Selectmen or ‘selectboard’?

Jun 15, 2017 by

Published in the June 15, 2017 edition.


WAKEFIELD – What’s in a name? Well, if the name is “Board of Selectmen,” the word “men” is in the name and some feel that in 2017, that should not be the case.

The opening discussion of the issue took place among current members of the Board of Selectmen as an agenda item at their meeting on Monday.

Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio weighed in first, noting that “selectman” is the only municipal office that is specific by gender. About 30 communities in Massachusetts have made the change to something not gender-specific, like “selectboard,” Maio said. Any change in Wakefield would require a change to the Town Charter, Maio said. A Charter Review Committee is currently reviewing the Town Charter for possible change recommendations.

Selectman Tony Longo asked if there was any way that the town could vote on it. Town Counsel Thomas Mullen said that any changes to the Charter would have be approved by a two-thirds Town Meeting vote and then go before the voters in an election.

Selectman Ann Santos said that she wanted to make it clear that the impetus for the discussion did not come from her or the other woman currently on the board, Mehreen Butt.

Santos said that she has always referred to herself as a “selectman,” but admitted that at times it felt a little awkward. She agreed that it made sense to consider changing the name, since it is the only one that is gender-specific.

In response to a question regarding the process from Selectman Edward Dombroski, Mullen elaborated that there are actually two ways to amend the Charter: the aforementioned two-thirds Town Meeting vote followed by an election; or Town Meeting could vote by simple majority to petition the state Legislature to change the Charter, which would still come back to a vote at a local election.

Mullen clarified that since the Charter Review Committee will presumably recommend multiple changes, a slate of proposed Charter changes would likely go to the voters first at Town meeting and then at the ballot.

Butt wanted to know why changing the name of the board with the only gender specific name had to be voted on town-wide.

Mullen explained that that was the legal way to change the Charter.

“If you’re going to change the Charter,” Mullen said, “that is how you do it.” He added that if the board wanted to informally and unofficially call itself by another name, it was free to do so. However, if they wanted the change to appear on official documents, etc., a Charter Change would be required.

Butt noted that the Charter Review Committee is not planning to bring recommendations to Town Meeting until the fall of 2018, and wanted to know what the board could do in the meantime outside the Charter.

Chairman Paul DiNocco suggested having a public forum to give local citizens a chance to express their opinions.

Santos said she was OK with a forum, with a caveat.

“The opinion can’t be to keep the name,” Santos said. “I don’t see how you argue that ‘man’ needs to be in “selectman.’”

Selectman Peter May pointed out that the term “selectman” has been around since the 1600s, and observed that the word “woman” also contains ‘man.’”

Dombroski said that he didn’t think the current members of the board should be making the call on changing the name.

“The people of the town should,” he said. “We are just here temporarily. We are not in a position to rename ourselves.

Ultimately, the board decided that they weren’t going to settle the matter in one night and agreed to keep the discussion open.


In other business this week, the Board of Selectmen:

• Met in joint session with members of the Housing Authority to appoint Charles Geier of 41 Forrester Rd. to fill an unexpired term on the Housing Authority.

• Approved a request from Town Treasurer Town Treasurer John J. McCarthy, Jr. to transfer $1,102,725.00 from the Town’s capital projects account to the Town’s general fund in order to pay bonds due on July 1, 2017.

• Approved a Common Victualler License for The Bread Shop.

• Scheduled a Public Hearing for outdoor dining for The Bread Shop for June 26, 2017 at 7:20 p.m.

• Scheduled a Public Hearing for the transfer of an All Alcohol Liquor License from Caryn’s Restaurants to JRMM, Inc. d/b/a Public House for July 10, 2017 at 7:10 p.m.

• Approved a liquor license to allow Pony Shack Cider to sell alcoholic beverages at the Farmers Market.

•Authorized the appointment of a Sign Bylaw Review Committee and a Plastic Bag Bylaw Review Committee.

• Approved a request from the School Department to declare 10 bicycles as surplus so that they can be donated to local charitable organizations to find Wakefield children in need of them.


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