Resolution supporting ending discrimination against women puts Prairie Village council at odds

Councilmember Brooke Morehead said she believed passing the resolution would “politicize” Prairie Village in a way that would raise questions about whether discrimination exists in the city.

The Prairie Village city council found itself at odds Monday as it again considered the idea of a resolution intended to signal the city’s support for ending all forms of discrimination against women.

First discussed earlier this summer, the resolution would have generally followed the principles of the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, a measure adopted by the UN General Assembly back in 1979 that calls for the equal treatment of men and women in public and private life.

The council in June had directed staff to draw up the language for a resolution supporting the principles of CEDAW after Gail James, a retired University of Kansas professor, approached the city about the idea. Kansas City, Mo., adopted a similar resolution a few years ago, but no other metro cities have taken such a step.

The council voted in favor of drawing up the language for a resolution via a 6-3 vote in June. But on Monday, critics of the idea on the council again voiced their concerns that a resolution focused solely on ending discrimination against women could be seen as elevating women’s rights above the rights of other marginalized populations.

And Ward 4 councilmember Brooke Morehead, who was absent from the June meeting, said she was not comfortable lending Prairie Village’s tacit support to something that had been born out of an organization like the United Nations. She said the city’s recent employment and compensation study had shown it was already providing equal opportunities to women.

“We already comply in spirit with the document without affiliating with an international organization,” Morehead said.

Over the course of the meeting, Morehead and Ward 6 councilmember Terrence Gallagher both pointed out that many of the city’s top administrative staff were women.

“Where’s our budget lady? She’s not here tonight, is she? She’s a terrific gal. Jamie, you — lady, you’re doing a terrific job. And you little girl, back there? You’re doing one,” Morehead said in apparent reference to Finance Director Lisa Santa Maria; Assistant City Administrator Jamie Robichaud; and Assistant to the City Administrator Alley Porter, respectively. “We’re not supposed to be the poster child for an international organization that wants to make a headline. We’re just good old Prairie Village. And we do it well.”

Following those remarks, Ward 1 councilmember Jori Nelson said she found Morehead’s tone emblematic of the issue at hand.

“I think when you speak about women as ‘little girls,’ or speak about staff not as someone who is educated and intelligent…I think that’s demeaning,” she said.

Proponents of passing the resolution as it was written said they were surprised by the opposition from their council peers, and that adopting a resolution saying that Prairie Village opposed discrimination against women should not have been controversial.

“It seems to me that we are extrapolating a lot from this pretty humble resolution,” said Ward 1 councilmember Chad Herring.

The council initially accepted an amendment from Ward 4 councilmember Sheila Myers to remove the references to CEDAW and the UN from the language. A few minutes later, the council on a 6-5 vote accepted Ward 5 councilman Dan Runion’s motion to refer the item back to city staff to recraft the resolution so that it applied to all forms of discrimination, not just discrimination against women.

Councilmembers Serena Schermoly, Andrew Wang, Sheila Myers, Brooke Morehead, Dan Runion and Terrence Gallagher voted to move forward with an anti-discrimination resolution that was not specific to women. Councilmembers Herring, Jori Nelson, Ron Nelson, Tucker Poling and Courtney McFadden voted against that amendment. Councilmember Ted Odell was present but abstained from the vote.

Following the meeting Monday, Ward 2 councilmember Ron Nelson, who sponsored the measure, used his Facebook page to express his disappointment at the outcome.

“Tonight, the Prairie Village City Council Voted against a resolution to support the principles of non-discrimination against women embodied in the United Nations convention,” Nelson wrote. “The opposition to the resolution used a combination of various strawman arguments, including that a vote to eliminate discrimination against women was itself biased and prejudiced against other minorities and discriminated against individuals and groups because it singled out women. It is astounding to me that and some people believe that insisting on non-discrimination against one group is somehow an attack on others. In fact, it is a thinly-veiled attempt to discriminate against women and to enable white male power, and to embolden, and encourage white male domination in society by pitting one discriminated group against another when there is no such combat. I am saddened and disgusted. But it is not a defeat, but a call to action.”