Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Franklin Mayor Bob Scott was ready to call a vote Monday night to change the moniker used to identify members of Franklin’s Town Board from Alderman to Town Council. The board’s attorney informed Scott that because it would be an amendment to the charter, a vote couldn’t be taken until next month, which opened the change up for discussion among board members.
The issue to change the name was first brought up by Scott during a board retreat in February. In March, the change was once again discussed and the board voted to open it up for public comment.
Members of the Franklin town government have been identified as aldermen for decades. While alderman means a member of the town council, the title is derived from the Old English title of ealdorman, literally meaning “elder man,” and was used by the chief nobles presiding over shires.
Scott would like to see the phrase changed to town council to be more inclusive of the women who serve as town leaders. “Alderman is not exactly generic,” Scott said in February at the board’s mid-year retreat. “It’s aiming towards men. And alderwoman is very awkward.”
Scott said in March that the Town of Franklin was one of the few municipalities in the state that still use the term, however in Western North Carolina, alderman is by far the most commonly used term to refer to town boards. In the seven westernmost counties, there are 17 municipalities including Franklin. Out of those 17, nine municipalities refer to their town leaders as alderman. Council member is the next moniker with four towns using the title, followed by commissioner which is used by three towns. One town, the Town of Dillsboro in Jackson County, uses the name “Alderperson” to identify their leaders.
In addition to being more inclusive of female members of the board, Scott said changing the name would clarify the board’s role as the general public doesn’t know what alderman means or what they do.
Currently two female members serve on the board of aldermen and on Monday night, both of them said they weren’t offended by the current title.
“Since we are talking about making the name gender neutral to make women want to do the job, I knew what the name was when I got into this… so as far as I am concerned, I could care less what I am called, it’s the job that I do,” said Alderman Patti Abel. “I look at it as, are we making it [the name] pretty, so people want to be it? I don’t care if we change it one way or the other if it doesn’t cost us money, but I also don’t want to send a message that the job that you do is in the name that it holds.”
Alderman Barbara McRae said that from reading old documents from the town board, the first board was referred to as commissioners, so at some point during the town’s history, the name was changed.
“So change is possible,” she said.
The cost associated with the change varies from $18 to up to $8,000. Scott said to change the front page of the town’s code of ordinance books would $18-$18.50 and then however much the copies would cost to change the front page on all ordinances in the town. That would be the minimum cost that the town would be legally obligated to do to make the change official today. Then, additional costs would be associated with the change over time. According to town manager Summer Woodard, that cost could reach as high as $8,000 when factoring in business cards, legal fees, and name plates for the board. The bulk of that cost would come in a maximum estimate of $4,968 that it would cost to fully change the town’s charter, which is nearly 300 pages.
Alderman Billy Mashburn opposed the change from the beginning and was the lone dissenting vote to add it to the agenda for public comment last month. Alderman Brandon McMahan and Alderman Adam Kimsey both said they would support the change, if the cost associated wasn’t excessive.
Last month, Lauren Hickman spoke to the board during the public comment period in favor the change citing the need for the board to come into the 21st century. On Monday night, three members of the public spoke to the board supporting the change including Laurie Beegle, a member of the Franklin Police Department. Beegle told the board that when she was first promoted from secretary to officer at the police department, her badge said Police Woman. Over the years she lost that moniker and became “officer” until her current title as sergeant. Beegle supports the change and the inclusivity in a gender neutral title.
Nancy Scott, a former member of the board of alderman spoke in support of the change. Scott noted that while the term never offended her and she hadn’t thought too much about it before, she did support the change now that it is being presented.
Joyce Handley, who also has served on the board of aldermen was against the change and cited the terms as being a source of history for the town. Handley noted that those wanting the position know the name and what it means and the job that it requires, and changing the name was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Handley isn’t alone in her opposition. Based on a Facebook poll, the public overwhelming is against the change and the uncertain cost associated with such. More than 60 people, both, both male and female, took to Facebook to oppose the measure citing a waste of taxpayer dollars as well as time on behalf of the board to make the change.