In a recent letter to the Chatham Board of Selectmen, a resident raised the prospect of tinkering with tradition. It's well past time, George Olmsted wrote, to put to rest the title of “selectman,” and instead refer to the town's executives as the select board.
“Two women and three men [on the current board] encourages the change,” he reasoned.
This is not a new argument. Ever since Josephine Ives became the first woman elected to the board back in 1988, the title has been a subject of discussion. Not debate, exactly; more of a gentle batting back and forth of the possibility and practicality of a change, or whether it is proper to use “selectperson” or “selectwoman” for a female member of the board. But Ives and the numerous members of her gender who came after her insisted that the formal title was, and had been for centuries, “selectman.” And thus the title lived on.
A recent Boston Globe story on the debate in other Massachusetts communities noted that 30 towns had officially adopted “select board” in place of “board of selectmen.” In an age when gender titles – or the lack thereof – take on much significance, when same-sex marriage is commonplace and self-identification is the rule of the day, now might be a good time for Chatham, Harwich and Orleans to consider a change in the title of their executive boards. Tradition is a big deal around here, so this shouldn't be done casually; it will also almost certainly require changes to the charters and governing documents of each community.
A sound approach would be a non-binding ballot question at the next town election to get a sense of whether there's any support in the community for Mr. Olmsted's suggestion. In the meantime, let us know what you think; select board or board of selectmen?