Although it may have raised some eyebrows and concerns in the community, South Pasadena Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian maintains it’s a nonissue that on December 19 when she announced her first slate of city commissioners, all 16 appointees were women.
“I think some people were confused thinking that I was only considering women for appointments rather than part of a pool,” explained Khubesrian. “On that day, all scheduled appointments happened to be women. Because the appointees confirmed earlier, or because of the email communication back-and-forth, it just happened that way. So, I think that was the confusion. We’re not restricting commission appointments to just women.”
Questions, some coming from men echoing concerns of sexism, have been raised, noted Khubesrian, quickly deflecting the accusation, insisting instead that the 13 voluntary boards and commissions now have nearly an equal number of men and women.
One male resident who was not reappointed to the Finance Commission reportedly filed a public records request to seek the qualifications of the women who were appointed to city commissions.
Khubesrian compiled a list of candidates she recommended to serve on city commissions and on it were 21 women and 3 men, insisting all 24 were ideal for commission seats.
“I want to assure my council colleagues and our community that all the residents I recommended are highly qualified,” said the mayor. “All of our new commissioners – male and female – are qualified, passionate and excited to be serving the city.”
At the crux of the matter was Khubesrian’s announcement of all women appointees during the December council meeting. “Unfortunately, this created a perception, among some, that only women were going to be appointed to city commissions,” the mayor explained. “That is not the case. Two months ago, 35 percent of city commissioners were women.”
Following the second round of city commission appointments announced during the January 16 council meeting, Khubesrian said 54 percent are female. “Our commissions are now more balanced,” she said. “Fifty-one percent of South Pas residents are women.”
When the council was in session December 19, Khubesrian recalls saying, while paraphrasing: “I know we have all women at this meeting for the appointments but I’m not just appointing women. This is the first batch. At the next meeting we’re going to have men.”
Six more appointments were made during the January 16 council meeting, which included three males.
“But one change, which was a change from the way we’ve done things,” explained Khubesrian, “is that if a commissioner who was eligible for reappointment for a second term, mayors have historically reappointed them to that spot. This time around, I prioritized bringing in some new voices for perspectives to commissions I felt needed more balance over reappointing some commissioners. And I believe some commissioners were possibly hurt or upset about that.”
Khubesrian strongly believes the city benefits from having a diverse representation of ages, ethnicities, neighborhoods and, yes, gender serving on city commissions.
“Basically, there’s no issue,” said the mayor of the 16 women appointees in December. “I think some people questioned whether the women applicants were qualified or if I was just appointing women because they were women. Even the fact that some people have that question about the women and if they are qualified is a bit of a gender bias on their part, to have that question of the women applicants and not of the men applicants.”
“My goal was to include new voices,” continued Khubesrian, “and to bring more women into commissions. I’ve been very clear about that. This year with our pool of applicants for commissions, there seemed to be a lot more enthusiasm, a lot more applicants, both men and women, but particularly more women applicants which was fantastic because we’ve been trying to get more women involved. Since I had such a large number of women applicants, I was able to do that. I was able to raise our percentage of women on commissions, which is more representative of our city. So, I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud of our community for stepping up and women who are super busy with jobs, childcare, and other things. So, a lot of women did step up and wanted to be involved. I took advantage of that opportunity with this amazing pool of applicants.”
At the end of the day, stressed Khubesrian, “we have new communities, new residents who are going to be engaged in our political discourse here in town. We want the opportunity for them to learn from our experienced commissioners.”