Scare tactics 3: Women won’t run for or serve on the Council

Mandi Jo Hanneke

For me, one of the most frustrating scare tactics being spread by the opposition to the new governance plan is that women will not run for or be elected to the Council.

First, as a woman, I find it offensive. Second, the argument isn’t supported at all by Amherst’s history.

Proponents of this argument look to the other 12 Manager-Council governments in Massachusetts.1 They claim that currently women make up 25% of the membership of the Councils.2

But, the opposition ignores that Amherst is unique in its female representation in government. For example, Amherst has been electing women to town-wide office since the ’70s, if not even earlier.

In the last 10 years, half of the residents elected to Select Board and School Committee have been women (Library Trustees have a slightly more male tilt, but still within 1 standard deviation, so statistically even). Amherst women are not going to suddenly stop running for and being elected to town-wide office, just because we have a Town Council.


To see just how unique Amherst is in this sense, let’s look at a few “comparable” communities: the other five towns in Massachusetts that have a Representative Town Meeting, 5-member Select Board, and Manager, and are similar to Amherst in population.3  First, four of those towns still call it a “Board of Selectmen,” instead of the gender-neutral “Select Board” (Amherst changed the name in the mid-’80s).

More importantly, four of the towns don’t even reach 25% representation of women on the board. Meanwhile, Amherst breaks 50% female representation.


Now let’s look closer at the Manager-Council Towns the opposition keeps comparing us to. Data going far enough back (before a change in government) was only available for two of those towns, East Longmeadow and Randolph. Randolph is particularly instructive because the government switched from a Representative Town Meeting to a Town Council in 2009. (East Longmeadow had Open Town Meeting before its 2016 switch). So, we can look at Randolph’s Select Board and Town Meeting gender balance before the switch and its Town Council gender balance after the switch.  

I think the graphs speak for themselves. Randolph’s Select Board elected 2 women and 15 men over nine years, a dismal 12% female representation. Their Town Meeting was better, but still well short of Amherst—38% female, compared with Amherst’s 53% female. After the switch, Randolph has had 7% female representation on its Town Council, a near statistical draw with its Select Board’s female representation (given the sample sizes).

Amherst is awesomely unique in female representation on town-wide elected boards and committees. That won’t change because there’s a Town Council. And if you don’t trust the statistics, because the Town Council is a new body that doesn’t have a history, just look at the Charter Commission: 9 women and 10 men ran, half of each were elected, again matching the Select Board and School Committee on female representation.  (In East Longmeadow, 9 people, 1 female and 8 males, ran for 9 slots.)

It’s Amherst. Women run for office. And women get elected. A change in government won’t change that.

1 Opponents only look at 10, skipping Cambridge and Worcester because both of them have “Mayors”, despite the fact that these “Mayors” are Councilors who have no indepedent executive authority.

2 I don’t know how they arrived at the figure. My statistics are based upon election rates over multiple elections. With the smaller sample sizes of council memberships, percentages can be manipulated by looking at the make-up of only one council at one particular time. For example, if you look at the Amherst School Committee now, it is 60% female and 40% male, but just 18 months ago, it was 100% female.  Calculating percentages based on multiple elections over many years results in a better long-range view of the trend. I was unable to find more than two election-worth’s of date for 7 of the 10 towns in this figure.

3 Dartmouth, Billerica, Natick, Shrewsbury, and Chelmsford

Comments 27

  1. I have found these “A Better Amherst” posts to be very informative. Hope these posts ars published in the newspaper as well, so even more people see these articles as well. Informed people can be more proactive for the good of Amherst.

  2. This is very interesting and useful information that undecided voters can use in figuring out what is best for them and their families. I think the most valuable thing anyone can do is to give the public the plain basic facts like you have done on this blog. I also hope, as the previous commenter has said, that these blog entries can be sent in to the local newspaper as guest columns, especially in the last 4-6 weeks before the vote when people are paying even closer attention and making their decisions on how to vote. Thank you.

