so many people were willing to put in so much time to help junior high school students expand their horizon."

But Vinson said the council didn't have clear direction and had trouble finding people with time to serve.

"There are only so many people willing to put in time for a volunteer group, and they're members of other groups already," she said.

The problem isn't isolated to the Juneau Women's Council, Etheridge said.

"We have many different boards and committees we don't have a full group on," he said. "Outside of the Harbor Board, the Airport Board, the Planning Commission, you just about have to drag them in to participate in some of these issues."

A complete list of vacancies and applications are available on the city's Web site at www.juneau.lib.ak.us/clerk/boards/ or from the city clerk's office.

"If they're interested, I'll even mail them one," Etheridge said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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