LAKES REGION — Chairwoman is a popular title in the Lakes Region these days.
Of the nine towns covered by the Lakes Region Weekly, seven of the town councils or selectboards are led by women: Holly Hancock in Casco; Lynn Gallagher in Gray; Linda Chase in New Gloucester; Ann Farley in Sebago; Kimberly Pomerleau in Standish; Teresa Sadak in Raymond; and Donna Chapman in Windham.
In addition, three of the four school boards in the area are led by chairwomen: Marge Govoni in RSU 14, Tina Martell in SAD 15 and Janice Barter in SAD 61.
“I don’t really find it surprising,” said Chase, 55, who was first elected to the New Gloucester Selectboard in 2007. “It’s just us becoming more empowered and understanding that the stakes are really high.”
“I don’t know that it’s a new trend,” Chase continued, pointing to numerous other female leaders on her town’s boards and committees.
In interviews, the chairwomen offered a few strengths they feel women bring to the table in local public service.
Chapman said women can be “more emotionally charged” than men, who, she said are driven more by reason.
“We’ll reason it out, but we also have that emotional connection with people,” said Chapman, 58, who recently started her second stint as chairwoman after Windham Council elections in November.
Hancock said women often look at things from a relationship-building standpoint to better understand and incorporate the various personalities of people serving on a board.
“I think that tends to be the way that women look at things,” she said. Hancock, 61, also serves as assistant chief of the Casco Fire Rescue Department and was previously director at both the Casco and Bridgton public libraries.
Chase said, “Typically, women are the nurturers,” and speculated that having more women in power could make government bureaucracy more responsive to the people it serves.
“I guess I don’t look at it as men and women,” said Sadak, who was elected Chairwoman in Raymond this year. “You make things happen yourself … I think everybody has to make their own path.”
Of the chairwomen interviewed, most felt their gender wasn’t an issue when it came to civic roles.
“I’ve always been treated equally and fairly,” said Pomerleau, 60, who became chairwoman of the Standish Town Council earlier this year.
Hancock doesn’t feel that she’s ever been “dismissed or treated differently” on the selectboard because of her gender.
She acknowledged that there are occasionally some disagreements on boards, but “very rarely, though, is it an issue of gender.”
“I’ve never heard it; it’s never been in my face,” said Sadak. “And if I do hear that, I’m going to give it right back to them.”
Sadak said her male colleagues have been “supportive” and “patient with me” as she continues to learn in her new role.
Farley, 75, who said she also served on the Vinalhaven Selectboard before moving to Sebago, sees an improvement in how women are treated on boards.
She said when she first joined the board in Vinalhaven during the 1980s, she “felt that I had to make myself heard – I had to really make my case for issues.”
“I think times have changed,” Farley added, emphasizing that she feels everyone is treated equally now on the Sebago Selectboard.
Gallagher, who became chairwoman this year after previously serving as interim chair and vice chair, said she does “feel like I have been treated differently” but wasn’t sure why that is. She mentioned that it could be because she’s a woman, because she’s younger (in her early 30s) or because of her perspective and life experiences.
“It could be because I’m outspoken,” she speculated.
While most of her fellow chairwomen said no when asked if they thought there is a “boy’s club” in local politics, Chapman had a different take.
“I would say any woman in politics, we’re butting up against the boy’s club,” she responded.
Chapman said male colleagues occasionally “may say things that they may not say to a gentleman.”
“I’m not sure why that is, I just think that’s the norm,” she continued.
When asked about any specific instances, Chapman said during a break at a council meeting, a fellow councilor once said she should get up and dance on the dais.
Chapman emphasized she did not think the comment was meant to be lewd, but also felt it was not something that would have been said to a male colleague.
“I prefer to just shut it right down,” she said about any such comments, saying that she responded to the situation matter of factly with, “Well, I don’t dance.”
Hancock said she does have discussions with “women who are in similar roles, including Casco Selectboard Vice Chairwoman Mary Fernandes, about “what it means to be kind of the bosses.”
She also said that she encourages young women to get involved.
“I encounter young women everywhere that I go and just try to get them to understand that they have a lot to contribute,” Hancock said.
Pomerleau hopes that no matter their gender, people will get involved in local service.
“I think anyone that wants to give up their time and learn and grow should be doing it – male or female,” she said.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Casco Selectboard Chairwoman Holly Hancock.
Raymond Selectboard Chairwoman Teresa Sadak.
Gray Town Council Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher.
Sebago Selectboard Chairwoman Ann Farley.
Windham Town Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman.