Ballot proposal would replace ‘he’ with ‘they’ in Grand Haven city charter


GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — If you want to run for a Grand Haven city offices, you need to meet a few qualifications, like being over the age of 21 and being a registered voter in the city.

To drill that down even more, Section 4.2.of the city charter reads: “An elected official has to be a resident of the city or of territory annexed to the city, for at least six months immediately preceding his election or appointment, if a person be appointed to fill a vacancy in an elective office.”

But what if it was “her” election — not his?

“It says he and his for all of the offices of the city and all of the officers of the city. Why would we refer to them in the male form of the pronoun?” City Manager Pat McGinnis said.

While most ballots for the fast approaching Nov. 2 election won’t include any major state races, there are some interesting local questions facing voters. In Grand Haven, voters are being asked to neutralize gender references in the city charter.

Scroll through the city charter and you’ll find dozens of male references. Changing it is not just a matter of political correctness, McGinnis said — it’s just not accurate as it is now.

“During our staff meeting this morning … there were 15 of us around the table: seven women and eight men,” McGinnis said.

That would have been 15 men and no women in 1959, when Grand Haven’s charter was written.

“I was happy to look around the table and see that my peers are almost evenly balanced, and I think it’s time that my city’s founding document ought to reflect that reality,” McGinnis said.

A charter is a living document. As times change, it has been updated with various amendments. On Nov. 2, voters will be asked to amend it again to eliminate gender-based pronouns.

The ballot question reads:

“Grand Haven City Council proposes that gender biased pronouns in the City Charter (such as he/she, his/hers, him/her) be deleted and replaced with gender neutral pronouns (such as they/their/them).”

Older charters with outdated language are nothing new to communities. But most often, the gender problem is fixed with a statement.

“That (common statement) says all references to the male gender in this document or in these documents shall include any gender,” McGinnis said.

He believes Grand Haven charter amendment is a better fix.

“I think there’s a leadership issue here of are we making a statement that gender equity is an important concern for us,” McGinnis said. “And we ought to be leaders in that area and not followers.”

Grand Haven voters will also decide on a charter amendment eliminating the requirement that the city attorney be present at all city council meetings, and another that will allow changes to obsolete sections of the charter.

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