  3. These comparisons are clear and you did a good job of explaining them Mandi Jo. The sample size is small but so is the sample size for the gender imbalance argument. I’m not in one camp or the other so I appreciate data to back up arguments.

  4. Current Amherst Town Meeting is 56% female. Of the 10 Council only governments in Massachusetts the average female population is 25%. Amherst Town Council will likely be no different. A town council in Amherst would be a significant reduction in women’s participation in local government.

  5. It is amazing to me that anyone could read this post and make the kind of blanket statement Mr. Markland has. Why in the world would we think that what happens on councils in Eastern Mass. would be a better predictor of the gender balance of the Amherst Town Council than Amherst’s own history of women’s strong involvement in local government? Four of the five peer communities in Eastern Mass. still use the term “Board of Selectmen,” which we ditched over 30 years ago! There has been a tradition of strong women’s involvement on the Amherst Select Board dating from Diana Romer and Nancy Eddy in the 1970s to Francesca Maltese and Elisa Campbell in the 1980s all the way to Stephanie O’Keeffe, Diana Stein, Alisa Brewer and Connie Kruger in the 2010s. It just doesn’t stand to reason that we would all of a sudden become male chauvinists when we have a council. Does anyone really believe this?

    1. Nah, the town meeting supporters don’t believe that, Nick. They’re just trying to scare people into voting the way they want them to vote. Of course, if they DID believe it, that would be quite an insult to the women of Amherst and women in general. Unless, of course, Mr. Markland has some sort of unique insight into what women are really thinking and also some special insight into what women are and are not capable of doing. Nah, I think he’s just trying to scare people into voting the way he wants. Maybe some of the town citizens will remember what he said on March 27, 2018 when it’s time to vote… particularly the women of Amherst who are smart, hard-working independent public-spirited citizens, and don’t need anyone to tell them what they can and can not do or will and will not do. I’d also bet that some Amherst citizens who happen to be men will remember this comment on election day… men who are the friends and co-workers and husbands and brothers and fathers of women who they know are capable of doing anything they want to do and care a great deal about public service. Please remember this comment on March 27, 2018, the day you get to vote on the new town charter and the day you get to let Mr. Markland know if you agree with his view of the limitations of women.

  6. All this talk of scare tactics is nonsense. You are using a very old albeit sometimes effective marketing ploy. Is Amherst so special and unique that they would defy the norms of our state? Magically this will be different for Amherst? You both know better. Our current select board is all white with an average age of 60 years old. And they are all homeowners. Where is the representation of our Amherst community there?

  7. David, we just PROVED that Amherst is different from the rest of the state with respect to women’s representation on decision-making boards. I can understand how the people who are desperate to keep Town Meeting would turn to scare tactics about rampant development and money in political campaigns, because even though I’ve demonstrated why they won’t happen, they still remain credible to some people. But few women on the council? That’s not only completely irrational, but insulting, too. It’s insulting to say to Amherst’s women that they won’t run for council, and it’s insulting to Amherst’s voters to say they wouldn’t vote for them. I don’t get it. Surely the Town Meeting loyalists have better arguments than this one. And by the way, David, it’s trying to scare people that’s the “very old albeit sometimes effective marketing ploy.”

  8. You conveniently forgot to explain why our current Amherst Select Board is NOT representative. Please explain based on your logic.

    Town Meeting members are about the least scary people I know. It is you Nick who are using the scare tactics. This is classic projectionism. Claiming the other side is doing what YOU are doing.

