State laws switch from ‘alderman’ to ‘council members’
Because of changes approved in the last session of the General Assembly, Arkansans who run for a seat on their local City Council won’t have to use a term that doesn’t match the gender listed on their birth certificates.
OK, we might be getting our state news stories mixed up a little. But not too much, as state legislators have officially buried the use of the title “alderman” to describe the elected members of the ordinance- and budget-making panels that oversee about 400 municipal governments in Arkansas. Goodbye, alderman.
Hello, council member.
The term alderman has been around for eons, conjured up so far back it’s likely nobody gave a second thought to the notion that a woman — a woman! — might one day hold that elective office. Oh, how times have changed. All four of the bigger cities in Northwest Arkansas have at least one woman serving on the City Council. Rogers has two and Fayetteville has three.
As of Aug. 1, Arkansas law will refer to them with the genderless “council member.”
State laws were also changed to get rid of the “aldermanic” form of city government, calling it instead the mayor-council form.
In the area’s smaller towns, women are an even more sizable force on City Councils. Four of West Fork’s eight alder … uh … council members are women. Three of Gravette’s five council members are women. Three are among the leaders in Centerton. The list could go on and on. There was a time in our nation when women didn’t even have the vote. Today, and for years now, communities have been made better by their leadership.
Sometimes, as they say, a woman is the best man for the job. But why in the world would they want to be called an “alder-MAN.” And once we start throwing around “alderwoman” to balance the books, the word salad starts getting jumbled.
The public, simply, elects members of the City Council. No reason to dissect the membership into the two sexes. The responsibilities of each elective position are the same regardless.
It was in the small town of Paris, in Logan County, that this idea arose. Jewell White was the city’s finance director (not financeman) for 24 years. After retiring, she ran for a seat on the City Council and served one term. The terminology seemed archaic, she said.
“I just kind of observed that, through the years, more and more women were becoming involved,” White recently told a reporter. “I thought we needed to upgrade the terminology as a benefit to the ladies who were serving.”
She took it up with the Paris City Council, which agreed to sponsor White’s resolution for change before the Arkansas Municipal League, an organization that lobbies state lawmakers for changes designed to benefit Arkansas cities. Lonoke’s state Rep. Roger Lynch sponsored bills to make the changes and both chambers of the General Assembly provided their consent.
White said she didn’t see the change as a “big thing for anyone.” And it’s certainly not going to magically resolve the challenges that face city governments or expand the tax base or pave more streets.
But why have a term for elected positions that really doesn’t fit it anymore? Why unnecessarily focus attention on gender when we’ve come such a long way, baby? It’s not about political correctness, as some perhaps believe. It’s about respecting the individual and recognizing the commitment to their communities comes from a heart for public service that beats in most everyone who runs for office, regardless of gender.