DeKalb mayors discuss women in leadership roles

Elections in DeKalb County have seen an uptick in women being elected. During the 2021 elections, residents of cities in DeKalb elected two female mayors to a county that already boasted four female mayors.

Five of those female mayors held a teleconference March 8 for an International Women’s Day Panel sponsored by City of Clarkston.

The mayors—Clarkston’s Beverly Burks, Decatur’s Patti Garrett, Dunwoody’s Lynn Deutsch, Pine Lake’s Melanie Hammet, and Stone Mountain’s Beverly Jones—talked about the contributions they and other women have made to their communities, the importance of International Women’s Day, what they’d like to see change, and other topics related to Women’s History Month.

Several of the mayors talked about the importance of having women in government and leadership roles.

“It is great to be a part of the female group that is leading the DeKalb cities,” said Hammet.

According to Hammet, she has served in Pine Lake for five years with an all-female city council, a female chief of police, a female municipal judge, a female city administrator, a female clerk, a female chair of arts, and a female chair of environment.

“All of our work gets done in a completely women-led environment. I have to say I’m a bit spoiled because women work fast,” added Hammet. “It has been quite a remarkable leadership training ground. It’s like no other leadership class. It’s apex.”

A majority of the city council posts in Clarkston, Decatur, Lithonia, Tucker, Stonecrest, and Stone Mountain are also held by women. The change to electing women has been a quick one in some cities, but several of the mayors said it is a good thing for reasons such as for proving biases wrong and inspiring younger generations.

“I was on council for eight years and about every two years I was the only female. We now have three [female] members out of seven that are on council,” said Deutsch. “I think we are about half female mayors in DeKalb County. That’s pretty impressive when you think about it. Especially from the rapid change of just having a couple to half.”

Cities such as Decatur are carrying on the tradition of female mayors.

“I’m continuing that trend, and hopefully we’ll at least have a female mayor continuing on a regular basis,” said Garrett. “Three out of five of our city commission are female, so the majority on the city commission.”

As in Pine Lake, Garrett said Decatur also has females in the city manager and deputy fire chief roles.

“We’re very proud of those women and their dedication to themselves in the city,” said Garrett. “I think we’ve made a lot of strides in female leadership … but I think we’ll see there are still a lot of assumptions made about females in leaderships roles.”

Garrett, Burks, and other mayors discussed—and denounced—biases and explained how they work through those.

“The nature of it is how does your city actually represent the whole city with only women on council,” explained Hammet. “I hear it again and again. Not just from men, it’s from women.”

Hammet said she thinks it’s a product of a society that values men in leadership roles, and Garrett echoed her remarks. Garrett said her husband is sometimes approached as the mayor when they are at public events.

“When I knocked on doors and gave them my literature, they were more surprised that a Black woman wanted to be the mayor of Stone Mountain. It was hard. I had to convince them … that I was just as capable as any male on city council or any previous male who had been mayor,” said Jones.

Deutsch and Hammet also discussed barriers keeping women out of public office, such as caring for children and elders.

“I think women, even though its 2022, carry the bulk of family responsibilities, childcare, and elder care, falls on … women,” said Deutsch. “I think one of the barriers is just getting people connected enough to know that the opportunities are there.”

Hammet said childcare and other duties that often fall on women should be incorporated as part of the workday. She said it would allow more women to run for office and would allow for younger generations of women to hold office.

“If you want to have younger women in leadership roles, and you do want them to not have a socioeconomic qualifier, you have to let them bring their children to meetings,” said Hammet. “That meant that our councilwoman didn’t have to afford childcare or not run for office. If the barrier is that they can’t bring their child to meeting, that is absurd. I have done it many … times.”

The mayors said they think more women will continue to be elected – especially as more favorable policies are put into place, Burks added.

“Having those policies that truly work on equity, I think that is what I think is the most important thing,” said Burks. “How do you make sure that from the local level, the state level, and the federal level, that we develop policies that ensure equity for all.”

Other activities are planned for the final days of Women’s History Month, including Dunwoody’s Women’s History Art display at Brook Run Skatepark (4770 N Peachtree Road), the County Line-Ellenwood Library’s (4331 River Road) Women’s History Month craft activity every day until the end of March, and Oak Street Health’s South DeKalb Center (2732 Candler Road) will host three Georgia- based women authors March 29.

For more information on the library’s event, visit: https://events.dekalblibrary. org/event/6373605. For additional information about Oak Street Health’s event, call (770) 508-0991.

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