Allegations of sexism hit West St. Paul council


photos courtesy of West St. Paul Neighbors Facebook page • After the April 23 West St. Paul City Council meeting, in which Mayor Jenny Halverson’s appointment of Samantha Green to the Planning Commission wasn’t confirmed and the meeting turned to accusations of sexism on the council, the next day Halverson found a box of feminine hygiene products on her doorstep; Green found a box of tissues.

Commission appointment leads to tension; feminine hygiene products left at mayor’s house

 

Allegations of sexism erupted at the April 23 West St. Paul City Council meeting after council members voted down one of Mayor Jenny Halverson’s Planning Commission appointments.

While the dissenting members said the appointee, Samantha Green, wasn’t qualified for the position, Halverson argued that the previous mayor’s appointees were approved as a matter of course, and that her male council colleagues voted against her appointee because of both she and Halverson’s gender.

While the meeting ended with allegations thrown between council members and the public, the issue did not remain in council chambers. A few days after the meeting, Halverson found a box of feminine hygiene products with a bow on top by her mailbox; Green found a box of tissues left at her home.

A special council meeting was convened May 1 to further discuss what had happened the week prior, though not enough council members showed up to have a quorum. 

 

Qualified or not?

Halverson appointed Green, a Ward 1 resident, to fill one of three open positions available on the Planning Commission. 

Green, who has been a property manager for 10 years, said in a April 30 interview the job has put her in contact with code enforcement officials and other city councils, and that she filled out an application and selected three committees she would be interested in serving on, including the planning commission.

“I have the qualifications I thought one would need to participate in those committees and to be a positive voice,” Green said.

She also said she was a third-party consultant for a utility company on its damage claims, specifically those caused by contractors. In that line of work, she said she had to be aware of city ordinances, zoning codes and other things that she thought were an important part of being on the Planning Commission. 

“I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I definitely knew more than the traditional person would on those items,” Green said.

Though at the April 23 meeting Green’s appointment to the Planning Commission was to be approved with the council’s consent agenda without discussion, council member Anthony Fernandez pulled the item to be discussed.

 

The mayor’s right

When a motion was called to confirm Green’s appointment, council member John Bellows spoke up.

“As the father of daughters, I’m not going to take back seat in terms of the importance of women being involved with the city or other activities,” he said.

However, Bellows said he would be voting “no” on some of the Planning Commission appointees because there was a “perfectly qualified” former planning commission member — John Ramsay — who’d applied, but “has been discounted apparently on the basis of gender.”

He said gender is an inappropriate basis for making a decision. Earlier in the meeting, Halverson, who’d previously announced she wouldn’t be running for re-election, said she was heartened by the opportunity to appoint three women to the open Planning Commission seats. She said there needs to be more women in leadership in the city, and the acceptance of her appointments would be a step in the right direction.

Bellows said he firmly believes the mayor has the right to nominate qualified individuals, but said he thinks the rationale given is insufficient when considering the three applicants that Halverson put forward don’t have any significant planning experience as far as he could tell, at least in “design and planning that’s not interior design.”

He said as far as he knew, the three appointees had never attended a Planning Commission meeting. Green said after the meeting that no council members had reached out to her about her qualifications.

“This is not meant to suggest the individuals involved aren’t perfectly qualified, perfectly competent good individuals, but I actually think we need to consider the broader scope here,” Bellows said. “While I appreciate the mayor’s desire to have more women involved in city government, I don’t think that should be the determining factor she suggested it was in her opening remarks.”

Council member Dave Napier said previous mayors have made appointments, which is their right, and the council confirmed them. He said he sees no reasons to not confirm the three women. 

“It isn’t taken lightly by me ... that when there was someone else in this chair, we were lobbying for his ability and privilege to appoint, and that that should be his prerogative,” Halverson said. “But now that it’s me here, that’s not the position.”

Council member Dave Vitelli echoed Halverson’s sentiment, saying that when former mayor Dave Meisinger held the seat, the council gave him the respect to appoint his appointees. 

