Monday, August 27, 2007

Time for the Kenosha News to recognize the strength of women as leaders

The ink wasn't dry on Bill Guida's last Kenosha News column in which lamented the secrecy in the process of selecting Kenosha's new police chief -- a column in which he also said the Police and Fire Commission should have entertained applications from outside the Kenosha Police Department -- before this E-mail popped up Monday night:

"Bill Guida says it's time for Kenosha to recognize the strength of women as leaders. The city can start by naming a well-qualified woman as police chief."

To bring you up to speed, the Police and Fire Commission narrowed the list of contenders to three: Asst. Chief Thomas Genthner and Captains John Morrissey and Kristine Fonk. They hope to pick the new chief in October.
As I said here earlier this summer, for those of us who know all of the applicants asking to name a favorite is like asking which of your children you love the most. I do know, though, that for most of the people in local law enforcement the concern is getting the best person in the job regardless of gender.
Naming a favorite is further complicated by the amount of information the Police and Fire Commission has kept from the public, a point which Guida ostensibly recognized in his earlier column.
There's nothing wrong with recognizing the strength of women as leaders but it's even better when you recognize leaders who happen to be women.
There is something very wrong with selecting a "well-qualified woman as police chief."
First and foremost, the Police and Fire Commission should choose the most qualified applicant as the next police chief, period. If Capt. Fonk happens to be that person, that's great.
Not to do so trivializes Capt. Fonk's 22 years of service to the community and attaches the "invisible asterisk" to her appointment that she was "a well-qualified woman" or that her gender played any role in her selection whatsoever.
I've known Kris since we were in high school together. Nonetheless, I want the best person in the job and it would be an almost insurmountable insult to Kris and the women of Kenosha if her appointment was tainted by the aura that somehow she was given preferential consideration because of gender. Apparently the Kenosha News doesn't get that. Or a lot of other things.
What would you think if you saw any of the following printed in the Kenosha News:
  • Jessica Hansen, a well-qualified woman reporter
  • Barbara Lawton, a well-qualified woman lieutenant governor
  • the late Mary D. Bradford, a well-qualified woman school superintendent
  • Elizabeth Burmaster, a well-qualified woman state superintenent of public instruction
  • Jean Werbie, a well-qualified woman village planner
  • Julia Robinson, a well-qualified woman city council member
  • Samantha Kerkman, a well-qualified woman legislator
  • Barbara A. Kluka, a well-qualified woman judge
  • Kathleen Barca, a well-qualified woman school administrator
  • Adelene Greene, a well-qualified woman workforce development director
  • Mary Lichter, a well-qualified woman parks director
  • Rhonda Jolly, a well-qualified woman veterans affairs specialist
  • Dr. Mary Mainland, a well-qualified woman medical examiner
  • Jennifer Greene, a well-qualified woman forensic chemist
  • Elizabeth Szabo, a well-qualified woman school principal
  • Mary Beier, a well-qualified woman juvenile intake director
  • Kathleen Goessel, a well-qualified woman village treasurer
  • Jane Romanowski, a well-qualified woman village clerk
  • Jennifer Jackson, a well-qualified woman county board supervisor
  • Marilyn Lemke, a well-qualified woman registrar in probate
  • Tedi Winett, a well-qualified woman university extension director
  • Mary K. Wagner, a well-qualified circuit court judge, former county clerk, former state legislator and former teacher
  • Carol Stancato, a well-qualified woman city finance director
  • Paula Touhey, a well-qualified woman museum director
  • Colleen Murphy-Fisch, a well-qualified woma town supervisor
  • Diann Tesar, a well-qualified woman town chairman
  • Sheila Siegler, a well-qualified woman town clerk
  • Sheronda Glass, a well-qualified woman school district personnel manager
  • Laurie Wright, a well-qualified woman school superintendent
  • the late Lynn Copen, a well-qualified woman victim/witness services director
  • Patricia Merrill, a well-qualified woman school board president
  • Pam Stevens, a well-qualified woman school board vice-president
  • Edna Highland, a well-qualified woman county clerk
  • Kathleen Marks, a well-qualified woman city council member and former council president

You'd think it would look very odd to see that modifier appear when describing any of the above community leaders -- and you'd be right on target. In fact, the above list is just a beginning. There are many more women in positions of power and leadership in this community in the public and private sectors.

Long ago this community phased out the perceived need to modify a person's professional title with a gender reference. We simply write or talk about Circuit Judge Barbara A. Kluka or School Administrator Laurie Wright and so forth.

Contrary to what the Kenosha News says, this community long ago began recognizing the strength of women as leaders. Where has the newspaper been?

In fact, that's a darn good question: Where has the newspaper been?

A lot of women work for the Kenosha News but how many are in key management and leadership positions? Not many. The president, publisher, editor-in-chief and all but one of the subordinate editors are men (and Kathy Troher is the "features" editor).

Rather than writing about the struggle of women elsewhere to pierce the glass ceiling, maybe it's time for Kenosha News management to invest in a piece of glass -- a mirror to look into before making uninformed, inaccurate and just plain ignorant comments about others (especially when its own house isn't in order).

I doubt the newspaper meant any harm. It's likely that the writer and the editors who approved such drivel just weren't thinking.

In a way I'm tempted to hope Capt. Fonk isn't named the new police chief because if she gets the job she'll have to work twice as hard just to overcome the "invisible asterisk" the newspaper dimwittingly placed next to her name. That's not only insulting but unfair to her, the men and women of the Kenosha Police Department and this community.

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