In May, Marblehead Town Meeting passed Article 40, proposing the Marblehead Board of Selectmen change to Marblehead “Select Board.”
When the vote was called, Marblehead Town Moderator Gary Spiess declared: “The opposition looks pretty slim” to widespread applause and cheers. The article’s approval arrived after a bit of debate among Town Meeting members.
Articles 41, 42 and 43 not only passed but also complemented Article 40, proposing neutral pronouns be reflected in Marblehead’s general and zoning bylaws.
Now, four months later, the Municipal Law Unit under Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy signed off on Articles 40 – 43, making the Town Meeting votes in May official, including “Marblehead Select Board.” Town Meeting bylaw votes must be vetted by the Attorney General’s office to ensure changes are permissible under the Massachusetts Constitution.
Marblehead’s name change comes as a female majority sits on the Select Board, a shift that took 373 years to achieve. Select Board Member Erin Noonan said that the first-of-its-kind majority, in part, kindled Select Board discussions on systemically changing the town’s general and zoning bylaws to gender-neutral language.
“The board believes that this is the year to join the long list of towns that have made this change to accurately reflect the makeup of their town boards,” Noonan told Town Meeting members on the Town Meeting floor. “In sponsoring this article, the board believes it is important that the name of our town government reflect our values, including equal representation.”
Women serving on select boards, the executive branches of town governments, is growing. Noonan alongside Marblehead Select Board members Jackie Belf-Becker and Alexa Singer can count themselves among “a little over 300” women out of the 1,200 selectmen and select board members serving across the commonwealth, according to GBH New Reporter Laura Colarusso’s “The Orgingial Old Boy’s Club” published in the winter of 2019.
“Since 2008, the number of women in select board seats across the state has risen from 20.6 to 26.8 percent,” wrote Colarusso. “But about half of that increase happened in 2018, as part of a surge that swept historic numbers of women into office in Congress and on Beacon Hill.”