Select “Men” No More

Reading, MA — Town Meeting at its opening session on April 23 voted overwhelmingly to rename the Board of Selectmen as the Select Board. An instructional motion at the November Town Meeting asked that the Bylaw Committee investigate changing the name of the board to a more gender-neutral term. In response, the Bylaw Committee put forth Article 14 at this town meeting to change the name of the Board of Selectmen to “Executive Board” referencing the role that the board plays in town government and deeming it the most gender-neutral terminology. The Bylaw Committee motion was amended on the floor from “Executive Board” to the term “Select Board”, a gender-inclusive term. Town Meeting member Russell Graham supported the amendment, reminding Town Meeting of the history of the term Selectmen, as being those who were chosen, or selected, by their neighbors to represent them conducting the business of the town. Graham suggested that retaining the term “select” in the name reminds people of that history. The amendment was approved by a large majority of the members.

Town Manager Robert LeLacheur shared that about 90 towns in Massachusetts have adopted some form of name change of their boards, with the term “Select Board” being by far the most common term used. “Words matter, terms matter.” Town Meeting member Angela Binda argued during the discussion on the change. LeLacheur also indicated that some communities have chosen just to start referring to the board differently, but that Reading was choosing to alter the bylaws, making it a legal change. He also estimated that the costs to the town for this change would be in the neighborhood of $1,000 in legal fees. LeLacheur also reminded Town Meeting that making the change in documents and other places may take some time, citing the Selectmen’s Policies as an example of a document that might require formal public hearings before they could be altered with the new terminology.

Town Meeting approved seven articles including a change to the Fiscal Year 2019 Capital Plan, amending the FY 2018 budget to include an additional $300,000 for snow and ice removal, allowing the sale of surplus equipment, moving funds into the OPEB Trust Fund, setting spending limits on the town’s revolving funds, authorizing borrowing against the expected revenue from Chapter Ninety funds in FY 2019, and approving the Housing Trust Fund.

Town Meeting also voted to approve an amendment to the bylaws allowing funds from building and other inspections of large construction projects to be placed into an inspection revolving fund that would help defray the costs of monitoring those projects.

Selectman Dan Ensminger reported on the progress of an instructional motion to negotiate a change in how the payment from the Reading Municipal Light Department (RMLD) to the town is calculated. Ensminger shared that meetings had taken place in September, March, and April and that the current calculation, based on the consumer price index, would be maintained until a complete RMLD revenue study could be completed. Ensminger indicated that a further report would be given at the November 2019 Town Meeting.

Bylaw Committee Chair Paul Sylvester reported that the committee was making progress in response to an instructional motion at November Town Meeting asking that gender-specific language is removed from the Bylaws and Town Charter. Sylvester shard that the Bylaw Committee had no authority to change the Charter, but was almost done with the process in regards to the Bylaws and that the committee would present a series of articles for Town Meeting’s consideration in the fall. LeLacheur reminded Town Meeting that because the voters have to approve changes in the Charter, a copy would need to be mailed to every voter in town, which is a considerable expense. It was suggested that the changes in language wait until a more comprehensive review of the Charter is done.

As the remaining articles on the warrant regarding the FY 2019 budget, zoning bylaw changes, and the state of the town address are scheduled for Thursday night’s session, Town Meeting adjourned at 9:05 pm.

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