SMITHVILLE — Two-time school board candidate Carmen Xavier was appointed as a commissioner for a four-year term to Smithville’s Planning and Zoning Commission by aldermen Sept. 3.
Making history, Xavier is the first transgender person to serve on a Smithville board or commission. Xavier is also believed to be the first Hispanic commissioner to serve on a board or commission.
“I owe this to the mayor and the three aldermen who voted for me,” Xavier said. “As far as the historical piece to this, I find myself between a rock and a hard place. What is most important to me are my qualifications, however, I have to yield to the fact that I am the first and being the first of anything in this world, usually, is noteworthy, I guess.”
Xavier said she has never, in her 35 years of politics, run on a platform of being a Hispanic person or transgender. Just the ability and opportunity to raise her hand and participate, she said, is what has motivated her through the years. Grateful to be appointed based on her qualifications, she said she intends to take things slowly so she can learn the culture of the commission and how other commissioners work as she is only one person on the nonpartisan commission.
“It has been a challenge,” Xavier said, “in terms of my ethnicity or my gender. I am old school. I do not believe that the fact that I am both entitles me to any kind of recognition or respect. I come from the notion that you earn respect and you earn recognition.”
Xavier previously served as chair of the Platte County planning and zoning board, vice chair of the Jackson County Legislature, vice chair of Southern Platte County Ambulance District board, vice chair of the Park Hill School District Board of Education and as a board member for Truman Medical Center.
With Aldermen Melissa Wilson and Marvin Atkins absent from the Sept. 3 meeting, Xavier secured appointment in a 3-1 vote with Alderman Josh Hurlbert dissenting.
”Ms. Xavier’s time on the South Platte Ambulance Board was spent attacking taxpayers and being ignorant on the finances of the Park Hill School District, Hurlbert said of his dissenting vote.
“Ms. Xavier and I differ on almost every policy, policies that have led her to be rejected by Smithville voters twice (when she ran for school board),” he said. “While I could not support her nomination, it is my hope that we can move forward together and work for the benefit of Smithville.”
Xavier said she extends her hand to Hurlbert and others who may feel the same, and that one of her goals is to establish a sense of trust and understanding.
While Hurlbert voted against Xavier’s appointment, other city leaders said she was the best candidate for appointment to the recommending body.
“We have had several (applications) for the commission over the last several months,” Development Director Jack Hendrix said.
According to Mayor Damien Boley, the process of choosing an appointee begins with an online application process. From that pool, Hendrix, Committee Chair Shirley Fuller and Alderman Steve Sarver interview the most qualified applicants to make a recommendation.
“We had two individuals interview for the position and both were excellent candidates,” Sarver said. “We felt that (Xavier) was most qualified because of the various county and school district positions she had previously held.”
“In her interview, she clearly and quickly showed that she knew what the issues are as they relate to how decisions on zoning versus platting decisions are made and the pressures that can be placed on a zoning commissioner at meetings from concerned citizens,” Hendrix said. “Her other experience in Jackson County politics also gave her a deeper understanding of how political pressure can impact decisions sometimes, and recognizes as an appointed commissioner politics isn’t an issue. ... I personally felt she was extremely qualified and ready to hit the ground running.”
While not seeking political appointment based on her being a minority, Xavier said she hopes her experiences accomplishments pave an easier path for generations to come.
“Because of the responsibilities I have to these (Latino and transgender) communities, I had to maintain an air of professionalism,” she said. “... In many ways, being the first is a big deal, but over time the splash will recede. I hope in a next generation behind me it won’t matter.”