The much-heralded Year of the Woman, which saw four women elected to the U.S. Senate and countless more elected at all levels of government, came and went at Lancaster City Hall apparently without notice.
Little has changed here in this Year After the Year of the Woman.
Despite gains for women elsewhere, in Lancaster an all-male City Council sits at the helm of a city of 108,000 residents. Eight of nine city administrators are males, the five-member appointed Planning Commission is all male and the city staff includes twice as many men as women.
Lancaster has fewer women on its senior management team compared to six other cities in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys surveyed by The Times. And there's little indication that it is likely to change in Lancaster any time soon.
"Unfortunately, they look like corporate America, where women (hold) 2% to 5% of high-ranking jobs," said Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women. "Most city governments do better than corporate America."
For the first time in four years, Lancaster last week added a new position--personnel director--to its nine-member senior management team. The person selected to fill the job, one of the few administrative positions in municipal government that a woman typically holds, is a man.
"Lancaster's kind of behind the times," said Kate Karpilow, executive director of the California Elected Women's Assn. for Education and Research. CEWAER is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Sacramento comprised of women and supporters of women.
Lancaster Mayor Arnie Rodio said the city's position has always been to hire the most qualified candidate.
"I don't think that I'm aware of the city of Lancaster not hiring women because they're women or hiring men because they're men," Rodio said. "We've always hired the best. "
In Lancaster, the council is responsible for hiring only the city manager who in turn hires the rest of the staff. Rodio, who in years past has appointed women to the Planning Commission, said he does not believe there were any women applicants when the current manager's post was last open about two years ago.
"I've always made my appointments based on who I thought would do the best job," he said.
Lynn Harrison, one of just three women in the city's 16-year history who has served on Lancaster's council, said she does not believe the conspicuous absence of women on Lancaster's council and Planning Commission has made a difference in the issues being addressed or decisions being made.
"I didn't decide issues based on gender," said Harrison, who served on the council from 1982 to 1990. But while her votes may have been unrelated to her gender, Harrison said, "I think women bring an additional dimension to the discussion."
Deborah Shelton, a community activist and unsuccessful Lancaster City Council candidate in the 1992 race, said she feels "something is lost" when there are so few female voices in the upper ranks of the city's hierarchy.
"Women solve problems differently than men do," she said. "Men approach problems very logically. Woman are more creative. We need that different point of view."
Despite her feelings, Shelton said she believes Lancaster generally does a pretty good job of representing the diverse community it serves. The city's choice for its latest staff addition, however, has her baffled.
"You begin to become a little skeptical," Shelton said. Assistant City Manager Dennis Davenport said the recently hired personnel director was selected from about 180 candidates who applied for the position. About half of the applicants, officials said, were women and many were minorities.
Davenport believes the diversity in the applicant pool for the personnel director slot is proof the city is an equal opportunity employer.
Providing opportunities to all people regardless of sex, race or other factors does not mean, he said, that a member of a minority group will be hired. In the end, the job always goes to the most qualified.
"Our position is that you give every person an equal chance," he said. "That's something that you do day in and day out."
Michael Widomski, a spokesman for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Davenport's assessment is correct.
The purpose of EEO laws, Widomski said, is to "ensure equality of opportunity, that everybody has equal access, everybody's got the same chance."
Davenport said besides providing the opportunity, "there's been a very conscious effort from the city manager to increase our minorities and women, particularly in top management."
Those conscious efforts, however, are not bringing results. The representation of women in Lancaster's work force compared to the available female work force has declined over the last few years, a situation officials blame on the staff reductions the city has made because of the economy.
Lancaster has, over the years, actually increased the number of its top managers. Yet in 16 years of the city's existence, the city clerk's job is the only senior management position ever held by women.
"This is a city that's ripe for a feminization of power campaign," said NOW's Gandy.
Women are more visible on the executive management teams of other comparable cities. In Palmdale, Lancaster's neighboring city, five of the 14 senior management positions are held by women.
In Santa Clarita, one of the city's six administrators is a female. In Burbank, there are three women among the 14 executives. In Glendale, five of 17 administrators are female. Women hold two of six top administrative posts in Agoura Hills and two of five in Calabasas.
Lancaster has few females among its administrators, Davenport said, because there have been few openings at that level. Five of its top posts have been held by the same people for four years or longer. Even so, when top management positions have opened in the city, with the exception of the city clerk post, a man has always been hired.
The scarcity of women at Lancaster City Hall starts at the highest levels and extends to the lowest.
At the June 30 close of Lancaster's fiscal year, just 65 of the city's 210 full-time employees were women. While a staff that is one-third female may appear to be fairly represented, 1990 census data shows the available work force in the Antelope Valley is nearly one-half female.
Lancaster has an affirmative action committee and completes all the equal employment opportunity paperwork mandated by the federal government.
That committee, formed a few years ago, develops hiring goals for the city and has consistently noted the lack of women among the city's administrators and professionals. Layoffs, Davenport said, have prevented the city from making strides in employing women.
"We've basically been in a status quo in terms of hiring, and when you have layoffs you're going the other way," he said.
As of June 30, the ethnic makeup of the city staff was fairly representative of the available Antelope Valley work force. Overall, 19% of the staff are members of minority groups compared to 24% of the available minority work force in the Antelope Valley. There are not any ethnic minorities, however, among the city's top management.
Karpilow, executive director of the elected women's association, said cities with female city council members tend to have more women throughout their ranks. Women tend to be elected in more urban areas because those areas "are more cosmopolitan, less traditional."
"Sounds like the slogan for the next election (in Lancaster) should be 'Elect Women for a Change, and for a Change," ' said Gandy.
While Lancaster does not have a single woman on its council and Planning Commission, Palmdale has one woman on the council and two on the Planning Commission. Santa Clarita has three female council members; Agoura Hills has four. Burbank has one woman on its council; Calabasas has two.
In Lancaster's 16-year history just three of the 19 council members have been women, including one who was appointed to fill an unexpired term. Only six of the 35 people appointed to the city's Planning Commission were women.
Barbara Howard, Lancaster's city clerk and its lone female administrator, said the top-level discussions she's been involved with during the past two years have been gender neutral.
"I work hard so that I have no sexual identity as far as ideas go," she said. "I work hard as a team player . . . everyone that sits at that management table brings their perspective. We're just trying to get a job done."
Howard came to Lancaster after 10 years as a city clerk in a Northern California community where she was also the only female member of the executive team.