Wilton board strikes down gender-neutral name change

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, February 19, 2018

Wilton elected officials stuck down a proposal to change the title “Selectmen” to the more gender-neutral “Selectboard” during a meeting on Monday night.

Selectmen William Condra and Kermit Williams voted against the measure, while Kellie-Sue Boissonnault voted for it. 

Boissonnault, a board member, said she was elected to the seat last year and is the first woman to ever serve as a Selectmen. She said the title of the board was brought to her attention, and the more she thought about it, the more she thought it should be changed.

“I was looking at the definition and it’s a position, a title, not an identification of a gender,” Boissonnault said. “Then I was looking at it from another person’s perspective, and I was thinking, ‘this is true, we need to become a little more gender-neutral.’”

She said a change could empower a younger generation of women to run for town office.

But Williams said he voted against the name change because most state laws refer to the board as Selectmen. He said Boissonnault did find one state RSA that states the terms can be used interchangeably.

Williams said he understands where Boissonnault is coming from to an extent but said he feels like “men is a generic term for the human race.” He pointed to the word mankind as an example.

“It’s unfortunate that it has gotten to this place where we worry about it either way,” Williams said.

Boissonnault said one of the arguments made about changing the title from Selectmen to Selectboard on Monday was the board has been operating under the name for 200 years. She said Condra argued the board should “stay with tradition” and keep the name intact. Condra didn’t return a phone call from the Ledger-Transcript by deadline on Monday afternoon.

“Just because it’s how it has been doesn’t mean that’s how it should stay,” Boissonnault said in an interview after the meeting. “Change is OK.”

Wilton resident Ruth Ann Smith, who said she was at the meeting, said that Condra also alluded to political correctness as a reason not to change the title of the board.

“[Condra] made a nod to political correctness and that seems to be a term that people are slinging around because of the president,” Smith said. “But I think the point about political correctness is utterly irrelevant, this is about how culture and society has evolved.”

Smith said there was also some discussion about the term Selectwoman and how the title shouldn’t be implemented because it isn’t representative of the entire board. Smith said the point seemed hypocritical considering that Boissonnault was making the same argument on the other side.

Out of the 16 towns the Ledger-Transcript covers, 11 use the term Selectmen and five use the term Selectboard. The conversation about changing the term is playing out in many different communities across the state, according to a smattering of news articles about the matter.

Even though Wilton didn’t vote to change the name, Boissonnault said she didn’t think the topic was “dead in the water” yet. There is a contested Selectmen’s race in Wilton this year, and one of the people running for the slot is a woman. Mary McDonough and Matthew Fish are both vying for the seat, according to the town website.

Boissonnault said she ran for the seat twice before she was able to snatch it.

“It was tough, it wasn’t something that happened overnight,” she said.

She finally was able to grab the seat after a presiding member resigned and she was the only one who signed up to fill the vacancy. Boissonnault said she did think it was a little harder to get on the board because she was a woman, and it had never been done in town before.

Boissonnault said she feels like she has, “broken the glass ceiling” for women in Wilton, although the work isn’t done.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.