Meridian Township has changed a lot in 30 years. There were no malls or major businesses and definitely no female politicians. This was the place Mary Helmbrecht, the township’s Clerk, remembered.
“When I first came, there was nothing here. There was only a gas station on Grand River,” said Helmbrecht. “I’ve been here 40 years, and for most of those years, the township board was 100 percent male until Virginia White broke the glass ceiling in 1974.”
Given the people who run the township today, it is hard to imagine men dominated Meridian Township politics.
The Meridian Township Board, which makes all the policy and legislative decisions for the municipality, is 4-3 majority female. The township’s Supervisor, Clerk and two of its Trustees are women. Helmbrecht doesn’t understand how this phenomenon occurred, but feels it was necessary because women needed a voice in politics too.
“I don’t know how this happened, but I will say it has something to do with the fact that women have an equal interest in politics as men.”
Township Supervisor Susan McGillicuddy credits her passion for politics on the environment.
“I entered politics back in 1992,” said McGillicuddy. “I was into land use and urban planning.”
Prior to being appointed a member of the Township Board, McGillicuddy was Meridian’s Planning Commissioner and a member of Meridian’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The irony is that according to McGillicuddy, her past didn’t prepare her for Supervisor position today.
“Growing up, it didn’t prepare me today. My parents never paid attention to local government politics or land use,” said McGillicuddy.
Now, she is the head of a political body and sees the advancement women in politics have made. Nevertheless, she is still aware of the challenges she and other female politicians face.
“There still aren’t enough women,” said McGillicuddy. “There are a few of us, but not enough. I believe in networking so I set up a networking group for women. I don’t think men feel the need to have conversation as much as women.”
With majority of the board female, are the male members intimidated by being outnumbered? Bruce Hunting, the board’s Treasurer, doesn’t think so.
“It’s just fine. For years, I’ve worked with men and women and I never notice the difference,” said Hunting, who was a high school teacher and coach for 31 years.
He added that working with female politicians has been beneficial for everyone.
“They’re willing to discuss the issues and they are patient,” said Hunting.
According to McGillicuddy, the female board members bring something new to the group.
“We bring different perspectives, but we’re geared more towards environmental issues, which hadn’t really been a top priority before,” said McGillicuddy.
While environmental issues, like the preservation of land from being used, have become one of the Board’s major topics, it isn’t the only thing the female have members contributed.
“I bring a passion for elections,” said Helmbrecht. “Since the 1970s, I’ve been involved in the election process. Yes, some members have a passion for environmental issues, but this is a very interesting board because everyone has different passions.”
According to Helmbrecht, their differences on issues stem from political views rather than gender.
“Some of our board members are Republicans and some are Democrats,” said Helmbrecht. “Therefore we have different views on things. But that’s the beauty of it. We don’t clash by party and our thoughts aren’t divided by labels.”
Even McGillicuddy, who is a Republican, gave recognition to Hilary Rodham Clinton, the sole female Democratic nominee for this year’s election.
“I don’t support her, but it’s nice to see a female running for presidency. It shows how far we’ve come.”