Hopkinton resident Amy Groves is on a mission to change the name of the Board of Selectmen to Select Board. According to the website hopkintonselectboard.org, created by Groves to support the effort, a third of Massachusetts towns have already updated the name of their top elected body to Select Board and more towns are in the process of making the change.
Why change now? Research done by Groves shows that women have served on the Board of Selectmen since 1974, but she claims that there has been no significant gains in women’s representation since then. The website states, “In everyday conversation we routinely refer to police officers, firefighters, and board chairs. So rather than ask ‘Why change now?’ we might ask ‘What took us so long’?”
While the idea for the change first came to Groves before last year’s Annual Town Meeting, she needed more time to build support. The focus is now to change Hopkinton’s General and Zoning Bylaws at the 2019 Annual Town Meeting via a citizen’s petition. A simple majority is needed to the change the General Bylaws and a two-thirds majority to update the Zoning Bylaws. Groves expects these changes to trigger similar updates in other official documents which will ultimately result in an update to the Town Charter during the next Charter Review.
Hopkinton’s Town Charter was recently updated via the periodic review process and accepted by Annual Town Election on May 15, 2017. The Charter is reviewed at least once every ten years. If the Bylaws are changed at the 2019 Annual Town Meeting, Town Clerk Connor Degan confirmed that the changes need to include a definition section which defines the term Select Board as the Board of Selectmen, referring back to the governing executive body as defined in the current Charter.
Current Board of Selectmen Chair Claire Wright does not support the proposed change.
“Our English language includes the generic word ‘man’ which is what is intended in the title Board of Selectmen,” said Wright. “Once upon a time, not very long ago, we were all able to understand that. Now we find offense where none is intended.”
Wright says she worries that today we are focused on our differences in gender, race, ethnicity, and religion; things that divide rather than unite.
“The town has many pressing issues before it, and we need increased unity, the spirit of ‘One Hopkinton’, not increased opportunities for division,” said Wright. “Personally, I am proud and honored to be a Hopkinton selectman.”
For Selectman Brian Herr, his only concern is timing and the potential associated cost with any changes, especially since a formal Charter Review was recently completed. To avoid those costs, estimated by Degan at $15,000, he suggests holding off until the next Charter Review cycle begins.
“Other than not incurring additional expenses, the idea itself is fine with me,” said Herr. “I understand those that prefer the historical name for the Board, but also believe that equality is a fundamental principle in our town, state and country and the official language used should be consistent with our principles.”
Selectman Brendan Tedstone said, “I stand proud that I am a traditionalist in the town.”
Tedstone did not like it when orange was added to the town colors, and was not overly thrilled to combine the Water, Highway and Sewer departments into the current Department of Public Works. From his discussions with past and present female selectmen, he says most have been in favor of using the name Selectman. Per his research, Tedstone says there have been nine women on the board (Mary Harrington, Maureen Dwinnell, Sally Snyder, Sallyann MacIntosh, Penny Manchester, Mary Pratt, Muriel Kramer, Michelle Gates and Claire Wright) showing that running for selectman does not mean one has to be male.
“I personally don’t find the term biased to gender,” said Tedstone. “I am raising a young daughter, and if I thought that the present term limited equality, what message would I be sending by saying that was OK?”
And Tedstone, like Herr, is concerned with cost, especially after the most recent budget cycle where it was a challenge to maintain level services for residents.
“My job is to look out for the best interest of the town,” said Tedstone. “Let’s take a look at it the next time the Charter Review rolls around.”
To date, the proposal to make the change to Select Board has garnered 163 endorsements. To learn more about the proposed change, visit the website www.hopkintonselectboard.org.