Sandy’s ‘historic’ new city councilJan 06, 2020 10:53AM ● By Justin Adams
The projected winners of Sandy's four city council races as of press deadline, from let to right: Monica Zoltanski (District 4), Alison Stroud (District 2), Marci Houseman (At-Large) and Cyndi Sharkey (At-Large).
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
Sandy City had a historic election cycle this year, for a number of reasons. First, three out of the four incumbents chose not to run for re-election, taking a combined 54 years of experience with them. That set the stage for an extremely competitive election with lots of new faces. What emerged was four new women being elected to city council. Their addition to the city council brings the total number of women on Sandy’s legislative body to six, a level of female representation that’s not often seen in Utah politics.
Across the Salt Lake Valley, women account for just under one-third of municipal city council seats. Four out of the 16 cities have a female mayor (Taylorsville, South Jordan, South Salt Lake and Salt Lake City).
“If you look at politics in Utah, you can’t help but notice the gender makeup,” said Monica Zoltanski, one of the newly elected Sandy city councilors. “I’m very proud to be part of this historic council.”
Growing up in a midwestern family with parents of opposite political persuasions, Zoltanski said political discussions around the family dinner table were common, but she never envisioned herself running for political office. “I didn’t really see that as something I should be doing,” she told the Sandy Journal.
Zoltanski’s foray into politics began a few years ago when she organized the Dimple Dell Preservation Community, a grassroots organization dedicated to protecting the enormous Dimple Dell Park that cuts through the heart of the city.
When it became clear that there would be multiple city council spots up for grabs this year, Zoltanski’s neighbors and friends urged her to run.
“They saw that I was effective at organizing, communicating and leading. It wasn’t something that I would have come to on my own. I needed that support,” Zoltanski said.
With more and more female representation at all levels of government, Zoltanski hopes girls growing up today will be more inclined to see themselves as future leaders.
“For coming generations, without seeing the role models that look like them in high positions, it’s hard to imagine you at that seat. I think that’s really important,” she said.
While the six women on the new city council may look similar, that doesn’t mean people should assume they will think or act the same, warned Marci Houseman, another of the newly elected councilwomen.
“Just because you see six women up there, does not mean those six women have the same perspective or experiences. That’s why I say, it’s not always a gender thing,” she said.
Houseman is an educator with more than 20 years of experience as both a teacher and principal. She currently works for Lexia, a learning software company that aims to help children improve their literacy skills. The new job came with much more time and flexibility, which led her to start thinking about how else she could give back to her community.
“When I realized there was an opportunity for my service to look a little different then I just started wondering what that could look like, exploring what it is that I have in terms of leadership experience, collaboration, all the things I do in education, where might that serve well if I decided to cross over to the political space,” she said.
While city councils don’t directly impact education too much, Houseman hopes her experience and passion for education will be a benefit for Sandy’s school children.
“I believe any decision we make as a city council ultimately impacts families,” she said. “And anything that impacts families impacts children in our classrooms. So even though we don’t impact education directly, we very much do so indirectly.”
Houseman’s career in education has also prepared her for the political arena in that both are traditionally very gendered spaces. Early in her career, she said she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a man and was told it was because the man needed to “provide for his family.” Even though, at the time, Houseman was providing for her family as well.
Houseman said navigating experiences like this over the course of her career has taught her how to turn moments of inequality, either perceived or real, into teaching moments rather than occasions to be offended.
“I don’t go around looking for people who are dealing with me differently because I’m a woman. I don’t go around looking for those. But if I do see that, I like to turn it into a learning experience. Where might they be coming from that might shape their perspective? We all need to be aware of the biases we have and be open to someone sharing their own perspective.”
That willingness to listen to opposing viewpoints will prove crucial for the young city council that’s losing so much institutional knowledge.
“We need to go in knowing there are strengths we bring, but we have to go in humble and recognize there is a learning curve and that we need to learn from those around us,” Houseman said.
While having a relatively inexperienced city council is sure to have its challenges, it also presents an opportunity for growth, said Cyndi Sharkey, who was elected to the Sandy City Council after spending two and a half years on the city’s planning commission.
“I think weaving new people into a council or any organization is always a really good idea, to get new outlooks and perspectives, challenge old ideas and debate new concepts,” she said.
A 21-year resident of Sandy, Sharkey is no stranger to leadership. She owns her own executive recruitment consultancy business focused on the IT industry, the same sector in which she previously held high-ranking positions in multiple million-dollar companies.
While she was often the only woman at her level over the course of her career, Sharkey said she never felt like she faced any insurmountable barriers on account of her gender.
“I just found that if you worked hard, did the right thing, showed success, then you were given the opportunity. I was never intimidated by the fact that there weren’t as many women role models,” she said.
While she said it will be “interesting” to see how a mostly female council functions, Sharkey said it doesn’t make much difference to her.
“For me I don't care if I'm working with six other women or six men — I couldn't care less. I'm singularly focused on doing the best thing for Sandy,” she said.
That sentiment was echoed by Alison Stroud, who was elected to represent Sandy’s 2nd District. She said residents shouldn’t expect “significant changes” just because of the council’s unique gender makeup.
“I do think in talking with all of them in our hearts we are council members. We are there for Sandy,” she said.
Stroud was born and raised in Sandy, and has been a third grade teacher at East Sandy Elementary for all of her 13-year education career. She also owned a Sandy-based high rise window cleaning company for 22 years.
Stroud said she is excited to work on strengthening the city’s ties with the county and state, as well as work on issues like sustainability and air quality. While she’s eager to get started, she recognizes that there will be a learning curve, but she said that fits her learning style.
“I like to learn from watching. I like to learn from listening. Then I can develop good strategies and ideas,” she said.