Town of Boonton Ordinance #02-21: Board of Aldermen to Town Council
On February 16, 2021, a local government will decide whether to continue using archaic terminology or adopt inclusive, gender-neutral language that represents all citizens in its town.
The governing body of the Town of Boonton, NJ is currently “Board of Aldermen” and its elected officials are referred to as Alderman or Alderwoman when personally addressed.
In July 2020, a citizen publicly requested that the Board investigate the legal ramifications of keeping the same form of government but switching to more inclusive titles. At the August 2020 Board of Aldermen meeting, the town attorneys confirmed the term “Council Member” is permitted as interchangeable with “Aldermen” in the state legislature.
Using “Town Council” and “Council Member” could be accomplished with a single ordinance in the town code. No financial expenditure required apart from ancillary things such as stationery.
But that requires an ordinance to be written and then voted on twice.
'Words matter.' Only two NJ towns still use the term aldermen. It may be just one soon.
In November 2020, that same citizen submitted a letter to the November 2nd agenda reviewing the attorney’s August report and asking when a vote will take place. The Board of Aldermen treated this correspondence unlike any other that has been submitted to them. It was referred to without mention of subject or content, it was never opened for discussion, and it was never brought to a vote regarding its content. With continued inquiries from the citizen, in mid-November 2020 the Board of Aldermen decided to vote – but only on whether a subcommittee would be formed to investigate the change and bring information back to the Board.
This vote to simply form a subcommittee yielded a vote of: 4 yes, 2 no, 3 abstain. 4-5 for just a subcommittee to report back to the Board on something that was already discussed 3 ½ months earlier.
On February 1, 2021, ordinance 02-21 was finally presented to the Board “in title only” as is protocol. It required the first of two votes to publicly publish it. This required a minimum of 5 votes, which is exactly what it got (2 no, 1 abstain, 1 not present). A tenuous majority.
The second vote is on February 16, 2021 at the Board of Aldermen meeting starting at 7:30. This will finally decide if the ordinance to use Town Council and Council Member passes, so Boonton can join all other towns in New Jersey except Dover that have abandoned Board of Aldermen for more representative language for its government entity and officials.
One argument presented by those voting “No” is to uphold the town’s tradition. However, Boonton was incorporated as a town in 1867 and names a “Board of Trustees” as the governing body. The Boonton town charter was amended in 1872 and names a “Common Council” as the governing body. Using “Town Council” and Council Member” will not only
be a return to the historical and officially documented governing body of Boonton but will also attain the goal of making public office titles representative of all in our community.
The Morris County Clerk’s office cannot effect this change. There is a New Jersey Assembly bill with a comparable bill in the New Jersey Senate that would require gender neutral elected office titles on ballots. But they have not been brought to a vote yet (Assembly bill A1674 and Senate bill S1201). This vote on February 16th is currently the only means of effecting this change in Boonton.
Please help make those that feel excluded, and those that love the ones that are excluded, feel like someone is listening and respects the concern and the cause of inclusive language and representation in government.