Washougal city council defies trend with majority of female members

Women make up just 27-29% of councils in county, state, U.S.

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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A sea change, a fluke, or part of a cycle.

Call the fact that women swept Washougal's four council races last fall what you want. The present reality is Washougal is among 12 seven-member city councils statewide with a woman majority, based on research by The Columbian using data from the Association of Washington Cities.

Washougal is Clark County's only council with a woman majority.

While Washington has a woman governor, two women U.S. senators and two women U.S. representatives, the state has not seen an infusion of women serving among its council ranks.

Women make up between 27 and 29 percent of council members in Clark County, statewide and nationwide, according to Columbian research and numbers provided by the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C.

"There just has not been movement despite increased activism in public affairs," said James Svara, a professor at Arizona State University's School of Public Affairs. Svara teamed with the National League of Cities to determine changes in gender, age, race, education and occupation among council members since 1979.

It's "still hard to reverse the roles", Svara reasoned, referring to old ideas of the man leaving the house while the woman stays home to raise children and tend to household affairs.

Ridgefield's drought

Thirty miles northwest of Washougal, Ridgefield has not had a woman run for council since at least 2005, city officials said.

The late Gladys Doriot retired in 2006 as Ridgefield's mayor, an appointed position that votes along with other council members. She served on the city's council for 14 years, beginning in 1992.

Today, Ridgefield is the only city in Clark County without a woman on its council.

Should Ridgefield's council appoint two men when its expands next month, it would join 12 other all-male, seven-member city councils in Washington state, based on The Columbian's research.

The city's three port commissioners, port executive director and four of its five school board members are men.

This despite the fact that women made up more than half the city's residents, according to the 2010 census.

"It distresses me we don't have a female on the council," Ridgefield Councilman Don Stose said. "We need a female point of view for everything we do."

Council members, whether men or women, must work with the public's best interests in mind, said Denise Koopman of Country Financial in Ridgefield.

"I don't think having an all-male council necessarily (means) it's not meeting everyone's needs," she said.

Gender shift

Washougal councilman Dave Shoemaker is certain of what his city's gender shift means: nothing.

"It's a fluke," he said. "I don't think there's any significance at all."

Washougal had five men on its council this time last year. Now, it's one of two Clark County city councils, along with Camas, that have three or more women. The Snohomish County city of Edmonds has the most women council members (five) in Washington.

No coordinated effort existed to put more women on the Washougal council, newcomer Caryn Plinski said. Each woman had free time and a desire to serve, she noted.