TOPSHAM — Guided by a legal opinion from the Maine Municipal Association, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously March 7 not to change its name. 

Raija Suomela of Middlesex Road in January had asked town officials to consider renaming the governing body to the more gender-neutral Selectboard. The board, which has two women and three men, on Feb. 7 directed Town Manager Rich Roedner to draft policy language for a change.

Such a change could be made one of two ways, according to Roedner: either by creating a policy that says the panel will be called the Selectboard, and each member a selectperson, or by amending the Town Code to eliminate references to Board of Selectmen or selectmen.

The latter approach would bring additional time and cost in reviewing the code, drafting amendments, preparing for Town Meeting votes, and codifying the changes, Roedner said. The policy change, which requires only the board’s approval, was a simpler method, he noted.

The policy Roedner presented March 7 called for the Board of Selectmen to be re-named the Selectboard, members of which could choose the titles by which they wished to be referred, such as selectman, selectwoman, or selectperson.

Necessary documents would reflect the name change, and the board would adopt Town Code language that would clarify that existing Board of Selectmen references would mean Selectboard and that Selectman also meant Selectwoman and Selectperson.

Roedner said he learned from the Maine Municipal Association that Selectmen and Board of Selectmen are part of the legal terminology in state statute, “so from a legal standpoint they were somewhat hesitant to have us legally change the name to Selectboard.”

“On a policy level, they said ‘that’s fine, you can do it however you want to do it,'” the manager added.

Board member Ruth Lyons said she did not have “heartburn” regarding the options Roedner presented, “but I think it’s less confusion if we keep it Board of Selectmen.”

“It hasn’t bothered me; I’m a woman, and I know that,” she added.

“We’ve gotten a legal opinion, and I’m going to stand by that,” and leave the name alone, Selectman Bill Thompson said.

“And I don’t want to change my signs if I run again,” Lyons joked.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]t. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.