Susan Tjarks didn’t take office to be a symbol.
The new member of the Mitchell City Council assumed her seat at the table Monday night, and quickly got down to work, seconding motions, asking questions and making her voice heard.
However, her appointment to complete the second half of the Ward 4 term won by Greg McCurry in 2011 does make a statement. Tjarks is a woman, and that is worth noting in Mitchell, where up until her selection the council was all male.
Mayor Ken Tracy picked Tjarks, and the council quickly backed his choice. Tracy, like all but one of his predecessors, is a man. The only woman to serve as mayor of Mitchell was Alice Claggett, who served six years from 1998-2004.
The last woman to serve on the council was Geri Beck, who didn’t seek a second term in 2011. McCurry claimed the seat in a three-way race, but since he has bowed out, the Ward 4 position is once again held by a woman.
Privately on Sunday, and publicly on Monday, Barack Obama took the oath of office to start his second term as president. Obama, who has a mixed race background but identifies himself as a black man, is the first non-white man to serve as president.
The USA has yet to have a woman president, although Hillary Clinton almost changed that in 2008, and may do so in 2016. And other women, such as Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., are taking leadership roles in government. More women now serve in Congress than ever before.
It’s a slow process, but it’s also a sign of the increased diversity that will become more and more a fact of life for our city, state and nation. Tjarks may have a colleague of the same gender sooner rather than later.