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Question: Why no female nominee?

(ran PC edition of PASCO TIMES)

The county's Environmentally Sensitive Lands Committee is an overwhelmingly male domain _ only one of its eight members is a woman.

So when the committee recently considered seven applicants to fill three new seats being added to the group, the final selection caught the attention of one of those rejected.

Area Green Party activist Jennifer Sullivan was among four women who applied for a seat on the committee, only to be beat out by three male applicants. The committee's nomination of the three men must be confirmed by the County Commission, which has final say on board appointees.

"I'm not trying to be combative," Sullivan said in a recent interview. "The law of averages says of four women and three men, at least one of us should have been selected."

While one of the three men chosen, Michael Liberton, has volunteered extensively for environmental groups, the resumes of two overlooked women match up well in terms of education and community participation with the remaining two male nominees, Peter Gregory Finn and Mark Bates.

Liberton holds a bachelor's degree, is a registered real estate agent and former member of the Florida Industrial Development Council; Bates has an associate degree, works as a sales engineer for RadioShack and once served on the Private Industry Board of Calhoun County, Mich. One of the women not selected, Linda Prescott, has a doctorate and teaches at Hillsborough Community College; another, Arline Erdrich, attended the New York School of Art & Design at City College. Her art work has been shown across the United States and in Europe.

Adding to Sullivan's dismay is another characteristic the four women share, aside from their rejection by the committee. Sullivan, Erdrich, Kathleen Merrigan and Prescott are all outspoken conservation advocates and members of the Coalition for Anti-Urban Sprawl and the Environment.

The group gained notoriety for its lawsuits against the county alleging everything from violation of state open government laws to the flouting of land use regulations. They have won some legal battles, lost others, and tend to be vocal, spirited critics.

"The reason we are noisy is because these issues have to be raised," Sullivan said. "We are not noisy by choice."

Eugene Kelly, who has sat on the committee since its formation in 1990 and is now its chairman, said he could not speculate on the deliberations of his fellow members, but said a desire to silence strident environmentalists or exclude women played no role in his decision.

Committee members were each asked to select their three top choices, he said. The three applicants chosen most often were nominated. Kelly said that among his selections there was a woman, Linda Prescott.

The committee's current eight members each were selected for their expertise in a given area, real estate or land management or engineering, for example. They serve as advisers to the county on the use of the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Fund, currently $4.4-million.

Over the years, the chairman said he had never seen the committee behave in a sexist way or without consideration for views held by the community's self-proclaimed environmental activists, and that he doubted such considerations played a role in the recent nominations.

The committee's current eight members each were selected for their expertise in a given area, real estate or land management or engineering, for example. They serve as advisers to the county on the use of the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Fund, currently $4.4-million, generated through a tax levy.

The money is used to acquire natural assets critical to the county's ecological health and to set aside land for park and recreation purposes. Not only does the group advise on what land to acquire, but also on how it is managed.

Last year, the County Commission directed the group to add three more seats, to be filled by community members rather than those with a specific field of expertise. The nominations in question are an attempt to satisfy that charge.

Commission Chairwoman Betty Whitehouse said that when the nominees come before the board, tentatively scheduled for July 8, she plans to examine their qualifications closely in light of the issues Sullivan raised.

While merit trumps all considerations, Whitehouse said, all things being equal, having a fair representation of women on county committees is desirable. The entire board, she said, will likely scrutinize the nominees with more than the usual rigor.

"If you have good female applicants and you have an imbalance, you do have to look at that," she said.

_ Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansantsptimes.com.

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