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Former women mayors tout experience

Three former Utah County mayors, all women, say their political experience was rough but they'd do it again.

Despite their battle scars, former Orem mayor Stella Welsh, former Springville mayor Delora Bertelsen and former Spanish Fork mayor Marie Huff say more women should follow their lead and consider running for political office."It's a schooling, something all of you ought to have a chance at," Huff said. "You have a heritage to uphold. We're pioneers here. They need you in politics.

"Women have more concern for details. They're better organizers. We have to be to get it all done and still fix dinner," she told women gathered last week at the monthly Women in Leadership luncheon.

Welsh said some of the most important lessons she learned from her time in office came from dealing with people, many of whom were often irate.

"I learned to listen more and talk less. I learned that I'm not always right," Welsh said. "But I found there's always a talking point."

Huff said she had some advantage in dealing with Spanish Fork residents and the city's issues from the years she spent growing up there.

"People would come in all hot and bothered, and I could say to them, `I knew your grandmother' or `I had your mother in Sunday School class.' Pretty soon they'd forgotten what they were going to say," she said.

Huff said she learned quickly that a mayor cannot say yes to too many things.

"There's a ruling and an ordinance for everything," she said.

Bertelsen said she has a thicker skin but a lot more scars as a result of serving her community. She has enjoyed the 18 years she's been involved in politics but has been frustrated by press coverage of community troubles. An example, she said, is recent coverage of an independent audit of the city's finances and new Mayor Hal Wing's assertion that the city is behind in bills by more than $800,000.

"My house is a mess. My yard is a mess, and if you read the newspapers, you'd believe the city's in a mess," Bertelsen said. "The truth is there are a lot of good people out there working hard, despite what the newspapers say."

Bertelsen said many times the city's hands are tied and so information doesn't come out balanced.

"It can be very difficult when you're trying as hard as you can," she said. "Would I do it again? Yup, probably not for the full 18 years because I got just plain tired after a while."

Huff said she also is battle bruised.

Huff, who was 75 when first elected and now is "only 83," said being a mayor certainly involves being so busy that closets can go for eight years without a cleaning.

"But the associations are worth it. I will miss that the most," she said.

Welsh said she found the same set of personal ethics she has used all her life served her well as the mayor of a growing community full of challenges. And by working through those challenges, she now knows a lot more about a community's challenges.

"They asked me to talk about the things I've learned," Welsh said, "I could tell you about the pros and cons of water, how much we need, how much we have. I could tell you about the problems with runoff water, about sewage or water reclamation, what a belt press is. I can talk about recycling and composting and the problems it's causing in our water treatment plant.

"I can talk about public safety, how many officers we need, streets, subdivisions, do we allow cul-de-sacs, clean air, the value of a library, the need for a good tax base and jobs. I could talk about the difficulty in getting low-income housing into a community, the senior citizens and growth - how you can either have density or urban sprawl."