Staff Columnist

Appoint a woman to fill Marion Council vacancy

City accepting applications from Ward 1 residents until noon on Oct. 11

The 5th Avenue entrance to Marion City Hall in Marion, Iowa on Oct. 14, 2017. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
The 5th Avenue entrance to Marion City Hall in Marion, Iowa on Oct. 14, 2017. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Later this month, Marion City Council members hope to appoint a new member of city government. That person needs to be a woman.

The vacancy is because Ward 1 member Kim Etzel resigned, citing work conflicts. Etzel’s resignation was effective Oct. 1, and the term expires next year.

Although voters can petition for a special election, council members hope to fill the seat by appointment. (A petition would require the signatures of at least 757 qualified voters in Ward 1, which is 15 percent of turnout during the last election in 2016.)

Any Marion voter in Ward 1 may apply for the appointment by sending a resume and cover letter to Marion City Hall, 1225 Sixth Ave. Letters must be received by noon on Oct. 11, and applicants will be invited to address council members during a meeting Oct. 18. Ward 1 (map) includes Marion precincts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

In recent history, Marion voters frequently have elevated women into city government — even as far fewer women than men sought election. The current council, before Etzel’s departure, for example, consists of a male mayor, two male at-large members, two male members elected by ward and two female members elected by ward. Since the last redistricting, women appearing on the Marion municipal ballot have been elected more often than not (about 60 percent of the time).

This should come as little surprise, given U.S. Census data showing the population of Marion is evenly split — 50 percent male, 50 percent female.

Of the roughly 2,500 businesses in the city in 2012, more than 30 percent were female-owned. Sixty-six percent of women in Marion above the age of 16 are in the workforce, although men working full time generally make 1.31 times more than women in the same occupation.

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While a little more than 7 percent of Marion residents live in poverty, the people who make up the largest share of that population are women, ages 18 to 24. The next-highest poverty group also consists of women, ages 25 to 34.

So, not only will council members be selecting a replacement for one of two female city leaders, they will be doing so on behalf of a community that generally and historically elevates women into leadership positions, benefits from a robust female workforce and female-led business community, and needs better insight into a largely hidden, high resource population consisting mostly of women.

The last few times Marion’s male-majority council has chosen to fill a vacancy by appointment, they naturally gravitated toward candidates who looked and/or sounded a lot like them.

It’s also worth noting that if this were any other city government appointment, state law would require council members to strive for gender balance. Leaders with difficulty attracting women to serve should read the recruitment guide published by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women.

The taxpayer dollars saved by not holding a special election shouldn’t be traded for the long-term expense of groupthink. Marion, like all communities, needs leadership that accurately reflects its population.

To that end, who is ready to serve? It’s time for women in Marion’s Ward 1 to step up and toss their hat into the public service ring.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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