Opinion: Members of Milton Persist encourage Warrant Article 16 changing term from “selectmen” to “select board

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Opinion: Members of Milton Persist encourage Warrant Article 16 changing term from “selectmen” to “select board

We are writing in support of Article 16 in the Warrant, which will be voted on at Town Meeting on October 22. This article proposes changing the term “selectmen” to “select board.” Our group, Milton Persists, originally brought this proposed change to the Board of Selectmen as a citizen’s petition back in July. We would like to thank Mike Zullas and the rest of the Board of Selectmen for supporting this change and shepherding it through the proper process for our Town Meeting Members to cast their votes.

‘Select Board’ is a term that simply and fully represents the people and world we live in today—diverse and inclusive. We believe this change is important because it is about access. Our government works better when all people–regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation—are included and feel welcome participate in public service. Words are powerful and language matters. This is why we teach children that there are good words and there are bad words. There are words that hurt, that inspire, that amuse, that comfort, etc. Language and names that connote disparities in power and status, and exclude some over others, should be changed.

In 1662, when Milton was incorporated, New England towns had “select men” (only white men) who were “selected” only by other white men to make decisions on behalf of the town. All women (and nonwhite men) were not allowed to hold town governance positions or to vote. Women had very few legal rights and were considered property of their parents or their spouses.  It wasn’t until 1993 that the first woman was elected as a Milton “selectman” – more than 300 years after the creation of the position. Today, two women and three men serve as “selectmen” in Milton.

Changing the term to “select board” does not change history. The change reflects today’s reality. Today’s elected town officials do not represent one gender. We are not asking for extraordinary change; we are asking for basic fairness.

Changing the term to “select board” is not trendy. Bellbottom jeans were trendy. Inclusion, equality and respect are not trends. More than 50 towns in Massachusetts have changed from “selectmen” to “select board.”  The town of Amherst made this change more than 20 years ago. Other towns such as Brookline, Needham and Concord changed in the past few years. Other towns such as Newton, changed their term from “aldermen” to “councilors.” Other public service titles such as policeman, fireman long ago changed to police officer and firefighter.

We hope Town Meeting Members will support this change and play a crucial role in modeling and encouraging inclusive behavior in our community. A “yes” vote for Article 16 will strengthen Milton’s reputation and practice as a place that welcomes and empowers everyone to lead and participate.

Sincerely,

Members of Milton Persists

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