  9. Well, Mr. Markland, I am white and I am 64 years old and I am a homeowner… well, actually Peoples Bank would probably argue that point as they hold the mortgage on our house for another 25 years or so… however I am not a member of the select board and apparently you believe that I should not be a member of the select board for those exact reasons. I can’t help being white nor can I help being 64 years old and I consider myself very lucky to have worked hard my whole life to now own a home, especially after having spent about 50 of my 64 years in houses and apartments that were rentals… but I do not think that any of those things in my life makes me a bad person or someone who should not be able to do any job or public service position that is open and available. What other types of people have you decided should not be doing certain jobs in Amherst? You have already seemingly declared that women will not be serving in town councilor jobs or other elected positions in Amherst, at least not in the numbers or percentages that you claim are a warning against voting for the new town charter that you apparently do not support. It’s one thing to not support something, it’s another to try turning one citizen against another by criticizing things that they can’t help being… old or young or white or black or a homeowner or a home renter… whatever easy-to-see surface qualities that you think are not positive qualities, to further some political goal. Scare tactics are very real things, Mr. Markland. You made me feel scared and a little sad that my value as a person in Amherst is less than that of another because I AM white and 64 and have worked my whole life to be able to get a mortgage on a home for myself, my wife and my daughter. When I see someone criticizing a person for their race or age or for any other thing that a person can’t help being, or using those qualities as a bad example of something, particularly when it is when a person may be trying to do something good, like volunteering to serve their community in any capacity, well, that DOES scare me. I hope that no one ever makes you feel that way about yourself, Mr. Markland… especially to win some political campaign.

  10. There are currently 139 women participating in Amherst Town Meeting. Even if half of the Council is women, which is unlikely, that means 132 women will no longer be participating in our local government. I don’t think that’s the direction we want to be going in.

  11. Did I say Town Meeting members are scary people? No, I didn’t. Did I say that the current Select Board is not representative? No, I didn’t. I know many Town Meeting members who are serious, conscientious, civic-minded people.
    It’s only a small group of Town Meeting loyalists who are raising this laughable argument about women not being able to get elected to the Town Council. Not This Charter didn’t even mention it in the group’s opening statement, which your name was on.
    While I’ve got you here, there’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask you. Your wife/partner, Claudia Brown, got into Town Meeting in 2015 only because there weren’t enough candidates to fill the seats available in Precinct 9. She wasn’t even on the ballot, and got in Town Meeting on write-ins. Could you please explain to me how this is more democratic than women running for Town Council in a multi-candidate field, answering questions from voters during a campaign about their positions on issues, and having a healthy number of voters decide the outcome?
    An d before you say “He’s attacking my wife now,” I’m not attacking your wife. I even voted for her, because she seemed like a very nice person, and I don’t know how she’s voted in Town Meeting. What I’m attacking is a system that allows people to become decision-makers when voters have not been given any choices among candidates, most voters who do show up don’t know much about the names on the ballot, and the vast majority of voters stay home.

  12. Well, Mr. Markland, why couldn’t you just have said what you believe in that way? You don’t have to demean or lessen the worth of one person to speak positively about the worth of another.

  13. Nick you are making my point. Thank you. It’s terrific that a write-in candidate can win and participate in Town Meeting. That’s the whole point of Representative Town Meeting. Town Meeting elections are not meant to be competitive, that is a fallacy. That’s why we have 240 members. The point of Representative Town Meeting is to give ordinary citizens the opportunity to participate in their local government. It affords ordinary citizens the right to legislate themselves. What a wonderful New England tradition! Approximately 85% of Massachusetts is some form of Town Meeting and our great state ranks in the top five in so many important categories across the country. That’s no coincidence.

  14. Brian, when you say Town Meeting “loyalists” are using scare tactics you are demeaning a large group of people.

    1. A sizable number of Town Meeting loyalists are using scare tactics on development, money in campaigns, and concentration of power. Only a small number of them are using the scare tactic that women will be under-represented on the council, because the argument is so easily refuted.

    2. Here’s the definition of loyalist: “a person who remains loyal to the established ruler or government, especially in the face of a revolt.” Seems accurate to me, and certainly not a scare tactic.

  15. Most of those 85 percent are small towns with open Town Meeting systems. Those with “Representative Town Meeting” are few and declining; Framingham is the latest town to abandon this system. Amherst’s Town Meeting is very different from open Town Meeting.
    There’s something to be said for open Town Meeting; every resident gets an opportunity to speak and vote, and there are no meaningless elections that allow an elite group to claim a mandate from voters. I’ve been to open Town Meetings in Hadley, Belchertown, Shutesbury and Leverett, and I thought they were worked quite well. But most towns Amherst’s size find open Town Meeting too unwieldy and impractical, and we abandoned it in 1938. It is deceptive to talk about the “wonderful New England tradition” when Amherst’s system is very different from the most common type of Town Meeting.
    When we have a Town Council, there will still be many opportunities for Town Meeting members to participate in government, both women and men. I hope many will run for the council; others can speak at the three annual public forums or the district meetings with councilors. The system of volunteer boards and committees will not change. There are many other ways in the charter for resident participation to continue, and to expand beyond the 1 percent of registered voters who comprise Town Meeting.

