You’ve come a long way, maybe

Larry Van GuilderAs I see it

Just how remarkable is the (soon to be) 7-2 female majority on the city council? Very, compared to other Tennessee legislative bodies. Pictured here are Amelia Parker, Janet Testerman and Lynne Fugate – new council members who will join Charles Thomas, Andrew Roberto, Stephanie Welch, Gwen McKenzie, Lauren Rider and Seema Singh in mid-December.

Amelia Parker

Locally, our own county commission’s gender breakdown is 9-2 in favor of men.

Not so long ago six women filled commission seats. Diane Jordan, Madeline Rogero, Bee DeSelm, Pat Medley, Wanda Moody and Mary Lou Horner served on the same commission, but that was the high water mark on the old 19-member commission.

The Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen is composed of five members, four men and one woman. The town administrator, a man, handles day-to-day governing. (Just saying, but isn’t “aldermen” a sexist title?)

Over in Blount County, there are 21 commissioners, all but four of whom are men. Sparse as the female representation is, it outstrips the Maryville City Council whose five members are all male.

Janet Testerman

Maryville’s government functions on the “council-manager” model. The city manager is, you guessed it, a man.

There are six members of Sevierville’s board of mayor and aldermen, all men. The city manager is also a man.

The Sevier County Commission numbers 25 representatives. The commission is composed of 23 men, one woman and one troglodyte. When last seen, 24 commissioners were wearing leftover Halloween masks and dodging reporters from The New York Times.

The male-female breakdown is identical for the Chattanooga City Council and the Hamilton County Commission, 9-2.

With four women on the 13-member city council, Memphis is a bit more equitable in its gender representation. Shelby County counts three women among the 13 members of county commission.

The metropolitan government of Nashville and Davidson County is by far the most representative of Tennessee’s large counties and cities in terms of gender equity. Twenty-three men and 17 women make up the council. In September, one of those women, Zulfat Suara, became the first Muslim elected to the council.

Lynne Fugate

As unbalanced as these male-female numbers are, they’re even more striking when viewed as a whole.

There are 172 elected representatives or appointed managers in the cities and counties listed above. Only forty-four, about 25 percent, are women. Without the relatively balanced numbers in Nashville and Davidson County, the percentage drops to 20.

The gender breakdown for Tennessee’s 6.8 million people is 51.3 percent female and 48.7 percent male? So, all things being equal, where are all the women that should be part of local government?

Obviously, the answer is that all things aren’t equal. Ninety-nine years after the passage of the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote they are still playing catchup, but if a city as provincial as Knoxville can elect seven women to the council and one (the second) as mayor times are changing.

Among the issues the new council members and the mayor want to address are gun violence, indigent healthcare, affordable housing, an improved transit system and reducing blight. It remains to be seen how much progress they’ll make, but they deserve to have their chance.

Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor of KnoxTNToday. 

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