Kennebunk is considering changing the name of its governing body from Board of Selectmen to Select Board. The discussion began Nov. 14 and will continue at their regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 26. Tammy Wells Photo

KENNEBUNK – The town of Kennebunk has been governed by a Board of Selectmen since it was incorporated in 1820.

But on the eve of its 200th birthday, is the terminology currently used to refer to the town’s governing body the one Kennebunk wants to employ, going forward?

Selectmen on Nov. 14 began a conversation about changing the name to Select Board. They’ll talk more about it, and take comment, at their Nov. 26 meeting.

Board chairman Blake Baldwin introduced the measure. He said he believed it was time Kennebunk moved from an “archaic gender-based” term for one that is more gender neutral.

”I’m suggesting we do this informally and adopt calling this (body) the Select Board,” Baldwin said, in part.

Selectman Shiloh Schulte said he fully supports the change, but raised another issue.

“Though it’s a great idea, the real question is why are there seven guys here,” said Schulte, referring to the current make-up of the board. “You have to run to be on here. That is a question we need to look at.”

Schulte said there must be reasons why there are no female members currently on the board.

Baldwin said he personally recruited five women to run for selectmen.

“They declined,” said Baldwin. He said a starting point would be to make the change.

A number of women have previously served on the board. Reached by email on Friday, Kennebunk Town Clerk Merton Brown recalled five women who have served in the past 40 years, including Dorothy Stevens, whom he said served 16 years, June Huston, Kelly Wentworth, Rachel Phipps and Deborah Beal.

The term “selectmen” or “Board of Selectmen,” dates to the days when Maine was part of Massachusetts.

According to the Handbook for Massachusetts Selectmen, towns originally had no regularly elected officials.

“Town meetings would periodically “select” prominent citizens to perform the business of the town between town meetings,” the handbook noted, “Gradually, town functions became involved enough to require more consistent supervision. Borrowing the concept of councils from their English heritage, the colonists began to elect between three and nine “selectmen,: or “townsmen,” to serve for fixed terms.”

Changing Board of Selectmen to Select Board is an issue other communities have mulled. Some have made the change, others have not.

A quick online search turned up several that did: Camden’s governing body is the Select Board, as is Eliot, Baldwin, Appleton, Greenville, Hollis, Ogunquit, Blue Hill, Lyman, and a host of others. In Machias, the name is  Board of Select-People.

One Maine town that chose not to make the change is Topsham.

According to a March 12 Forecaster story, Topsham Town Manager Rich 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.”

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

The five-member Topsham board, which includes two women, voted unanimously to keep the name Board of Selectmen.

In Kennebunk, Town Manager Michael Pardue told the board that town attorney Natalie Burns said moving from Board of Selectmen to Select Board would be a terminology change and not be considered substantive, so therefore, no change to Kennebunk’s charter would be required.

Pardue said the matter will be on the Nov. 26 agenda for comment and further consideration. Kennebunk’s selectmen’s board meetings commence at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 1 Summer St.

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