  16. Well, Mr. Markland, I hope you are wrong that the scare tactics being employed are from “a large group of people”. I actually figured that they were coming from quite a small group, just more vocal than others. And I did and will continue to call anyone out for using scare tactics. But I didn’t say it was because that the person doing that was of a certain age or gender or culture… I called out the person who was doing it for those very specific scare tactics that were using to further a political goal, not for being the person who they are. I called YOU out for doing that, Mr. Markland. And I have no idea what your age or race or status is as a homeowner or renter. I don’t even know if you are a town meeting member and that wouldn’t have mattered anyway. People who believe in the town meeting form of government are not bad people for believing in the town meeting over a town council. But I think a few of them are using bad and unfair ways to win their argument. Personally, I can see a lot of good reasons why people would support the idea of a town meeting form of government and many of them have stated those in very clear and honest ways and I respect them for that. And I can also see a lot of good reasons why people would support a change to a town council form of government which many have also stated in ever clear and honest ways. However when unfair tactics are used with a whole bunch of scary “what ifs?” that are being said with some sort of self-declared authority, well, I think that is just plain wrong. And it would be wrong no matter who was doing it. I know that’s how elections are probably won, but it still doesn’t make it right. Oh, and I don’t believe I have ever used the word “loyalists”… except in a 4th grade paper I wrote in 1964 for Mrs. Nicholson’s class about the Revolutionary War and “British loyalists”. So you were right about that.

  17. David Markland: “That’s the whole point of Representative Town Meeting. Town Meeting elections are not meant to be competitive, that is a fallacy.”

    And that, folks, is why we started the petiton for a complete governance review for Amherst. If you believe competitive elections are the pillar of our democratic system, the reasons for a YES vote March 27 are clear.

  18. Hey, I have an idea… the election doesn’t happen until March 27th of 2018. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d like to spend today shopping for a Christmas tree with my daughter…. then spend the rest of the day trying to fit it into the living room because we always choose a tree that’s way too big… and then spend the evening decorating it and having some hot chocolates and maybe a Harp beer or two. Maybe we could all just enjoy today for what it is… a nice day to be living in a nice town… and save the political discussions for tomorrow?

  19. Thanks, David… I hope you enjoy your day too… 🙂 ( And yes, we got too big a tree again, but I think I’m learning that’s half the fun of the whole Christmas thing.)

  20. How did you pick these towns? Do people realize that women have high rates of participation on the Select Board of other progressive towns with similar populations? Belmont, Brookline, Arlington, Wellesley, etc. Why not do a more comprehensive look at the towns with Limited or Representative Town Meeting — and how womens’ participation fared over 10 – 20 in towns that went to a council-only government. I am no statistician or political scientist, but this is a situation where that analysis would be useful. Did the Charter Commission study this issue? What results?

    1. Post

      As I stated in the article itself, the towns referenced are the towns that most recently voted to change from a town meeting form (open or representative) to a council form. That appears to be exactly what you are asking for in your comment. Using this data, one can compare female participation rates in government before and after a change in structure and whether it precipitously drops when a town changes forms, as opponents, including you, are arguing will happen. As the data show, female participation in a particular town’s government appears to remain about the same even after a switch in forms. Therefore, Amherst’s female participation in government is likely to remain very similar to the participation rate it has on the Select Board, Charter Commission, and School Committee now.

    2. Janet, how do you imagine this minority of women on the Town Council will come about? Do you think Amherst women will be too bashful to run? Or do you think that Amherst voters will be too sexist to vote for them?

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