Orleans Selectmen Want To Ditch ‘Men’ But Not Embrace ‘Person’

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2019/02/22/orleans-selectmen-want-to-ditch-men-but-not-embrace-person/

The all-male Orleans Board of Selectmen has started a lengthy process to try to get “men” out of the board’s name.

All five selectmen voted this week in favor of the change, which would require a change in the town charter.

Board members want the gender-neutral term “Select Board” to replace “Board of Selectmen,” which critics note includes the word “men” in it.

The topic came up during a discussion of possible changes to the town charter.

“I think the easy one is changing to ‘Select Board.’ Just go ahead and move forward on that. That’s the easiest one,” said Selectman David Currier during the board meeting Wednesday, February 20, according to a video published by the town’s local cable-access station.

“I’m all for that, and Select Board would be my choice,” Selectman Mefford Runyon said.

John Kelly, Orleans town administrator, outlined the process it would take to make the change. Selectmen have to hold a public hearing, then bring a warrant article to Town Meeting. If Town Meeting approves it by a two-thirds majority, the measure would to go to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. If the Attorney General’s office approves the language, then it would go to the annual town election in the spring of 2020.

The board of selectmen is the top local government board in most New England towns. The board oversees town government, sets policy for the town, and presents the proposed annual budget to Town Meeting, which is the legislature of the town.

Orleans has had a board of selectmen since it was founded in 1797.

The office of selectman in Massachusetts goes back to the 1630s, not long after English Puritans founded the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The earliest town records in Massachusetts are from 1634 in Boston, which include minutes for selectmen’s meetings, according to Jane Zhang’s article “Recordkeeping in Book Form:  The Legacy of American Colonial Recordkeeping” in the fall 2014 issue of Information & Culture, an academic journal published by University of Texas Press.

An online search of the Orleans town charter found that the word “selectmen” appears 161 times.

If the board name is changed, it leaves the question of what to call a member of the board. During the selectmen’s meeting Wednesday town administrator Kelly asked selectmen if they want to be called “selectpersons.”

One selectman demurred.

“I was just going to say that, maybe for clarity, and I guess it’s just a little thing, that — could you change it to ‘Select Board,’ and then anyone that was elected to that ‘Select Board’ would be a member of the board, so you could just put the word ‘member’ in there instead of writing out, you know, ‘selectperson’? I mean, it’s just so awkward, when you’re reading that,” said Selectman Mark Mathison.

Another board member agreed, and no one argued against the proposal.

Among other Cape Cod towns, selectmen in Falmouth are also considering trying to change the name of their office, though they disagreed on what to call it during a meeting January 29. Provincetown at the northern tip of Cape Cod calls its top board the “Select Board.”

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, Needham, Milton, Brookline, Concord, Andover, and Amherst are among towns that have moved in the direction of gender-neutrality for their top board.

Plymouth selectmen rejected the idea last year, saying they prefer the historic ties of the current term.