Backlash in Austin over man’s advice about female officials

May 13, 2015, 2:49 PM
Members of the Austin city council listen to city manager Marc Ott during a news conference at City...
Members of the Austin city council listen to city manager Marc Ott during a news conference at City Hall, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Austin's female-majority City Council is fuming after a consultant warned municipal staff that elected female officials like to ask lots of questions and tend to tune out financial arguments. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — They ask lots of questions that can require patience, they tend to tune out financial arguments — and with Hillary Clinton running for president, more are probably on the way.

That was how a male consultant invited by Austin city managers described his experience with elected women during a presentation for municipal staff, which left the female-majority City Council fuming and officials backtracking in Texas’ most liberal city on Wednesday.

City officials say they organized the workshop — titled “Changing Dynamics in Government” — because women now control the 11-member Austin City Council for the first time. At a news conference Wednesday, Austin’s seven city councilwomen rebuked the seminar as outdated and appalling.

“Women don’t read agenda information? We don’t want to deal with numbers? Come on,” Councilwoman Leslie Pool said.

The workshop took place in March, but councilwomen say they were unaware of it until a story published this week in the Austin American-Statesman. Jonathan K. Allen, a former small-town Florida city manager, led the seminar and told participants that he expects more women to follow Clinton’s example and run for elected office.

Allen told Austin city employees that they would be making “a serious error” if they dealt with a female-dominated council in the same way as one controlled by men. Selling women on a costly project, he said, might require talking more about local impact than dollars and cents, even when the numbers alone should make a convincing case.

“It may make good financial sense, but if I want to get it through and get the necessary votes, I have to present it a totally different way,” Allen said.

He also suggested that women are less likely to read agenda packets that hold the answers to question they’re asking. Allen said listening to his daughter once inundate with him questions taught him how to be more patient and communicate better with people, “even when they know the answer.”

A phone message left for Allen was not immediately returned Wednesday. Two weeks after speaking in Austin, Allen was fired as city manager in Lauderdale Lakes, where he answered to an all-female board of city commissioners.

Lauderdale Lakes Vice Mayor Beverly Williams said Wednesday that conflicting goals had emerged between Allen and the commission. She said Allen never talked down to her. She also emphasized that she does her due diligence on the job.

“I read everything. I am concerned about our financial statements. I do ask a lot of questions and expect a lot of answers,” Williams said.

Austin City Manager Marc Ott apologized for the training session, which his office organized, saying it should have been better vetted. Councilwomen questioned why anyone thought such a workshop was needed in the first place.

“All of these women can do math. All of these women understand how to make financial decisions,” Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair said.


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Backlash in Austin over man’s advice about female officials