Type:  Coverage 

By Michael Norton


STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 16, 2015....Newton Board of Aldermen member Emily Norton recalled Tuesday how people used to tell her the city had more important business to take care of than changing the name of the board to a gender-neutral city council.

"I agree this was not the time," she told members of the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, asserting the change would have been more appropriate when women received voting rights. "We passed the time. So let's get this done."

Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton), who served on the board before joining the Legislature in 1999, recalled raising the gender-neutral issue during her municipal service and credited Norton with being persuasive and pushing a bill (H 3563) through to the Legislature.

Balser said the term aldermen is an "anachronism" and said the bill combs the city charter to eliminate it and replace it with the gender-neutral city council, effective Jan. 1, 2016.

Norton recalled running for alderman and encountering people who raised questions about the term. She said she was advised to wait a year before bringing the issue up. She did, and it passed the board 19 to 5.

Norton said the term chair is now used instead of chairman and policemen are often now called police officers. And she drew chuckles from those attending Tuesday's hearing when she suggested the notion of calling her colleague Alderwoman Rick Lipof.

"It's really about modernizing our terminology to reflect our values," Norton said.

Norton pointed out that conservatives criticize the estate tax by calling it the "death tax" and said moms and dads in Newton told her their girls were excited about the switch to a gender-neutral term.

"We know that language matters," Norton said.

Rep. Kay Khan, a Newton Democrat, said historical traditions are important, but so are efforts to modernize and be inclusive.

"This is a big thing for the City of Newton," Khan said.

Committee members had no questions for Balser, Khan or Norton, though co-chair Rep. James O'Day openly wondered which five members of the Newton board had voted against the home rule petition.