Miami appointed its first female city attorney, Lucia Allen Dougherty, way back in 1984. In fact, women have held the city's top legal position for 16 of the past 33 years.
But when a staffer in Miami Commissioner Ken Russell's office was flipping through the city code recently, she noticed the law book made only masculine references to the city attorney, as if assuming the city attorney would always be a man. Phrases such as "the city attorney and... his assistants" and "he may designate" stuck out as old-fashioned. A search of the city's code soon found that masculine language was used to refer to leaders in other roles, including the city manager and mayor (both of whom are currently men but could just as easily be women).
To fix the problem, Russell has introduced an ordinance that would change all masculine references in the city code to a gender-neutral format.
"Women have played key roles in Miami’s history for more than 100 years. This ordinance simply updates our city code to match the reality that women are an equal part of the fabric of our community and government," Russell says. "It seems obvious, but the language we use does have an impact on how we think and how we frame issues. Humans come in more than one flavor."
Municode, the vendor that publishes city codes online for various municipalities, says local governments across the nation have been requesting similar updates in recent years. Newly drafted codes are now written with gender-neutral pronouns.
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City Attorney Victoria Méndez, who was appointed in 2013, says she had noticed the code assumed someone in her position was a man but had never found the time to address it.
"It's a long time coming," says Méndez, whose two most recent predecessors were women. "I think it shows that we in the City of Miami are inclusive and embrace all diversity. It's great that we're finally doing this."
The first reading of the ordinance will be at today's commission meeting, during Women's History Month. It seems like a fine way to celebrate in the only major American city founded by a woman.