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ERIE COUNTY STUDY FINDS WOMEN UNDERREPRESENTED IN ELECTIVE, APPOINTED POSTS

Men hold the overwhelming majority of both elected and appointive posts in municipal governments in Erie County -- despite the fact that women account for just over half the population.

That's the bottom line on gender politics revealed in data collected by the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women.

The survey, to be released today, marks what organizers hope will be an annual report card to county residents.

"Our bottom line is that there are more men serving (in public positions) than women," said Lynn M. Marinelli, commission executive director. "I'm looking to trigger a discussion on this."

For Susan Curran Hoyt, commission chairwoman, the report spotlights an issue the commission feels needs attention -- the underrepresentation of women in public life. "If the public sector isn't doing it, why should the private sector do it?" she asked.

While women serve in a wide array of posts as diverse as beautification and youth, they are a minority on municipal boards with voting power such as planning, zoning and assessment. Of the 597 seats on those boards, women hold 17 percent and men hold 83 percent. When elected jobs are added to those seats, women fare slightly better, with 22 percent compared with 78 percent for men.

Indeed, elected jobs offer a few bright spots for women, with women mayors in the cities of Lackawanna and Tonawanda, women supervisors in four of 25 towns and women mayors in three of 16 villages.

In the judiciary, women hold 18 of 79 seats, or 15 percent.

Since getting elected usually hinges on a woman's political standing or ability to raise funds, the commission is focusing its efforts on appointed jobs. Ms. Marinelli said her office has a file of some 200 qualified women available for appointments.

"We want to see change," said Ms. Hoyt.

By the year 2000, the commission wants to see 30 percent more women on boards that decide key public issues, 25 percent more women on boards with paid members and 10 percent more women overall.

The data, which was collected over the past year through questionnaires sent to Erie County's 16 villages, 25 towns and three cities, reveals the following:

Women hold 32 percent of all appointed positions but 48 percent of appointments on boards that have no say on fiscal matters such as parks, recreation and youth.

Men hold 85 percent of all paid positions. Of 71 boards that have paid positions, 29 have no women serving on them.

Of the 391 boards surveyed, 101 have no women serving on them.

Women are slightly better-represented on boards in cities and villages than in towns -- 33 percent for cities, 32 percent for villages and 29 percent for towns.

Among Erie County's largest towns and cities, Lancaster ranked first for women in key positions for every 10,000 residents followed by Orchard Park, Lackawanna, Clarence, Amherst, West Seneca, Hamburg, Cheektowaga, Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda.

Larger towns, which potentially have a larger pool of women candidates, don't perform any better than smaller towns.

Looking only at key positions -- elected office and positions with fiscal impact such as planning, zoning and assessment -- Brant, with 2,244 residents, does as well as Amherst with 118,487 and almost as well as Buffalo with 323,284.

Brant has three women in elective office -- a Town Board member, the town clerk and tax receiver -- and seven women serving among the assessment, planning and zoning boards.

Amherst, Erie County's largest town, has four women among assessment, zoning and planning and six women in elected positions -- four on the town board, the town clerk and receiver of taxes.

Buffalo has three female Common Council members and nine women on key boards such as the Urban Renewal Agency, Municipal Housing, Planning and Zoning among a total of 188 positions. The city's count includes three women in city court.

There are 24 city boards lacking female representation. Those include groups that decide on important public matters: the Sewer Authority, Appraisal Review, Building Appeals and Civil Service Commission.

The commission counted 962 seats on the various Erie County government boards, with women holding 34 percent or 331. But, only 27 are in key or fiscal impact positions.

In addition, women hold two of the 17 legislature seats and five of 11 seats in County and Family Court.

But, Erie County also has 10 boards with no women serving on them: the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, the Buffalo Place Board, Fire Safety Board, Fish & Wildlife, Regional Development Corp., Regional Development Loan, Sewer District 1, Soil Conservation, Transportation Policy and the Water Authority.

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