Somerville Alderman-at-large William A. White Jr. thinks it’s time to strike out what he believes is an antiquated title for the city’s legislative body, and replace it with a term that’s more inclusive to its female representatives.
Following in the footsteps of surrounding communities, White has proposed changing the term Board of Aldermen — the suffix “men” is the main target — to City Council instead.
“It means ‘board of wise old men,’ or ‘board of patriarchs,’ ” White said of the current designation. “It seems to make sense to change it to a modern term. It’s a very common name that’s become outdated.”
The idea was first introduced during a regularly scheduled board meeting earlier this month. Eight other Aldermen co-sponsored White’s proposal, which was referred to the board’s Committee of Legislative Matters.
Moving forward, Aldermen must request an amendment to the City Charter through home rule petition, a process that requires approval from the state Legislature to formally enact the changes. If and when it’s approved, references in the charter to “Aldermen” and “Alderman” would become “City Council” and “City Councilor,” respectively.
Other cities and towns have adopted similar measures. In 2016, Newton officially scrapped the term Board of Aldermen in favor of City Council. Everett officials have done likewise.
In Somerville, three women serve on the Board of Aldermen.
Ward 7 Alderman Katjana Ballantyne, who is also president of the board, said changing the term to City Council is not only gender inclusive, it’s also more concise and to the point.
“People understand what a City Councilor is and does without explanation,” she said in an e-mail. “The time and process required to make this change is doable. We seem to have the political alignment to get this done.”
Alderman-at-Large Stephanie Hirsch said it’s a “reasonable idea to consider the change,” but she’d like to let the community weigh in somehow. She said while canvassing last year, some longtime residents told her they no longer feel like they belong in Somerville.
“I think the most important thing is to have an open mind and seek input to make sure everybody is part of the process,” she said. “Maybe even do something fun, like a contest [for the new name].”
JT Scott, Ward 2 Alderman, also said he supports the matter, and that gender equity is something that’s important to be mindful of.