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Goffstown resident Karen Hewes, the unofficial leader of the charge to change the name of the Board of the Selectmen to the Select Board, makes her case to the board. (Town of Goffstown)

Vote rejecting gender neutral name change criticized in Goffstown

GOFFSTOWN — Citizens packed the room at Monday night’s Goffstown Board of Selectmen meeting to voice their displeasure with the board’s Aug. 13 decision to reject a gender neutral name change.

In a public comment session that lasted nearly half an hour, eight constituents spoke in favor of changing the body’s name from the Board of Selectmen to the Select Board, and launched criticism at Chairman Peter Georgantas and selectmen John “Allen” Brown and Mark Lemay, who rejected the name change in a 3 - 2 vote against Selectman David Pierce and Selectman Kelly Boyer, the board’s only female member.

Karen Hewes, who first brought the idea of a name change to the board on July 23, provided the members with a list of 112 Goffstown residents who all signed a petition in favor of a gender neutral name change.

“I’m not coming before the board to request that we change the name to the Board of Selectwomen — which I could petition the board to do,” said Hewes. “But I simply want to do a gender neutral name change to support the community and know that everybody is included in running and serving public office.”

Many who submitted comments at Monday’s meeting took aim at the idea that the name should be maintained for the sake of tradition, with Michael Conlon, Hewes’ husband, singling out Georgantas’ stated opinion that “there’s no reason (for a name change), there’s nothing that’s compelling us to do it except that it sounds good, I guess? I’m not really sure.”

“To say that it ‘sounds good, I guess’ then vote against it, is unreasonable,” wrote Conlon in a statement read aloud by Hewes. “That statement is contradicted in the same breath with another quote stating ‘there’s no reason for it.’ Well, you just provided your own reason. And many other reasons were presented whether they were heard or not. Words matter.”

After Monday’s meeting Georgantas said that hearing more from his constituents gave him a better understanding of the pros and cons of adopting a gender neutral name, but said he believes such an important change should be decided by voters in March as a warrant article.

Kimberly Peace, vice chair of the Goffstown Planning Board, said she was disappointed there wasn’t a more concrete reasoning for why the board voted against a name change, and cautioned members that the public was paying attention to the example that Goffstown was setting.

“There are lots of communities across Massachusetts, New Hampshire who are going through this and making these changes,” Peace said. “We’re being watched by the news and people are seeing this. And I think it gives a very negative message of our town to say out there to the communities that we’re holding on to this only because of tradition.”

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