Published in the June 15, 2017 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
Right on the heels of the plastic bag crisis, the latest issue to hit the town is what name we should use for the town’s executive body. For the past 370 years, “Board of Selectmen” has done quite nicely, but no more. The position contains the word “man” (and in the plural, “men”). In 2017 this oppressive patriarchy simply will not stand.
The Board of Selectmen (for now) discussed the issue at their meeting on Monday. The current board has five men and two women. There have in the past been as many as three women on the board. The word “man” or “men” in the title of the office was apparently not an issue until now.
Not surprisingly, towns in Vermont have been among the first to switch to the gender-neutral term, “Selectboard,” which sounds a little like a choice piece of lumber. That works fine, since two-by-fours generally aren’t very sexy.
“Selectman” is a uniquely New England term. Tell someone anywhere else in the country that you’re a selectman and you’ll get quizzical looks and blank stares. (Good luck explaining what a “selectboard” is.) But in the clash between historical tradition and political correctness, tradition generally loses.
There’s also the question of what to call individual members of the town’s executive board. We know “Selectman” is out because it includes those letters “m,” “a” and “n,” in that appalling order. On that basis, wouldn’t “selectwoman” be out too? And “selectperson,” ending with “son” won’t do at all.
As long as we are dispensing with history, we might as well get rid of the “select” portion of the title, which suggests some sort of privilege enjoyed by members of the board. There’s no room for such elitism in our town. That’s not who we are.
So, it looks like we’ll be having a “public forum” to discuss what we should now call the Board of Selectmen. Since “Selectboard” is neither very descriptive nor terribly imaginative, maybe we should also hold a naming contest to see if we can come up with something a little more original.
I’m probably going to be disqualified due to my white male privilege, but I’d like to get the ball rolling with a few suggestions.
My first choice is one that will be entirely without controversy. How about “The Board of Warriors?” It’s got a local angle and “Warrior” is gender-neutral. (Think Xena, Warrior Princess.)
Or we could go with a modification of City Council and call it the “Town Council.” Of course, that would cause confusion with Town Counsel, the town’s attorney. As it is now, people misspell Tom Mullen’s title and some people actually think that we have a governing body called the “Town Council.”
Since a majority of the current Board of Selectmen are lawyers, maybe we should just call them “The Bar,” and be done with it.
One possibility that wouldn’t offend any sensibilities and respects all persons might be the “Wakefield Board of Inclusion.” I feel virtuous just writing the words.
Since they meet on Monday evenings, we could always call them “The Monday Night Club.” But then if they ever change their meeting night, we’d need to change the Town Charter, so forget that.
Whatever you do, just don’t mention that Cyrus Wakefield was a man.