Published April 12, 2019

MELROSE — In this age of gender neutrality, having the only Board of Aldermen left in Massachusetts doesn’t sit well with some in the city.

Three years after supporters of a new name — City Council — saw a chance to change fall by the wayside in a 5-5 vote by the aldermen, they have brought the issue back in a time considered past due for a change.

Jennifer Lemmerman, the aldermanic president, brought the name change up in 2016 and again this week.

If approved, the new title of City Council would be sent to the state Legislature, which must authorize the city to make changes to its charter. Everywhere “Board of Aldermen” is mentioned in the charter, it would be changed to “City Council,” and “Alderman” would become “Councilor.”

Lemmerman said this week, “Over the past several years, there has been a domino effect across the state of cities and towns choosing a clearer, more representative title for their local governmental bodies. In fact, Melrose is now the last city in all of Massachusetts to still be using the outdated term Board of Aldermen. In the three years since I first proposed this change, support in the community for a more accurate, more inclusive name has only grown. And while it will not change our role in any way, this change would make that role clearer to constituents who are more familiar with the term City Council and it would more appropriately reflect the various voices the city has elected to this position.”

At their meeting Monday, the aldermen entertained comments on the proposal. A majority of those commentators favored the change to City Council, with one urging, “Be modern, Melrose. Make the change.”

The proposed amendments to the city charter were moved to the aldermen’s Appropriations Committee, which discussed them at its Thursday night meeting.

A similar community discussion took place in Wakefield over parts of 2017 and 2018. In September 2017, a majority of the then Board of Selectmen, decided on the name “Town Council,” which was then approved in November 2017 at Town Meeting and then at the annual municipal election last April. 

The debate over whether to change Board of Selectmen to some gender neutral name began in June 2017. At the time, Wakefield Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio noted that “selectman” is the only municipal office that is specific by gender. About 30 communities in Massachusetts had made the change to something not gender-specific, like “selectboard,” Maio said. Any change in Wakefield required a change to the town charter, Maio said.

One Wakefield municipal leader, Ann Santos, said at the time 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.

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

One Melrose resident commenting on the proposed change to City Council wondered why the idea was being brought up again after it didn’t win approval in 2013.