Time for a City Council

On February 7, 2018, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Alderman At-Large William A. White Jr.

In this year of 2018, I have thought long and hard about whether the name “Board of Aldermen” should be changed to “City Council.” Folks have commented that “Board of Aldermen” is an outdated name which is non-inclusive. Many newer residents and folks from other communities do not even know what an alderman is. Other people say that the City of Somerville has had a Board of Aldermen since our City was established in 1872 and that we should keep it for the sake of our history. The name “alderman” is an old English word that actually means old wise man or patriarch. “Boards of Aldermen” originated in English municipal law and many cities in our country adopted the term, long before women had the right to vote. As of today, women outnumber men in Somerville and the median age of our residents is 31 years, while the median for the entire state is 39. By population, we are one of the youngest communities in Massachusetts. So, in a city which has a majority of women with one of the youngest populations in the State, does it still make sense to name our legislative body after a word that means wise old man?

In Massachusetts city government, originally there was a common council and a board of aldermen. The common council was like the House of Representatives, which had more members, and the board of aldermen was like the Senate. So it seems that the intent was that a board of old wise men would oversee city government. When Somerville became a City in 1872, it simply established a Board of Aldermen because all cities in Massachusetts at that time did. It had nothing to do with Somerville in particular. In 1889, Somerville decided to abolish the Common Council and kept the name Board of Aldermen for its legislative body. Other cities around us did the opposite with regard to the name, including Cambridge and Boston, which both took the name City Council after they abolished their common councils. England, where the term “board of aldermen” originated, abolished their boards of aldermen in 1972, except for London. In 2011, Everett took the name City Council. Most recently, Newton changed from a Board of Aldermen to City Council in 2016.

In reality, Somerville only uses the name “Board of Aldermen” because of a decision made in 1899, which we haven’t revisited in over 100 years. To me, it seems that the time has come to revisit that decision. Because of the reasons mentioned in this article, I believe that it is time for a change. As such, I have proposed a charter change at the next Board of Aldermen meeting to change our name to City Council.

Alderman At-Large William A. White Jr. believes that Somerville needs a “City Council” rather than a “Board of Aldermen.”


6 Responses to “Time for a City Council”

  1. ritepride says:

    Residents Beware! The Board of Aldermen have more important work to do for “WE” their employer. They now get full-time pay for a part-time position. We have heard some BOA members over the years remark about having to get phone calls at night and or weekends. Hey that is one of the duties of an alderman. You do not hear them complaining about all the cancelled meetings they did not have to attend. Leave it as the BOA, Board of Alderpersons. Changing the name to be called like
    Cambridge could also eventually lead to that type of governing body with additional changes that could lead to increased costs to the taxpayers.

    Bad enough we have one P.T. Barnum in the corner office.
    (P.T.’s quote(s); “No man ever went broke overestimating the ignorance of the American public.” & “Many people are gullible, and we can expect this to continue.”) We do not need eleven more P.T.s.

  2. ritepride says:

    “BOC”? Board of Crooks?

  3. Noel Efturn says:

    BÖC = Blue Öyster Cult.

  4. Jim says:

    Maybe we could just be gender fluid and call them Alderpersons, or Alderbeings?

    City Council is just too generic

  5. Ann says:

    Rename it and move on. No brainer.

  6. BMac says:

    Does this equate to just a name change?

    Would it make any changes to the powers or responsibilities of the Board?

    As for the name, I don’t really care on way or the other if it is just a name change. Sometimes the fact that something is historic is reason enough to keep it though.

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