Commissioners Linda Morse and Usha Reddi on Tuesday objected to an all-male makeup of a city advisory board.
The two female commissioners voted against adding Ben Burton to the Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board during Tuesday’s meeting. However, the majority of the commission voted in favor of Burton’s appointment, so Burton will serve on the board for a three-year term. The commission pulled the item from the consent agenda, where things typically pass without discussion, and talked about it at the end of the meeting.
Morse and Reddi did not have any qualms about Burton; they did not want a board consisting of only men.
“We’re in the year 2021, we have plenty of qualified women in this community, and so this is just my way of saying, ‘Pay attention to the fact that we’re not appointing women and minorities to some of these boards,’” Morse said.
When Reddi was mayor last year, she appointed resident Shelley Carver, a member of the Flint Hills Regional Council, as a person on the board; Carver filled an unexpired term. Reddi said Carver was still interested in serving, so Reddi asked if there was a reason why Mayor Wynn Butler did not appoint her.
“That balance needs to be there on our boards,” Reddi said, “especially if there was that option for someone who wanted to be re-appointed, who was doing a fairly decent job and was interested in serving again.”
Butler said he does not make appointments based on gender. He said he likes to add different people on the board to get more public involvement. The mayor recommends the board appointments, and the city commission votes to approve them.
“When I look at who’s on boards, I don’t go through and add up how many men or women because I don’t appoint based on gender,” Butler said. “I don’t see a problem if a board is all women or it’s all men. That’s just not an issue with me.”
Butler said Burton was a good choice because of his work with the Community House redevelopment. Burton’s company, Switchgrass Development, purchased the historic building from the city government in 2020 to build offices and residences, including lofts.
“I think he brings a whole lot to the board,” Butler said.
Reddi said she didn’t feel like there was a reason to remove Carver. Butler said the commission had a good dialogue, but said his judgment was different than Reddi’s.
The advisory board interest form does not ask for race or gender, so the city government does not keep track of that information, said Vivienne Uccello, city public information officer.
This vote came after commissioners had a similar discussion in December about keeping BeEtta Stoney on the Riley County Law Enforcement Board.
Butler said he didn’t think Stoney should be on the board anymore because she’s been on it for “a pretty long time” and is not always available in the summer for meetings. Stoney has been on the police board since 2017.
Butler and commissioner Mark Hatesohl voted to appoint Kaleb James, who ran for the city commission in 2015, 2017 and 2019, instead of Stoney, but the rest of the commission voted against it. After that motion failed, the commission unanimously voted to reinstate Stoney.
Reddi indicated there was some unfairness with the discussion about the women on the board, specifically about their understanding of the budget.
“I don’t see why they are held to this other standard when a few of the members on law board were never questioned about any of this,” she said. “I don’t know what the purpose is honestly. But I’m comfortable with the appointments I’ve nominated for this evening.”
Morse considered the number of women on the board as a sign of progress. The board currently has four women, which constitutes a female majority.