ROYAL OAK — Looking for more female representation, the City Commission approved appointments to several of its committees Jan. 27 that included a large increase in the number of women when compared to years past.
Commissioner Jeremy Mahrle, one of the members of the Appointment Committee, said the recommendation was an effort to increase resident involvement in city politics and to shift away from committees whose ranks largely were dominated by males.
“We had a lot of applications,” Mahrle said during the meeting. “It’s really great to see more citizens wanting to be involved in the city.”
He said the large number of people interested in joining a committee offered the board the opportunity to make the committees younger, with more female representation.
Of the 15 committee vacancies, six are being filled by women.
“I’m proud of the recommendations that we’ve made,” Mahrle said. “I think not only did we diversify in terms of gender, we’ve also managed to get the committees a little bit younger.”
The vote was 4-2 with Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton and Commissioner Peggy Goodwin voting against the recommendation.
Poulton’s criticism focused largely on two new appointments to the Zoning Board of Appeals — Sarah Thomas and Kortney Glassford. They were named as alternates to the ZBA. Poulton said they were too new to the city to jump onto the ZBA, adding that they should have to work up from one of the “starter” committees.
“You don’t just come to the city and get on the Zoning Board of Appeals unless you have some sort of extraordinary background and experience in the field,” Poulton said.
Mahrle said in an interview days later that while both are fairly new Royal Oak residents, both have worked in Royal Oak for a number of years.
“I felt they had a special skill set,” Mahrle said.
Thomas, he said, is an attorney with a background in community development and Glassford has worked in Royal Oak real estate.
Another point of controversy was that former ZBA alternate Rick Karlowski was not named to a full seat — a traditional ascension for ZBA alternates. Anthony Offak, the other former alternate, was appointed to a full seat.
Commissioner Peggy Goodwin said diversity is fine as long as it’s not forcing out loyal volunteers.
“I really think (Karlowski) should be appointed, because he’s been a dedicated alternate for three years — regardless of his age, race, his gender,” Goodwin said. “To me, it doesn’t matter.”
Karlowski, in an email to the Royal Oak Review, also criticized the decision.
He said the very people who supported the Human Rights Ordinance, which among other things makes discrimination based on sex and age illegal, discriminated against him and ended the long tradition of making alternates full ZBA members.
“Nobody questioned my attendance, conflicts of interest, or qualifications as a reason for denial,” Karlowski wrote in the email.
Proponents of the Appointments Committee’s recommendation pointed out that Karlowski already is on the Traffic Committee.
Mayor Jim Ellison said the city needed to make the shift to a more diverse representation.
“If we’re going to start diversifying … I think there’s justification in putting people on these boards when somebody is already serving on one or more committees,” Ellison said. “Nothing against Mr. Karlowski; I just think these are the moves we need to make at this point.”
Attempts to contact Thomas and Glassford for comment were unsuccessful, but Mahrle, again in a separate interview, said all committee members are volunteers giving up their own time.
“These are unpaid volunteers,” he said. “They are well-intentioned people who just want to give back to the city”