Two find women's board pointless

The county's only female commissioners say the proposed advocacy group is unnecessary.

Published August 22, 2006

CLEARWATER - Pinellas County won't create a Commission for Women if Susan Latvala and Karen Seel get their way.

Latvala and Seel, the seven-member County Commission's two women, will argue tonight against the idea, which Susan Oestreich of North Redington Beach has championed.

Oestreich, 72, is an active figure in local women's rights circles and is known for continuing efforts to get the state Legislature to approve an equal rights amendment.

Oestreich wants the county to join 18 other governments and institutions in Florida that have formed women's commissions. The group would advise county leaders on women's welfare issues.

Seel is wary. She said there are plenty of service organizations for women and that several women she spoke with think it's insulting to form such a group after the advances of recent decades.

"I haven't had women calling me up and saying we need this," Seel said.

In fact, if Seel had gotten her way, the proposal would never have come before the County Commission.

Oestreich had lobbied for a public hearing on her proposal for months when, in June, Seel raised the matter during a board meeting. She voiced objections and convinced her fellow board members, most of them men, that a vote to hold a hearing was unnecessary.

Not in attendance was County Commissioner John Morroni, who represents Oestreich in District 6.

On Aug. 1, Morroni brought the question forward a second time and called on the board to vote on holding a hearing. This time, all of the men present, two of whom are running for re-election, supported the idea.

Latvala and Seel did not but were in the minority.

"It's not an idea that is off the wall; it has merit," Morroni said. "Whether men vote for it and women don't, that is their prerogative."

Oestreich said the women's commission would augment existing groups that offer services for women. As for the argument that progress has made the need for such a body obsolete, Oestreich points out that a woman in Florida makes 72 cents for every dollar that a man makes.

"They are entitled to their opinion," she said of Latvala and Seel. "But they don't have the right to make up the facts."

Oestreich's proposal is scheduled to be discussed by the board at the commission's evening session, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at 315 Court St. in downtown Clearwater.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 727 445-4166.