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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors celebrated a major historic milestone Tuesday when its three female members were sworn into office, marking the first time the five-member body has been composed of mostly women.

Former supervisor Helen Rudee, 98, the first woman to serve on the board nearly four decades ago, marked the moment by administering the oath of office to new board chairwoman Shirlee Zane, who was re-elected last year to her third term representing the county’s 3rd District.

Also sworn in at Tuesday’s meeting were Supervisor Susan Gorin, re-elected last year to her second term representing the 1st District, and newcomer Lynda Hopkins, elected in November to her first term representing the 5th District.

“Helen Rudee broke the glass ceiling in these chambers when she ran for office back in 1976 and won as the first female supervisor,” Zane said. “But today is very important, because we’re going to break another glass ceiling.”

Though Democrat Hillary Clinton fell short in her bid to make history as the first female president, Zane said Sonoma County could still make progress at the local level with women steering the Board of Supervisors.

In a nod to the precedent set by Rudee decades ago, the board also recognized Tuesday as Helen Rudee Day and presented her with a copy of the resolution honoring the occasion. It lauded Rudee as an advocate for women, children, health and the environment in her time on Santa Rosa school board, where she was the first chairwoman, and in her three terms as a county supervisor and beyond. The resolution noted Rudee won her supervisor seat over objections from men, including one who complimented her but said he could not vote for a woman.

Zane described Rudee as a mentor and role model who laid the groundwork for the first female board majority.

“Without you blazing that trail, it just wouldn’t have happened,” Zane said.

Rudee, joined by family members and two caretakers, received a standing ovation from the board and the packed hearing room. Rudee returned a compliment to Zane, calling her a “sweetheart.”

Gorin paid tribute to women who had supported her political career before she was sworn in by Caroline Ramberg and Kate Sater, who were involved with her in the League of Women Voters. She credited the league with helping her understand government and learn to “ask the really tough questions, don’t be shy, understand the issues, go and meet with your elected officials and government folks and come to form your opinions through a deliberative process.”

For Hopkins, the first woman to represent western Sonoma County on the board, her ceremonial start to her first term in elected office was overshadowed by flooding and other storm-related issues in her district, which includes Guerneville and much of the lower Russian River.

Prior to being sworn in by her husband, Emmett, Hopkins noted she had imagined her first week as a county supervisor would be consumed with reading and rereading the agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting, among other initial duties.

“Then Mother Nature happened, and it started raining and the floodwaters started rising,” Hopkins said, adding that she spent time over the weekend with about 25 other residents of her district evacuating homeless encampments along the Russian River. “It certainly wasn’t how I expected to start my first week, but I think that it was actually the best introduction to this job that I could have asked for, in many ways.”

Regarding the ongoing storm activity, Hopkins said her message to the community was that “the river is going to do what the river is going to do” — rise as a result of torrential downpours hammering the county. At the same time, “the river people are going to do what the river people are going to do” — come together and persevere through the storm, she said.

Zane used the board’s first meeting of 2017 to set down broad goals for her year as chairwoman. The objectives include focusing on programs and initiatives that take better care of Sonoma County’s aging population, improving mental health services and expanding the region’s housing supply.

On housing in particular, Zane said she was hoping for “shovels in the ground” on more than 1,000 new units by the end of the year.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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