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Goffstown board rejects gender neutral name change

Union Leader Correspondent

August 15. 2018 10:10PM
Goffstown Selectwoman Kelly Boyer making the case for changing the body’s name to “Select Board” at Monday night’s meeting. (Town of Goffstown.)

GOFFSTOWN — Following a spirited discussion at Monday night’s regular meeting, the Goffstown Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 in favor of keeping their current name, rather than changing it to the Select Board.

Joining fellow selectmen Mark Lemay and John “Allen” Brown in the majority, Chairman Peter Georgantas stated that he didn’t see any cause to change the name of the town’s five member governing body.

“I don’t see any reason to change something that we’ve had in this town for no reason,” said Georgantas. “There’s no reason for it, there’s nothing that’s compelling us to do it except that it sounds good, I guess? I’m not really sure.”

The topic of a name change was first raised during public comment on a July 23rd selectmen meeting by Goffstown resident Karen Hewes, who says that changing the name from Board of Selectmen to Select Board would be a move toward a more gender inclusive environment.

“When these boards were created, women couldn’t even vote,” said Hews. “For everybody in the community to feel like they’re included, it’s a big motivator for change.”

Hewes July 23rd comments prompted Selectwoman Kelly Boyer, the body’s only female member who joined Seletman David Pierce in the minority, to ask Town Administrator Adam Jacobs to research the impacts that a name change would have on Goffstown’s government.

On Monday night’s meeting, Jacobs said that the change would have a minimal affect on the town, saying that things like text on the town website and the banner on the town’s government internet video stream could be changed within the week.

While Jacobs noted that the board would likely require new stationary and other physical signage, he estimated that the cost of new supplies would range somewhere between $100 and $200.

Jacobs also stated that he’s come across at least 40 other New Hampshire towns that have made the change to Select Board, a fact that Boyer emphasized during the discussion of the proposed change.

“There’s been a lot of change toward the name Select Board in Massachusetts and New Hampshire specifically,” Boyer said. “For me personally, being the only female member on the board, I’m all for it. I can’t really come up with any reason why we wouldn’t do it.”

When asked about the board’s decision, Georgantas said that the town’s government is already inclusive to female representation without a name change.

“We’ve had women on the board before, and just because we have one on there now don’t mean we have to change things,” Georgantas said. “We had Vivian Blondeau back in the eighties and then Barbara Griffith in the nineties — Barbara now serves as Chairwoman of the Planning Board. So I’m not really sure why we need to change the name.”

During public comment before the vote, resident and Chairman of the Goffstown Economic Development Board Charlie Tentas asked the board to maintain the current name for the sake of tradition.

“The word selectman is exclusively used in the New England area,” said Tentas. “I view it as a true historical New England tradition to be calling any of you individuals that are up here, and I say it with all due respect, selectmen — whether you’re a man or a woman.”

But Hewes is unconvinced by Tentas case for tradition, citing past laws that once barred women and people of color from voting.

“When you think about the idea that it’s tradition, it begs the question: what tradition are we trying to keep? Traditionally white men voted to select other white men. That’s not a tradition that I think we should stand for in 2018.”

Hewes says she thinks those who voted to keep the name were motivated by sexism, whether they knew it or not.

“I don’t think they realize it themselves, but then again they’re not working on a board named the Board of Selectwomen. If they were, perhaps they would have a different viewpoint,” said Hewes.

Hewes added that she’s not currently planning to petition to have the name change put up as a warrant article. However, she noted that she has launched a petition to gather supporters to speak at public comment at the board’s August 27th meeting.

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