June 27, 2012 - While men will outnumber women 20:4 on the primary ballot, the four women running in the Independence Township election won't be deterred. In fact, they embrace and celebrate the contrast.
From left are candidates Joette Kunse, Bark Pallotta, Andrea Schroeder, and Nanci Anderson-Bereznicki. Photo by Mary Keck (click for larger version)
Independence's female candidates include Barb Pallotta, who hopes to retain her seat as clerk; Nanci Anderson-Bereznicki who is running for treasurer; and Joette Kunse and Andrea Schroeder, who have their sights set on trustee positions.
"It's no secret that men and women are different," said Pallotta; though, she points out diversity isn't only found between the sexes. "We're all very diverse. Even as women, we all have different strengths we would bring to the board."
From Pallota's point of view, the success of women in an otherwise male-dominated election "is about having a balance and a different perspective only a woman can bring."
Because she's been serving in roles including deputy clerk and clerk for 16 years in Independence and nearby townships, Pallotta feels she offers experience as well as a female perspective. She describes the clerk's office as "the epicenter of any municipality" because it is where records are kept and elections are organized.
Pallotta has been serving on the Independence Township Board since she was appointed in 2011 and is the only female voice, but she wouldn't mind having another member of her sex around.
"We still fight that battle with the perception of the stereotypical woman, and I would like to share that perspective with another woman," she said.
The spirit of collaboration is an aspect of governance with which women are particularly in tune, according to trustee-hopeful Andrea Schroeder. She's helped organize citizen movements such as one resulting in a traffic light at the intersection of Flemings Lake and Clarkston Roads just before the high school. The light has "improved public safety, not just for our kids, but for everybody," she said. Recently, Schroeder's efforts with No Spice/K2 have helped to make Clarkston 100 percent synthetic drug free.
If elected, Schroder hopes to strengthen the board by encouraging "more civility" and "mak[ing] sure we are representing the people who elected us."
Schroeder would also like to see less "last minute citizen involvement." If there's anyone who can implement these changes, she believes a female trustee can.
"Women make things happen" because of their passion, Schroeder explained.
Anderson-Bereznicki, who is running for treasurer, agrees.
"Women are more open in their passions to see change," she said.
Passion is not in short supply when it comes to Anderson-Bereznicki.
"My biggest drive is my desire to serve this community," she said.
After attending board meetings for the past four years, she realized, "I wasn't doing any good just sitting in on the meetings."
Besides running for treasurer, Anderson-Bereznicki hopes to continue serving the community with Clarkston Optimists, Women's Commission of Oakland County, and with her business savvy. She earned a Bachelor degree in Business with an emphasis in Finance, and runs her own home-based embroidery business.
"We have a number of women business owners" and "the township is not 90 percent men," she noted. From Anderson-Bereznicki's perspective, representation of both sexes is needed in governance, and she's not alone.
"You're governing both men and women," trustee candidate Joette Kunse pointed out.
Apart from equal representation, Kunse thinks the board would benefit from a woman's knack for researching.
"If [women] don't know the answer, they're going to go out and find the answer," she said.
If Kunse is elected, she hopes to seek a solution to a problem she's noticed along Dixie Highway.
"I'm concerned about the empty buildings," she said. "We need to find ways to be supportive of small business. We all benefit from that."
Kunse has been a member of the Library Advisory Board and the Independence Cable Committee. She has served in the military, taught for 11 years at Clarkston schools, and was a reporter for The Oakland Press.
She has been living in Independence Township since the 60s, and is "happy to see women in elected office."
Clerk Pallotta agrees; "I feel as though it is long overdue, and I'm glad women are stepping up in this township to run," she said.
Few women may run in township elections, but voters have found them worthy of their support since the 1930s and possibly earlier. According to The Clarkston News archives, Sara Carran may one of the first women elected in Independence Township. She was elected treasurer in 1938 and served until 1941, when she was defeated by another woman, Carrie Walter. The last female trustee elected was Carol Balzarini, who served in 1984.
Women have had more success as clerks. For example, Joan McCrary served as clerk from 1989 to 2000, and Shelagh VanderVeen followed her in 2004. In 2011, VanderVeen resigned and Pallotta was appointed.
Independence has never seen a female supervisor, but women have found many ways to make their mark.
For instance, in October 1936, the Republican Women's Federation hosted an event during which Oakland County candidates met with the public.
In 1968, The CNews shared "Babysitters for Voting Mothers," which described how a group of women cared for children at various polling places to give their mothers an opportunity to vote.
Joan McCrary, who was on the Zoning Board in 1985, is the longest serving female elected to office in Independence Township, and she is still serving today on the Planning Commission. She's glad to see women running because "local government is where it all begins." Unlike federal and state legislation, McCrary believes local decisions have a greater "influence on your everyday life."
While serving for almost 16 years, McCrary felt she was always treated as an equal, but observed people at Town Hall seemed to "speak to [her] in a more intimate way than the men." From her perspective, employees felt more comfortable talking with her because when it comes to personnel matters, women "might be more compassionate."
For women aspiring to run for elected office, Anderson-Bereznicki suggests, "dig in your heels!" Pallotta and Schroeder say, "be yourself," while Kunse encourages you to "just trust your beliefs."
Clarkston News reporter