4 of the 5 female planners who appeared at City Hall Thursday night.

Ithaca, N.Y. — Four female members of Ithaca’s planning division and their boss appeared at City Hall Thursday night to criticize what they called the city government’s unfair and historic gender biases in staffing and pay.

“The positions to allow women to advance have been cut,” said JoAnn Cornish, the director of planning, building and economic development and a city employee for 17 years.

“There is no place for women to go, and they’re hitting the ceiling.”

Cornish praised Mayor Svante Myrick’s proposed budget for taking steps to ameliorate some of what she and the other planners identified as long-standing wrongs. (See further down for what these steps entail.)

4 of the 5 female planners who appeared at City Hall Thursday night.

But she said she found it important to present her frustrations before the Common Council, submitting a memorandum to city officials detailing seven examples “that illustrate female occupational and labor status segregation, lack of opportunities for advancement and pay increases, and lack of equal pay for work of equal value.”

Among the examples she listed both in the report and at the meeting:

1 — The salary of the male Deputy Building Commissioner, now the Director of Code Enforcement, now exceeds that of his direct supervisor, a woman.

2 — A male deputy director of economic development was hired in 1998 at a salary of $59,289 and left in 2005 with a salary of $70,355. A woman hired for the post in 2006 had a starting salary of $56,047 and her current salary is $59,407 for a reduced work week.

3 — That female planners work far more hours than they are compensated for, a trend exacerbated by a major growth spurt in city developments. (Though they are theoretically able to take off time after they work over-hours, few of them ever do, Cornish said.)

4 — “Planning staff have assumed responsibilities that exceed their title, status and pay grade.”

5 — Cornish said that she makes less than her predecessor, a man, who worked fewer hours; she also said she makes less than both of her subordinates, who are men.

“It’s definitely gender bias, whether conscious or unconscious,” Cornish said. “…We have quality people who want to do the work that’s asked of them but it just keeps getting heaped on and there’s no compensation for it.”

In response, Mayor Myrick said: “I think it’s only fair to note it happened” before Myrick’s tenure.

Cornish agreed. “It absolutely did,” she said. “We are very grateful for what the mayor has put in his proposed budget.”

Myrick said it was a goal of his in this budget to do as much as possible to remedy the situation.

“I was blinded by my own privilege and I had a spot I wasn’t aware of. I wanted to thank you for educating me,” Myrick said to Cornish.

Myrick said his plans for the planning board are to:
— Increase pay for all five planners.
— Give the director, Cornish, a raise.
— Give one planner a promotion.
— Give three planners an increase in their hours.

Cornish, however, called for the city to go further, bolstering staff and staff hours elsewhere.

After her presentation, several Common Council members expressed their concern and sympathy with the case made by Cornish.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.