IT MAY NOT HAVE BEEN the town meeting Ancram officials were expecting a couple of weeks ago. Not the men, anyway. But it was one they needed to hear.
Exposed at the January 20 meeting was what appears to be widespread discrimination against women for no other excuse than that they are women.
At the meeting the chair of the town Ethics Board, Jack Lindsey, recited a grim litany of incidents told to him by women who say they had lost opportunities or been otherwise been treated poorly, even threateningly, by men in positions of authority in the town—men who must assume it is their right to behave that way.
Mr. Lindsey said he was speaking for these women because so many of them believe some town officials find a man more credible. That sounds like a story from some other countries, ones we scold for their treatment of women.
He was repeating the stories some women told him and, if this were a trial, his words would be dismissed as hearsay. This was no trial. Being accused doesn’t mean you’re guilty. Mr. Lindsey explained the public silence by the women by saying that the women who spoke to him feared the repercussions if they went public and pursued a complaint with the town Ethics Board. Not all Ancram officials and employees are treating women unfairly. But when a group of people is too fearful to seek justice then there is no justice.
With only the third-person narrative of Mr. Lindsey, regardless of how highly he is regarded in the community, Ancram residents would have a hard time evaluating whether some local officials have behaved improperly. After all, those officials are performing important, often essential services for the town. So the matter could have ended there. But it didn’t.
Before the January 20 meeting ended, Jamie Purinton, former chair of the Ancram Planning Board and current chair of the town Conservation Advisory Council, reported having been treated dismissively by male town officials on several occasions. She said she knew women who declined to serve the town because of the way women were treated.
Jane Plasman, a member of the Roe Jan Library board, spoke of the way she and other women were subjected to verbal insults when dealing with men who are town officials. And B. Docktor, an occasional contributor to The Columbia Paper, repeatedly sought to serve on the Ancram Fire Company but never received an application. She questioned the message this type of silence from the fire company sends to the public.
These incidents support the concerns of people in Ancram that the male workforce needs an enforceable attitude adjustment. That won’t be easy or quick. Cultural habits—bad habits too—change slowly but finding a way to get them into the open and on the record are steps in the right direction.
There was one incident that differed from the others. Last year Town Board member Bonnie Hundt was on the official town email when she saw a message from the highway superintendent calling Ms. Hundt an insulting name. The superintendent said he meant to send the slur to someone else.
All town employees and volunteers took Employee Sensitivity Training last fall. It’s mandated by the state. During the online session, which involved employees at various sites, a rifle was visible at the Highway Department site.
Was that supposed to be a joke? The highway superintendent and a member of the Town Board both said it was a ceremonial weapon used to shoot blanks at national holidays. Does everybody know the difference between a ceremonial weapon and a real weapon?
Or could it be that some people can’t distinguish between the two?
It must be said that not all Ancram officials discriminate against women nor is the problem unique to one town. It’s an ongoing problem that requires ongoing measures. But the women are bravely claiming their rights. And they know a threat to those rights when they hear or see one.