A feud over alleged sexism on the West St. Paul City Council has escalated into claims that the city’s female mayor and a commission candidate were harassed, prompting some local women to threaten a protest at the council’s next meeting.
Many women also are vowing on social media to oust two long-serving male council members who are up for re-election this year.
The controversy erupted Monday when Mayor Jenny Halverson announced at the council meeting that she wouldn’t be running for re-election but would be appointing three women to the Planning Commission.
“We need more women in our leadership ranks in West St. Paul, and the acceptance of my appointments tonight would be an important step in that direction,” Halverson said.
Halverson, the city’s first female mayor and the only woman among the City Council’s seven members, has been vocal about the lack of women in local government.
Her colleagues on the council unanimously approved two of the women. But Council Member Jay Bellows balked at Samantha Green. He said he preferred a male commissioner be reappointed.
“There’s a perfectly qualified individual … who has been discounted apparently on the basis of gender,” Bellows said. “I don’t think [gender] should be the determining factor that she suggested it was in the opening remarks.”
Bellows, who said he has two daughters and is sensitive to misogyny, added that none of Halverson’s three appointees had significant planning or design experience beyond interior design.
Halverson disagreed, saying that all three were qualified and that Green was from the First Ward, which isn’t represented on the commission.
But a majority of council members, including Bellows, rejected Green on a 4-2 vote (Halverson did not vote).
Halverson noted that Bellows had championed former Mayor Dave Meisinger’s right to appoint commission members three years ago. Council Member Dick Vitelli also wondered what had changed besides the mayor’s gender.
“When there was someone else in this chair, we were lobbying for [the mayor’s] ability and privilege to appoint,” she said. “Now that it’s me here, that’s not the position.”
In an interview later, Bellows emphatically rejected any suggestion he is anti-woman. “Nothing that I said Monday night could be construed as misogynistic or sexist,” he said.
After Monday’s vote, Halverson said: “This will not be forgotten, folks.”
The next day, Green and Halverson found packages adorned with bows on their doorsteps. One got a box of maxi pads, the other Kleenex tissues.
On Wednesday night, Green said, someone pounded on her door and rang her doorbell. Both women said the most frightening aspect was that someone was prowling around their homes.
Green said the implication of the packages was that women become emotional due to menstrual cycles and run home crying when things don’t go their way.
In response, Halverson posted on the West St. Paul Neighbors Facebook page: “We will not be intimidated. We will not be shamed for speaking the truth. We will not be silenced.”
In the wake of the incidents, several residents called for more women to apply for the city’s committees or run for office. One suggested that women attend the May 14 City Council meeting and carry tampons and maxi pads in solidarity with the mayor.
Green turned that idea into a “Pad Drive” and fundraiser. “I wanted to do something positive with this,” she said.
Bellows said later that his only reason for objecting to Green’s appointment was that the City Council hadn’t rejected a Planning Commission member’s reappointment request in a decade. When he supported Meisinger’s appointment four years ago, he said, the Planning Commission seat in question was open.
He called the act of leaving the packages at Green and Halverson’s doorsteps “abhorrent.”