“Why is it different now that we have a female mayor?” Vitelli asked, adding he would be supporting Green, who would represent the currently unrepresented Ward 1 on the commission, for that very reason.

 

Back and forth

The roll call vote for confirming Green’s appointment failed 2-4, with Vitelli and Napier as the lone affirmative votes.

After the vote, Halverson said, “This will not be forgotten folks.” Vitelli could be heard saying “good old boys club.”

Bellows called the mayor’s comments inappropriate, and a resident in the council chambers yelled that Bellows comments were inappropriate. Bellows responded by telling the resident to “shut up.”

Halverson and Bellows’ back and forth continued, with Halverson arguing the previous mayor, a man, got his appointees approved. Bellows countered by saying a qualified and experienced commission candidate had been passed over unfairly.

Green called the situation a personal vote against her, because she’s been vocal in the past.

“I speak up during town hall meetings. I definitely think that because they disagree with my voice, they didn’t want me, specifically, on there,” Green said. “The best way to get around saying ‘We don’t like her’ was to attack my qualifications.”

 

Boxes on the doorstep

Green and Halverson woke up a few days after the April 23 meeting to items left on their doorsteps. Halverson found a box of feminine hygiene products and Green found a box of tissues — Green said she laughed out loud when she saw it.

“That maybe I should be at home crying because I wasn’t appointed was the furthest thing from the truth of how I actually still deal with it,” she said.

In a post to the West St. Paul Neighbors Facebook page, Halverson said, “We will not be intimidated. We will not be shamed for speaking the truth. We will not be silenced.”

Green said someone also rang her doorbell and banged on her door the night after the meeting, which crossed the line, because it woke and scared her daughter.

Green said she saw comments on the Facebook page about how people should bring Kleenex, tampons and pads to the next city council meeting on May 14 as form of protest. 

“I thought if all these women are planning to bring in these items — why not put them to good use?” Green said, adding she got in touch with Neighbors, Inc., and found out information about how hard it can be for disadvantaged women to sometimes get these products.

She put together a Facebook event to organize people to bring tampons and pads to the May 14 meeting, and afterwards the items will be donated to Neighbors, Inc.

“Let’s show all that will be watching that while for some, getting these products can be a struggle, using them against us doesn’t intimidate us in the slightest, in fact, only inspires us more,” Green wrote on the event page.

 

Special meeting

Only three council members showed up for the special May 1 meeting: Ed Iago, Bellows and Fernandez. Green had said the day prior to the meeting that she was not planning on attending, calling it a diversion.

Fernandez said he called the meeting to confirm Green to the Planning Commission, but learned via email she had withdrawn her application. 

Bellows returned to the accusations of sexism, and said he only voted against Green because he thought there was a more qualified person — Ramsay — than her for the role.

“It wasn’t a gender decision, and that’s what it’s turned out to be [seen as],” Bellows said. “All the discussion that I’ve seen has been suggestions of sexism, of gender bias, of misogyny, and I’m saying that’s not it.”

Asked by a resident if he would confirm Green if she were to resubmit her application, Fernandez said yes.

“I would be absolutely in favor of appointing her. This literally went from a small brush fire of disagreement of things, which happens and is healthy for a community, to all of a sudden it seemed like the city was burning,” Fernandez said. 

He also addressed the items left at Halverson and Green’s homes.

“It really disgusted me that somebody went above and beyond anything I would ever imagine and actually put something on the mayor’s doorstep, and took a private citizen, and did the same thing,” he said.

Iago echoed Fernandez’s statement, adding the entire council would not condone any level of harassment or attempt at intimidation. He said it was an act of cowardice. 

Green said while the situation has not deterred her from wanting to serve the city and have an active role, she no longer wants to be on the Planning Commission, not after the first vote and all that followed.

She said she wasn’t interested in “backhanded politics,” and said she would want those who voted against her to have to face the same public scrutiny they put her through.

 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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