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Women's political group regrouping

April 30, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

A year after taking a drubbing at the polls, a Washington County organization seeking more influence for women in local government is turning its attention to appointed positions.

Women At The Table, which was formed two years ago, is urging women to become involved in local government at its most basic level. The strategy calls for women to seek positions on the dozens of boards and commissions that make county and town governments work.

With no major election this year, Women At The Table leaders said it makes sense to focus on appointed positions.

"It's not a shift in strategy. We always wanted to do both," said N. Sharon Leatherman, co-chairwoman of the group.

Leatherman said the organization will lobby the Washington County Commissioners to publicize vacancies on boards and commissions.

"In Frederick County, they do a very good job of that," she said.

About 37 percent of the positions on Washington County's 53 boards and commissions are held by women, according to records provided by county government. That includes both boards appointed by the County Commissioners and those elected or appointed by other organizations.

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Peggy Bushey, who last month was elected co-chairwoman of Women At The Table, said the commissioners should buy newspaper ads to publicize openings. Although she believes county officials are not intentionally maintaining a secretive process, she said it can be difficult to find out when positions are available.

"There really isn't a process in place," she said.

Bushey also said she would like the group to help match women's abilities and backgrounds with appropriate positions.

Although not as visible as elected offices, county boards do much of the heavy lifting in local government, Bushey said.

"They play such a large role in the community," she said. "There's a lot of work that gets done by these commissions and committees."

Linda Irvin-Craig, a member of Women At The Table who ran unsuccessfully for County Commissioner last year, surveyed the county's towns and compiled a list of their boards and commissions.

Irvin-Craig said it is important to have women represented on county boards because they bring a different perspective than men.

"I think they always think of things as how they affect the family. After all, that's what we all are," she said.

Bushey said she would like to raise more interest among men and women. By encouraging women to serve, county officials expand the pool of talent, she said.

"You tend to work with the same group of names," she said.

Women At The Table leaders said they plan to keep an eye on elected posts as well.

Bushey said she hopes to get Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, and other elected women to speak to Women At The Table members this fall, and the group will raise money for women candidates next year.

In its first election season, Women At The Table did not fare as well as hoped. The group backed four women for countywide offices. All of them lost.

"There are a lot of people who believe that women should not be involved in public office," Irvin-Craig said.

Leatherman said women often face an undercurrent of criticism based on things like their dress or their religion.

"There's always the underlying campaign that is derogatory to women," she said. "The only way you can counter it is to get candidates known by as many people as possible It's rumors that appeal to people's prejudices."

Irvin-Craig said the organization will not be deterred.

"It would take a lot to discourage this group of women. And I don't think that did it," she said.

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