Prairie Village is hoping to become the first city in Kansas — and the second city in the Kansas City metro area — to formally recognize an international treaty aimed at combating bias against women and girls.
The City Council on Tuesday voted 6-3 to ask city staff to draft a resolution supporting the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW. The council would vote to adopt the resolution at a future meeting.
“This resolution is to say it is time to equal power,” said Councilman Ron Nelson, who made the motion to draft the resolution. “It is time to do away with implicit bias; It is time to be aware of the bias and take our heads out of the holes and say we look for it, not just that we ignore it.”
The United Nations’ General Assembly adopted CEDAW in 1979, charging member countries with taking “appropriate steps” to end discrimination against women. The United States has yet to endorse the measure, but more than 40 U.S. cities and 20 state legislatures have passed resolutions supporting CEDAW. A handful of cities have also adopted ordinances that incorporate the treaty’s principles into municipal law.
Locally, only Kansas City has approved a resolution supporting CEDAW, passing the measure in December 2014. City officials have been developing a formal CEDAW ordinance over the last 3 1/2 years, Gail James, a retired University of Kansas professor and Midwest CEDAW advocate, told the council.
Under an ordinance, the city would need to complete a citywide analysis of gender discrimination, focusing on local governments’ hiring, pay, operations and budgeting. The city would be expected to fix any disparities found within the government and appoint a committee or task force to oversee that implementation.
“CEDAW starts that process of really looking at the kind of community you have, but you start with the government, the city operation that you control,” James said.
Some council members, while supporting the idea of CEDAW, said they were not yet ready to commit dollars to the initiative. James estimated the gender bias study alone would cost around $20,000.
Nelson stressed that his motion, and the resolution it created, would only support the principles of CEDAW but not include any specific actions or budget.
“My thought was that we would move forward on a step-by-step basis,” he said.
Councilwoman Serena Schermoly said she supported the measure and that gender bias is often subtle. For example, she said her daughter recently asked her about a “Men Working” sign on the street when the city clearly employs women on its public works crews.
“I think it’s important that it’s just those words that we’re saying to our daughters and our sisters that we are all equal, and I think we need to set that expectation,” Schermoly said.
Three council members voted against asking staff to develop the resolution: Andrew Wang, Dan Runion and Ted Odell.
Odell said he objected to dedicating staff time to an issue that was not on the council’s annual list of priorities, and Runion said he worried how the council would gather evidence of discrimination and attribute its cause.
Wang said there was no hard evidence that gender bias was a problem in Prairie Village and that “it’s the height of hypocrisy” for an affluent city like Prairie Village to focus on discrimination against women while not doing something similar to address potential discrimination based on race or disability.
“We would take one historically disadvantaged group and for no other reason than because it wouldn’t really hurt anyone say this is our priority,” Wang said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Councilman Terrence Gallagher, who was attending the meeting by phone, said he had trouble hearing the council’s debate and abstained from voting.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to issue up to $35 million in industrial revenue bonds for Dial Realty to help pay for the senior housing part of the Meadowbrook development off Nall Avenue.
The city is not obligated to pay back the bonds, which developers typically pursue through local governments to take advantage of sales tax benefits. In this case, Dial will use the sales tax savings created by the bonds to help pay for developing the Meadowbrook Park.
The council also voted 6-4 to hold a series of public forums to get input on a second phase of proposed neighborhood design standards. The meetings will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on July 9, 11 and 17 at City Hall.
The council endorsed a preliminary set of guidelines earlier this month that would restrict how oversized a house could look and how much land it could consume, as well as add some rules for trees, driveways, garages and other elements of home construction.
The rules are designed to continue the city’s battle to better blend new large homes with existing mid-century neighborhoods.
Some council members voted against the schedule because they said it was too compact and may prevent some people from being able to attend. The city will also allow residents to provide input online. Officials said they hope to bring the results of the forums back to the council Aug. 6, put the revised rules before the Prairie Village Planning Commission in September and have the council vote on the changes in October.
David Twiddy: firstname.lastname@example.org