Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law two bills eliminating gender-specific language included in Arkansas law dealing with mayor-council forms of city government. Instead of "alderman," members of city governing bodies under the mayor-council form of government are now legally referred to as "City Council members."
The effort to make the change — which Hutchinson said at the signing ceremony “just makes common sense in our present day and time” — began in 2015 with the Paris City Council and then-City Council member Jewell White.
White stood by Hutchinson’s side at the signing ceremony along with her children, George of Paris, and Brenda Miller, a City Council member from Bryant, and other relatives, as well as Paris Mayor Daniel Rogers and Paris City Council member Tonya Baumgartner.
“This changes the law for 400 cities and towns in Arkansas that have a Mayor-Council form of government,” White said recently. “I introduced it to the Paris City Council in 2015 and it was adopted. From there, it went to the Arkansas Municipal League and became part of their legislative package for this year’s session.”
White worked as finance director for Paris for 24 years before retiring in 2007. She ran and was elected to the City Council in 2012 and retired in 2016.
The legislation originated as House Bills 1733 and 1734. The House approved the bill 93-7 and sent it to the Senate. Initially, there was opposition from one member of a Senate committee, White said. Before being voted out of committee, a hearing was needed but White couldn’t attend, she said. So, Miller testified. The bill was later approved in the Senate and sent to Gov. Hutchinson for his signature.
White said getting the bill signed into law was a ”humbling” experience.
“I just felt like it needed to be done for the dignity of ladies who serve,” she said. “I just think the terminology needed to be updated. I’m really proud that it took place this year, the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote in primary elections.
“We made history,” she said. “For Paris, that’s for sure. Really, it’s history for the state of Arkansas. I was very thankful for all the help I got and was very thankful to be able to help do this.”